Or, Let baigans be baigans.

Get it?  See, 'baigan' is Hindi for 'eggplant'.  And it sounds like 'bygone'.  I AM GOOD AT JOKES.

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.

They also call them 'brinjals'.  I like that, too.

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.

“Uh.  Good.”

“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.

This here is what the rice looks like when it's done.

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

The Setup

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.

The Heist

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.

Go on now, get to cuttin'!

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.

Splorp. Brian indicates his approval.

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.

It's a mighty fine smell they got, I tell you wut.

They’ll look like this when you’ve peeled ‘em:

Splorp.

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.

We cannae escape the maelstrom, captain! We're goin' dooooooooon.  Doon.  Doon.

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.

Yeah, I made the mistake of  putting too many chiles in this one - it was a trifle unpleasant to eat.  I have since ironed out this error, and the recipe will reward you with a heat that is warming, but not punishing.

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.

This is an earlier and less chilefied version.  And it was goddamn delicious.

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.

Wash 'er down.

Enjoy!  Or, as they say in Punjabi, भोग कीजिए! (bhog keejeeae – have a pleasurable meal!)

Happy cooking!

-D

A quick procedural note: this entry will begin a series of recipes commissioned by my friends Margaret and Raffi, who run the Ohio arm of an Italian wine distribution company.  They gave me and Carolyn a rather staggering quantity of wine, and in return, I’m going to write a series of recipes that pair each of those wines with a dish or a meal.  (If you ask me, it’s a pretty excellent deal.)  To those of you who have come here because of a Tuscany Distributors wine tasting hosted by Margaret and Raffi, welcome!  I hope you enjoy this recipe, and stick around for the rest of this series.

These are wines designed to be weeknight dinner wines – something to replace the somewhat blah, mass-market sameness of Barefoot or Yellow Tail wines.  Those wines have their place, and it’s when you’re hosting a party and you don’t want to blow a lot of money per bottle.  I’m no expert in pairing (although Margaret is; she’s a trained sommelière), but I’ll try to match these Tuscan wines with foods that complement their flavors.

Let’s get started!

Hello, beautiful.  Did I drink you all on my lonesome?  Possibly.

This Chianti is spicy and full-bodied, and I suppose tradition dictates that you pair it with rich red meat, but Margaret said it’d be perfectly fine to pair it with roasted poultry.  I wanted to play the peppery spiciness of this wine off of something fun and different, and that was the impetus behind this recipe.  I know aioli is a Provençal thing, and this wine is Italian, but that’s the point of this exercise – you already know to pair a Chianti with a Tuscan-style roast pork loin; I’m here to expand your horizons!

You might find it a little strange to smear mayonnaise on a raw chicken, and I want to address that up-front.  Mayonnaise, or, in this case, aioli, is nothing more than the colloidal, emulsified form of olive oil.  It’s just fat with a little egg yolk, and the reason I’m having you rub it on a chicken is twofold: first, it’ll stay in place better than a drizzle of oil, which will simply run off and pool under the chicken; and secondly, it will protect the garlic from burning – if there were no mayo, you’d have to put all that garlic under the chicken’s skin, which is more work than I’d generally ask you to do.

Still with me?  Great!

Chicken Aioli
Serves 4, with leftovers a’plenty, or 6-8, with scant leftovers

The Setup

You will need:

  • One chicken, 3-4 lbs, ideally whole or butterflied
  • one large head of cauliflower, OR
  • 1 large carrot, 2 parsnips (or 1 big one), and 1 sweet potato
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil-based mayonnaise, like Hellman’s, or homemade aioli
  • 3 to 5 garlic cloves, depending on preference
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp coarse-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 cup water
  • A roasting pan

Note: if you made your own mayo or aioli, first of all, good on you!, and second of all, you may see fit to reduce the amount of garlic (but I certainly wouldn’t.)

The Heist

1.  Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Take your chicken out of the refrigerator and put it on a plate – dry it off completely with paper towels.  Wiggle it around.  Get used to its presence.  Then push the plate aside, and wash your hands.

Give it a name.  Carolyn says this one is named Sam.  Sam still had a feather in her foot (see lower right).  I plucked it.

