Or, Let baigans be baigans.
I’ve got another wine to pair with food for Raffi and Margaret over at Tuscany Distributors. This week, it’s the Graffi white Pinot Noir, which has a pleasant, apple-y taste and scent, and a nice crispness when we drank it at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which is maybe 20 minutes out of the fridge.
I planned an Indian meal around this wine: Madhur Jaffrey’s Baigan Bharta, from her lamentably out-of-print An Invitation To Indian Cooking, a book which I first encountered at my college roommate’s home in New Jersey; his mom served us some delicious chana masala – spiced chickpeas – and I eagerly inquired after their provenance. Her copy was battered, taped-together, and falling apart. If I were a cookbook, I don’t think I could imagine a greater honor. Last year, visiting Heather and Kyle in Seattle, I found a copy in excellent condition in a used bookshop. I pounced on it, explaining unnecessarily to the clerk that I had been looking for this book for some time. She made a noncommittal noise of congratulation and indicated toward the register, as if to say, “So? You gonna buy it or what?” I purchased the book and left, feeling a little embarrassed. And then I recalled a story from earlier in the week: I was taking the bus back to West Seattle from downtown, and I found myself seated across from a man reading a book titled How to Talk to People. I tried, and failed, to strike up a conversation with this man:
“Hi, how’s it going?” I said.
“I noticed your book.”
“My book?” he said, somewhat alarmed.
“Yes. It, ah. It’s called How to Talk to People.”
“Oh. Heh. Yes it is.”
“How is that going?”
“Not well.” He smiled weakly and looked away.
Basically, either Seattle is demonstrably weird and full of introverts who don’t like to be bothered, or I just kinda suck. Either or. Heather and Kyle have since moved to Los Angeles, if that’s any indication. ANYWAY. EGGPLANTS.
I also served a rajma dal, which is nothing more than slow-cooked red kidney beans and lentils, some steamed brown rice (throw in a half-stick of cinnamon and three cracked cardamom pods for a delicate fragrance – it doesn’t have a strong taste on its own, but it complements other Northern Indian foods nicely.), and some roti, although this would go quite well with naan.
The Graffi white Pinot Noir isn’t particularly dry, but neither would I call it sweet – it tastes of apple without being apple juice-y. The heat of this dish blooms on your tongue when you follow a bite with a sip of wine – I wouldn’t use it to kill the heat; that ain’t what wine’s for anyhow.
You’re probably wondering, too: “Wait a second – I thought Pinot Noir was a red wine grape. How is this a white wine? Wouldn’t that make it a Pinot Grigio?”
That’s what I thought, too – but it turns out that Pinot Grigio is another grape varietal entirely. You can, it turns out, make white wine from red grapes. It sounds like a somewhat fiddly process, and apparently Pinot Noir is the most popular grape varietal to do this with. To the recipe!
Madhur Jaffrey’s Baigan Bharta
Serves 4; adapted from Jaffrey’s Invitation to Indian Cooking
You will need:
- 3 large eggplant, washed and dried
- 1 large onion, cut into quarters or eighths.
- 2 inches of ginger
- 3 cloves of garlic
- vegetable oil
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 1 smallish jalapeno chile, with or without the seeds (depending on your heat preference)
- 1 can diced roasted tomatoes
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
- Lemon juice
- salt to taste
Part of the traditional way in which this recipe is prepared is to take the eggplant and sear them over an open flame, or cook them in the ashes of a fire; I find that you still get an excellent smokiness when you broil them, but to assist that flavor, I like to use those ‘flame-roasted’ canned tomatoes that pretty much everyone makes nowadays.
Also, feel free to replace the vegetable oil with ghee (clarified butter), although I can honestly say I’ve never even tasted the stuff. As it stands now, however, this recipe totally counts as Vegan. Oh man, and I didn’t even do it on purpose. Incidentally, if you buy dairy-free products online, check out my friend’s Amazon store, All Dairy-Free.
1. First, set your oven’s broiler to “HIGH”. While it heats up, start prepping everything – you might as well! Open the can of tomatoes; measure out your spices; quarter the onion, and peel the garlic and ginger. When the oven hits temperature, put your eggplants (be sure to remove those produce stickers!) on a broiler pan and put them under the heat. Broil for 20 to 25 minutes. You could check on these every ten, and turn them with tongs (which I recommend, to keep ‘em from sticking), or you could simply let them go for the whole time – it’s not the end of the world if they get stuck to the pan; you’re trying to get the skin off anyhow. Make sure your sink is empty.
2. While the eggplant is broiling, plop a few of the onion pieces, as well as the ginger and garlic, into the beaker of an immersion blender or a regular blender. Pour in a few tablespoons of water, and blend into a paste – get everything incorporated, once the first big things of onion are all annihilated. You’re going to want this to be nice and smooth and even.
3. When the timer goes off, and the skin of the eggplants are nice and blackened, pull them out, and put the broiler tray directly into your sink and let the water run over the eggplants. As the water cools them off, peel the burnt skin off with your hands, keeping the stem ends of the eggplants attached. Put these in a colander or a deep bowl or a colander set over a deep bowl. They’re gonna be a trifle wet.
They’ll look like this when you’ve peeled ‘em:
4. Get out a nice big saute pan – nonstick is probably best – and heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in there (I would recommend something neutral like canola or peanut oil, rather than olive oil). When the oil is nice and ribbony-hot (waggle the pan around and watch to see what it does), pour the onion-garlic-ginger paste from your beaker/blender, add the turmeric and garam masala, and cook over medium heat, poking it about with your spatula intermittently, for about five to seven minutes. While you’re doing this, chop the cilantro, reserving half of it for a garnish. Then chop the jalapeno pepper.
5. When the aromatic paste has reduced a little bit, and turned somewhat brown, add the jalapeno chile and the tomatoes (with all their juice), as well as the cilantro. Cook this for about ten minutes, and while it’s working, cut the eggplant into smallish pieces.
6. High five! You’re almost done. Add in the eggplant and cook for 15 minutes. Add salt and lemon juice to taste, as well as cilantro for garnish.
7. Serve promptly: spoon it onto a plate, scoop it up with a piece of naan and some rice, and chase it with a sip of wine.
Enjoy! Or, as they say in Punjabi, भोग कीजिए! (bhog keejeeae – have a pleasurable meal!)