Would you believe it if someone told you they were going to make a truly delicious dish out of an eggplant, a potato, a tomato, and some spices?
I didn’t, when my partner told me that some six years or so ago. My adoring lips formed words along the lines of, “That’s wonderful, sweetie!” while inwardly I was thinking, “Eggplant and POTATOES? Erk! I think we still have some cereal in the cabinet …”
But to my surprise it was truly delicious.
My Baingan Aloo is seasoned the way he taught me.
The difference is he cooks his eggplant and potatoes a bit mushier (baingan aloo bharta), while I prefer this dish more restaurant-style – with soft yet discernible chunks of potato and eggplant.This can be a bit tricky to accomplish, as eggplant cooks very quickly but those darn russet potatoes can stay hard as bricks forever! I’ve seen some recipes call for stir-frying the potatoes and eggplant separately, in two batches, and then adding them to the onion masala at the end. But I think it tastes better if the potatoes and eggplant are cooked together, in the masala. (Plus, using oil to cook the onions, oil to cook the potatoes, and oil to cook the eggplant is a bit more oil than I’m comfortable using!)
So, to solve this problem, we have a few options:
Cook the traditional Punjabi way – cook onion masala, add potatoes to the masala, cook potatoes for a loooong time, then add eggplant.
Or use my “cheat” – boil a potato halfway done – just to the point where it’s starting to get soft – drain, peel, chop, and add to the masala along with the eggplant. (You could also microwave the potato.)
Ingredients for Baingan Aloo:
1-2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
1 heaping teaspoon Cumin Seeds
1 medium to large Yellow Onion, diced
2-3 Green Thai Chili Peppers, finely diced
5 Cloves Garlic, minced or pressed
1 heaping teaspoon Ginger, minced, or Ginger Paste
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp ground Coriander
2 Roma Tomatoes, diced (or 3/4 cup canned, Crushed Tomatoes)
One medium to large Purple Eggplant, cut roughly in 1-inch dice (Or an equivalent portion of smaller eggplants)
1 Large Russet Potato, cut into roughly 1-inch dice
1-2 tsp Sea Salt
1/2 – 1 TBL Garam Masala
Handful of Chopped Cilantro (optional)
Instructions for Baingan Aloo:
Heat the oil in a large saute pan or stockpot on medium-high heat.
Add cumin seeds and cook until they start to brown and “pop,” about 30 seconds.
Add onions and chili peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
Add garlic and ginger and cook another 2-3 minutes.
Add turmeric and ground coriander. Stir to coat the onions in the spices. Be watchful the spices don’t burn!
As soon as the spice is dispersed and the onions are coated, add tomatoes and cook another 2-3 minutes.
Add the potato. Stir to coat with the masala mixture.
If you are using an uncooked potato, you’ll need to cook the potato 10-15 minutes, until it starts getting soft.
If you are using my “cheat” of a partially cooked potato, add the eggplant at the same time.
Add the salt and 1/2 – 1 TBL garam masala. Stir to mix, then cover. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes. The eggplant will release a lot of liquid, so there should be no need to add water. Stir occasionally, making sure it doesn’t burn. If it does start to stick, then add a tablespoon of water and turn heat to low.
After 10 minutes, check for doneness. The idea is for the eggplant and potato to be very soft, but still have a shape and not just be mush. (Although if it does reduce to mush, don’t worry – it will still taste good!) The important thing is not to have hard potatoes with mushy eggplant. If it needs to cook longer, let it cook, checking every few minutes.
Taste, add more salt and garam masala if needed, and garnish with cilantro, if desired. Serve with rotis or naan.
This dish is vegan and gluten free. However, it definitely tastes best with bread – not rice. If you are gluten-sensitive, try using a gluten-free tortilla instead of a roti. Or very, very lightly toast a piece of your favorite gluten-free sandwich bread.
The beginning of this dish comes together rather quickly, so do your prep work in advance – chop your eggplant, potato, onions, chilis, tomatoes; mince or press your garlic; measure your spices.
The eggplant and the potato cubes should be roughly the same size – and more or less “bite-sized”. Don’t make the cubes too big, as you will be eating this with your fingers on roti or naan. If the chunks are too big that will just be messy and awkward.
I use a Rachel Ray 5-Quart Covered Oval Saute pan, which is perfect for making Indian dishes where you are both stir-frying and simmering.
At the beginning of the recipe, it will appear that you have a LOT more eggplant than potato and could maybe use more potato. Don’t panic – the potato remains the same size but the eggplant will shrink up considerably after cooking, and the two will look more balanced.
Again, the most important thing is that both the potato and the eggplant are done and not underdone. If you accidentally overcook and it all turns to mush, it will still taste good (just not look as pretty). If that happens, simply call it baingan aloo bharta instead.