3.  Do your veg prep.  What you’re going to be doing is creating a bed of vegetables for the chicken to roast on, and they’re going to roast for about an hour; they’ll get very soft and squishy, and the parts beneath the chicken will taste exceptional.  You could use cauliflower here, but if you’re worried that the meal will turn out a little bit too white, feel free to use the root vegetables.  You can go either way, and it’ll taste delicious.

But choose one.  Don’t overfill the roasting pan – I had a rather small (and expensive!) cauliflower, and I compensated on the second run of this recipe by using too many vegetables.  I scooped the excess out of the roasting pan and made a soup from them later (and I’ve made the necessary adjustment in amounts for you; don’t worry).  I’ll be posting photos from both recipe tracks in parallel, so you can compare and choose, depending on the season or the availability of various vegetables.

Split the difference.  This wasn't enough veg. And this was rather a bit too much.

4.  Mince the garlic as fine as you can – you want it to be as powerful-tasting as you can make it, and small garlic is strong garlic.  Mix it in a small bowl with the mayonnaise, the black pepper, and the cayenne.  You won’t need to add salt unless the mayonnaise is uncommonly bland.  Taste for seasoning, and if it’s not garlicky enough, add more garlic!  And perhaps a touch of rosemary or basil, or both.

I'm a practicioner of Mixed Mayonnaise Arts.  Don't mess with me.

5. Nestle the chicken on top of the vegetables.

Comfy, Sam the Chicken?

6.  Now, with a spatula, or, if you’re feeling brave, your hands (do it!  it’s so much fun!), spread the seasoned mixture on the chicken, inside and out – dollop any extra on top of the vegetables.  Wash your hands again!

The lipid layer of the mayo will keep the skin and the garlic from burning.  Kinda like sunscreen.  Ew. This is an entirely different bird.  Let us call her Phyllis.

7.  Pour the 3/4 cups of water over the vegetables and wiggle the pan around to distribute it all.  Pop the roasting pan in the oven for 50 minutes to an hour, or until the thickest part of the thigh registers 160 degrees F, and the juices run clear.

Here’s the Cauliflower Chicken, which took about an hour:

What a noble beast!  Thanks unto you, Sam.

And here’s the Root Vegetable Chicken, which took under an hour to cook through:

I like the symmetry of a split bird.  Might make it my family crest.

That aioli will form a delicious crust, and it’ll keep the chicken nice and juicy.  Let it rest for a few minutes as you get the table set and the wine opened.  I used this time to quickly sauté some asparagus, because the first run of this recipe was, though scrumptious, a little unremittingly white.

Whatever.  Just because it's beige doesn't mean cauliflower's not good for you.

The vegetables become incredibly soft and yielding – particularly the cauliflower; it’ll absorb the chicken drippings and become rich and silky.  I ate about half of it before I even tasted the chicken, which is succulent and garlicky and everything you’d want from a good roast chicken.

Again, I wish I'd had a larger cauliflower - this may have been the first time I have ever wished that.

The root vegetables also take on a rather silky cast, but the carrot and parsnip will still have a pleasant enough bite after an hour in the oven.  And look at that crust:

Aww yeah.

Doesn’t seem so weird to put garlicky mayonnaise on a chicken now, does it?  Bon appétit!  Drink deep and enjoy the spicy interplay of flavors.

A final note: I worked on this recipe while spending a long weekend at my parents’ place, while I was dog-sitting for them.  I wanted to point out my holiday gift to them, which they had framed in a really beautiful way, and put up in their kitchen.

The delicious Four Seasons of Adriana Willsie!

I say this not to pat myself on the back about how excellent of a son I am, but to draw your attention to the artist behind these lovely prints – my friend Adriana, who really wants to paint your dog.  These four paintings constitute the Four Seasons of Food; she’s got Summer Red Pepper, Autumn Pumpkin, Winter Onion, and Spring Asparagus.  I have Spring Asparagus in my apartment, and so should you!  If there’s a beautiful animal in your life that you’d like to commemorate, take a photograph and send it to Adriana; she’ll make it a beautiful portrait.

Happy cooking!

-David