My first attempt at Indian cooking was a bit of a farce. It took me 5 hours to make a batch of samosas flecked with burnt mustard seeds and encased in tough, chewy pastry. As my husband and I sat down to a midnight dinner, you couldn't have convinced me that Indian cooking could be simple or easy. Little did I realize that samosas aren't exactly the easiest dish to tackle as a beginner, not to mention the fact that the recipe I was using was pretty unauthentic to begin with.
Luckily, I later learned that many Indian dishes are composed of simple, basic ingredients that are elevated through a slow cooking process to attain the greatest possible amount of flavor. Case in point, this comforting and aromatic Aloo Baingan. Aloo is the Hindi word for potato and baingan for eggplant. So, we are essentially making a wonderfully spiced dish of mixed veggies starring potatoes and eggplant.
First, get your potatoes boiling. You don't want them completely soft because you'll continue to cook them in the pan, but they still need to be fork-tender. Now, most Indian recipes start of with a masala, that is, a mix of dry and/or fresh seasonings. We'll make ours by blending garlic, ginger and chilies, along with some dry spices, in a food processor with just enough water to form a paste.
Peel your potatoes and cut them up into cubes. Then, pan-fry them until golden brown.
Now do the same with some cubed eggplant. You want it to be soft, but not mushy and falling apart.
Toast some cumin seeds and add onion. Cook until the onion softens and just starts to brown before adding the masala.
Here's where we need to have some patience. For the dish to be flavorful, the onion and masala need to cook slowly until they are completely caramelized. The result should be a very soft, almost sauce-like mixture that is golden brown and lightly sweet to taste. If it starts to stick to the pan before it has caramelized, just add some water and keep cooking.
Add tomatoes and cook them until they break down. You should have a thick, chunky sauce.
Finally, stir the potatoes and eggplant back in. Simmer everything together for a while. At this point, the potatoes and eggplant should start to break down a little bit. To finish, add salt, garam masala (a common pre-mixed spice blend), lemon juice and cilantro. Enjoy this spicy comfort food with some basmati rice.
2 medium waxy potatoes
4 cloves garlic, quartered
1” ginger, coarsely chopped
2 small chilies, coarsely chopped (see tip)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 large Japanese eggplants or 1 small Italian eggplant, cut into 1/2” cubes
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
pinch of asafetida
1 large onion, diced
4 medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2” cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
Serve with: basmati rice
- Place potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook 5-10 minutes or until they are easily pierced with a fork, but not completely soft. Drain and set aside until they are cool enough to handle.
- Meanwhile, combine garlic, ginger, chilies, coriander, turmeric and paprika along with two tablespoons of water in a food processor. Blend several times, scraping in-between, until ingredients form a paste, then set aside.
- Peel potatoes and cut them into 1/2” cubes. Heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and fry for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until golden brown. Remove and place in a medium bowl.
- Heat another two tablespoons of vegetable oil in the pan and fry the eggplant for 5-7 minutes or until very tender but not falling apart. Add to the bowl with the potatoes.
- Heat the last tablespoon of vegetable oil in the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Add cumin seeds and asafetida and toast for a few seconds.
- Add the onion and cook for 10 minutes or until it begins to brown. Add in the spice paste and cook for another 5-10 minutes, stirring often, or until onion is golden brown and caramelized. If the ingredients start to stick to the pan, stir in water by the tablespoon.
- Stir in the tomatoes and cook 3 minutes or until they begin to break down and get saucy. Return the potatoes and eggplants to the pan and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat, then stir in salt, garam masala, lemon juice and cilantro. Serve with basmati rice and garnished with more cilantro.