My favourite Indian restaurant in Paris is a vegetarian one. The charming flatmate and I have been so often that we have their calendar. A smiling blue goddess now stares at us during breakfast.
Though they serve huge crepes as long as your arm, stuffed with spiced potato; sweet mango lassis and earthy lentil soups, I always order the same thing. I always order my guests to order the same as me. A Thaali, a large metal platter with half a dozen indents, a mound of scented rice and a selection of spicy sauces made with chickpeas, spinach, lentils and aubergine. A little dish of grated carrot and yoghurt to soothe a burnt tongue. Another of cardamom flavoured tapioca, a taste of dessert. Though the dishes often change around, the top left hand corner usually has my absolute favourite: spicy-hot aubergine. As simple as that. With a texture as if it had been slowly melted. Silky smooth with a fiery sting.
I wish I knew how to make it properly. Like Italian aubergine dishes though, I’m sure it needs know-how and a generous hand with the oil. This curry needs neither. Blister an aubergine in the oven to get that smooth texture without soaking it in oil. Fry some vegetables and spices. Add chickpeas because they are aubergine’s perfect partner in crime. And leave the flavours to fuse together. That same silky spicy effect with much less effort. Make a large batch, because it is even better the next day for a lazy lunch.
Roasted eggplant curry
(adapted from Thus Bakes Zarathustra)
serves 2-3 with rice
1 big fat aubergine
1 large shallot or 1/2 onion, diced
1 red pepper, roughly chopped
1 tin tomatoes (400g)
1 tin chickpeas (400g)
1-2 tsp madras curry paste
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp salt
(optional: a cinnamon stick, a star anise)
Stab the aubergine with a fork several times and stick it in a very hot oven (200°C) for 30-40 minutes until wrinkled and soft. (See picture above.) Leave to cool. Slice the aubergine in half, scoop out the flesh and chop it into rough cubes.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, fry the shallot/onion gently in olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the red pepper, cook for 5 minutes more. Stir in all of the spices and allow to brown for a minute or so before adding the tomatoes, chickpeas and aubergine.
Simmer for at least 15 minutes until most of liquid from the tomatoes has been absorbed and the flavours have melded together.
Remove cinnamon stick and star anise and serve with magic rice. Even better the next day.
My mother’s magic rice
1 cup rice (250ml)
1 1/2 cups water (375ml)
(Use a measuring jug if you don’t have cup measures – this recipe is all in the volume ratio.)
In a medium sized saucepan, place the rice and cold water. Bring to a boil, give it a big stir and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Immediately turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Leave for 10 minutes. Do not remove lid! Take off the heat and leave for another 10 minutes. Still do not remove the lid! When you are ready to serve, uncover the saucepan. The rice should have absorbed all of the water, leaving pockmarks of air holes. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve straightaway.
For fragrant yellow rice, add some turmeric, a bay leaf and a cinnamon stick at the beginning.