Tag Archives: summer

The Beauty of Brinjal

This is a post inspired by an old friend. Preethi and I went to the same school in India. My family moved to the US when I was in high school and I lost touch with most of my old school mates. The last time I saw her was in Warsaw, where she now lives, in 2007 when I was there on a business trip. We went to a cute little restaurant in downtown Warsaw for Pierogies. I had to share this summer recipe idea she sent my way.

So what is a Brinjal? It’s the Indian word for eggplant! Eggplants are called brinjals in India and South Africa and aubergines elsewhere.

India is the second largest producer of eggplants in the world. As an aside, there is a raging battle over whether genetically modified eggplants developed by a Monsanto subsidiary should be cultivated in India. Scientists are divided in their opinion and the public is largely against it. For now, the Indian Government has halted BT brinjal as the genetically modified version is called.  On a more fun note, if you didn’t already know it, there are many different varieties of eggplant. The commonly found variety in the US, the dark purple eggplant, is much bigger than the Japanese, and Thai eggplants and I think has less flavor. There are some eggplants that are also green in color.

The recipe is inspired by a dish Preethi’s mother used to make in summer. I made this Brinjal Fry in Yoghurt sauce for the first time a couple of weeks ago when all I had was half an eggplant and 20 minutes to cook dinner. My husband and I loved it and we literally licked our plates clean. The recipe below should serve 3-4.

Ingredients

1 eggplant
2 tsp salt
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp garam masala (or your favorite spice blend. Feel free to use more if you like your food spicy!)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 cup yoghurt
Pinch of paprika (or cayenne powder for more heat)

Recipe (35 minutes preparation, 15 minutes cooking)

Cut off the ends, halve the eggplant lengthwise and then slice into quarter inch thick pieces. You can also leave the eggplant whole and just slice it, but I find it easier to deal with smaller pieces and they cook faster too.

Place in a colander and mix in the salt. Let it stand for 30 minutes if you have the time. (This brining process draws out the water in the eggplant helping it cook faster and use less oil. It also removes the edge off the eggplant’s bitterness. If you’re like me and love the flavor of eggplant, you can do away with this step.) While you wait, you can prepare the remaining ingredients, set up the table and fix yourself a summery cocktail, preferably with involving rum, mint and sugar.

Crush and mince the garlic (crushing releases the powerful antibiotic properties of the garlic)

Put the yoghurt into a bowl and beat slightly till it is smooth.

Rinse the eggplant slices well, pat dry and mix with the spice blend.

Heat the oil in a frying plan on medium heat

When the oil is hot, sizzle the cumin seeds for 10 seconds

Add the eggplant and the garlic

Sauté for 10 minutes or till the eggplant is cooked through. If the pan gets dry, add a bit more oil. Taste and add more salt if necessary keeping in mind that the eggplant will be mixed with yoghurt.

Remove from heat and place the slices in the yoghurt. Sprinkly the paprika or cayenne powder on top for some color.

Garnish with sprigs of cilantro or mint and serve with rice or naan.

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Stay Cool with Cucumbers

How’s the weather where you are? Here in Seattle, we finally got summer this week after months of whining and praying for it! And now that it’s here, we’re whining about how hot it is!

With summer comes BBQ season, cold soups and salads, and lots of Indian food too. Yes that’s right! Indian food in summer. Here in the US, spicy curries don’t come to mind when it’s hot outside. In India while the curries still remain spicy even in summer, different vegetables are featured. Various kinds of gourds and squashes are in season in summer.

The ‘Malnad’  (literally translating to land of rain) region of the south Indian state of Karnataka grows some of the juiciest, crispest and sweetest cucumbers around the area. This is where my mother’s family is from and we would visit every summer. Some of my best childhood memories are from summers spent at my grandparents, playing with my cousins, climbing trees, chasing away monkeys from the guava trees and of course devouring grandma’s savory and sweet treats. And yes eating lots of cucumbers.

Moroccan cucumber salad

Cucumbers contain a chemical called cucurbitacin that sometimes makes them taste bitter. My mom taught me to slice the ends off and then holding the cut end against the exposed part of the cucumber, rub it around it a circular fashion. This removes the white ‘poison’ as my mother called it. And supposedly the cucumber tastes less bitter. I say supposedly as I never use cucumbers without removing the ‘poison’. So if you think cucumbers have a bitter edge to them, try out this trick!

While cucumbers are perhaps not quite as tasty here as in the Malnad region, I’m so glad they are available. There are a couple of salads that are super easy to make that I’d love to share with you. The first one is an Indian style cucumber salad and  the second a Moroccan style salad. When you look for cucumbers, look for ones that are tender and don’t have any yellow on them. English cucumbers are nice as they are practically seedless and are crispier but they’re also more expensive.

Indian cucumber salad – Serves 2

  • 1 regular or English cucumber, peeled, deseeded and cut  into spears
  • ~ 3 sprigs cilantro (1-2 tablespoons), roughly chopped
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 green chili, ends cut and slit lengthwise (optional)
  • Salt to taste

Toss all the ingredients together (I use a tupperware box) just before serving. The cucumbers also make a great appetizer. You can prepare the salad ahead of time. But add the lime and salt, and toss again,  just before serving. This is a very flexible recipe – use more or less of the ingredients as you like.

Indian cucumber spears

Moroccan cucumber salad – Serves 2-3

adapted from Kitty Morse’s Cooking at the Kasbah

  • 1 english or regular cucumber, peeled, deseeded and diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/4 yellow onion, finely diced (Kitty Morse uses 2 green onions, finely chopped. I didn’t have any on hand)
  • ~ 3 sprigs fresh mint (about 1 tablespoon), leaves separated and chopped finely
  • 2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Salt to taste

Mix all the ingredients together. Again, you can prepare the ingredients ahead of time and mix everything leaving out the lemon and salt till just before serving. This same salad with cilantro instead of mint is another version of the Indian cucumber salad. Make sure to use fresh mint. If the mint is not fresh, it can impart a bitter taste to the salad.

An easy summer salad

Now things just don’t get any simpler!

Happy Summer 🙂

-Veena

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