Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Southern Indian Eggplant with Peanut Sauce (and getting even with your family by blogging)

"Bland." My daughter's comment. Everyone nods.

That was the general sense around the table about the moong dal that I made for dinner. (Boiled with diced radishes and broccoli stems, with a tadka of cumin seeds and lots of garlic. The adjective that I would have used would have been "delicate.")

"It's just that the dal you made last week was so spectacular. What happened?" My wife's comment. (Last week was a sambar with plenty of sambar powder, tamarind, and a tadka of mustard seeds, ginger, green chili, hing and urad and chana dal. Of course it had more flavor.)

Harry said "it is kind of bland, dad."

I even asked Andrew, Maya's boyfriend who is staying with us, what he thought of the dinner he said "I have to admit, the dal was kind of bland."

One of the nice things about blogging is that it gives us lay people a taste of what life must be like for real writers. That is, when they get peeved, they can take it out, in writing, on family and friends and even enemies. So after dinner tonight, I told everyone that I was going to blog about it, so I am.

My daughter (the family vegetarian) had some kind of stomach virus a few days ago, but she knew I was making vegetarian Indian food this evening and she said "You know, I'm not feeling 100%, can you make it on the bland side." I had already put plenty of cayenne in the eggplant, so I toned down the dal and the green beans. The beans are not usually spicy, and, ok, the moong dal wasn't spectacular, but it was good, inexpensive, healthy protein. And I am sure that it did her digestive system no violence.

However, I did also make an eggplant dish that I have had in a number of Indian restaurants over the years, first and best in Deva's in Connaught Place in New Delhi, and and it was definitely not bland. At least my wife appreciated it. Usually it is made with the small eggplants and I didn't see any in the market, so I cut up a big one. I adapted the method from Julie Sahni's cookbook Moghul Microwave. Over the years, I have found that many of the recipes in the book actually do better on the stove than in the zapper, but a few, especially eggplant (you can cook it to tenderness without having it break up), okra (when cooked uncovered with some acid it looses its sliminess), and some basmati rice pilafs (slow absorption of liquid by the starch, I think) are made for the microwave. Here is my recipe:

Southern Indian Eggplant with Peanut Sauce

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2-4 tablespoons light sesame oil (i.e. not the dark East Asian kind)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4- 2 teaspoons cayenne, to taste
  • 1/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • 1/2 of a can of coconut milk (I used light and it was fine
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste (if using concentrate, try 1/2 teaspoon mixed with 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon urad dal
  • 1 teaspoon chana dal
  • 1/4 teaspoon hing (asafoetida)
  • 10-15 curry leaves, if available
  • 1 or more thinly sliced green chilies
  • 1 inch piece peeled ginger, chopped fine

  1. Slice the eggplant in quarters lengthwise, and then cut into 1/2 inch slices.
  2. Mix together the cumin, paprika, salt, turmeric and cayenne.
  3. Toss eggplant with 1 tablespoon of oil, or spray with vegetable oil spray, and then sprinkle with the mixed spices and toss to coat.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a microwave safe casserole in the microwave on high for two minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and put in the eggplant and spices and toss with the hot oil. Cover, return to the microwave, and cook on high for 4 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, grind the peanuts to a powder in a spice grinder, blender, or mini chopper -- don't make it into a paste. Mix with the coconut milk and tamarind.
  7. Remove the eggplant, add the liquid mixture, cover, return to the microwave and cook on high for 4 more minutes or until tender.
  8. Make the tadka: Heat the remaining oil in a small skillet. When hot, add the mustard seeds, and when they pop, add the urad and chana dal. Cook until the urad dal just begins to brown.
  9. Add the hing, cook a few seconds, and add the chili and ginger. Cook a minute and then pour the mixture on top of the eggplant and serve.

An easier version: Skip the tadka and just garnish with chopped peanuts, roasted sesame seeds, and chopped coriander. But the tadka is really nice.

Variations: You can do lots with eggplant this way. Sahni just cooks onions with the eggplant and spices from the beginning, and then adds tamarind. Almost any sauce will do. I make a distant cousin of "balado terong," or Indonesian eggplant in a sambal, a red chili sauce. Make the chili sauce by pureeing a sweet red pepper, some hot fresh red peppers (keep the seeds in for heat, unless your daughter tells you to make it "bland"-- green will do in a pinch), a few shallots and a few cloves of garlic. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet and cook it down a bit until it no longer smells raw. Cook eggplant as above, but without the spices, for 4 minutes, add the sauce and cook 4 minutes more. Play around with this. Just don't make it bland.


  1., you're familiar with many processes and terms of Indian cuisine! I agree with your daughter and wife that sambar is welcome any day over plain moong dal :) Let me know if you need ideas on tadkas for dals -- moong dal can be made like a dry salad, a soupy dal to go with rice or bread and spicy thick dal to go with rotis or puris (deep fried, fluffed up bread).

    cheers, Jyoti

  2. I would love any ideas you have for dals and tadkas!