Saturday, 5 December 2015

Baingan Tamatar (aubergine and tomato curry)

Aubergines are funny things. They're called eggplants in the States, apparently because the first ones that Europeans saw were like the little white ones in the picture below. You do wonder though if they may have got a different name if they'd first seen one of the others, like a purple and white stripy arse plant (far right), or a deep violet penis fruit (do I need to point that fucker out?). I should stress that the latter ought not to be confused with a penis gourd.

United colours of aubergines

And what of other vegetables if they had been named after what they look like? I've already alluded to the sex toy appearance of the butternut squash and the phallic appearance of the courgette in previous recipes (to paraphrase the title of my own blog, it's not big, but it is funny). Would we find the "goth carrot" (parsnip); the "leafy stinking football" (cabbage) or the "You wouldn't want one of them up your arse" (artichoke) quite so appetising?

Of course, we Brits, being proudly European (apart from those of the UKIP persuasion), name them aubergine from the French word for the vegetable which is derived from in turn from Arabic al badinjan which itself comes from the Sanskrit vatimgana which is also the root of the Hindi word for aubergine, baingan, the title of the recipe.

All this linguistic nerdism is well and good, but the word aubergine does sound uncomfortably close to the French word for an inn, auberge, which spawned the Chris Rea song below and I'm not entirely sure that can be forgiven.

Whatever you want to call it, the aubergine is a fantastic vegetable. It is often thing of beauty with its vivid colour. It's also substantial enough to make the basis of a good main course dish in its own right, tastes great, and works really well in curries like this one. As I've said before, I've got a lot of respect for vegetarians and a great vegetarian dinner is all the better for the smug satisfaction you get in the knowledge that it didn't have any dead animal in it (at least, none that you knew about. I mean, there's no accounting for the odd fly or spider that made its home somewhere in the ingredients). This makes a decent main course for a couple of people with rice and/or a nice Indian bread.

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 big onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1bay leaf
~10cm piece cinnamon
2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp onion seeds
1 tsp ground black pepper
4 cloves
pinch chilli flakes
1 tsp salt
1 good sized aubergine (about 3-400g worth if you use smaller ones), topped, tailed and cut into 2cm cubes
1 tin of tomatoes (ideally chopped)
200ml water
1 tsp garam masala

Heat the oil in a nice, solid pan and add the spices.

Fry for a minute then add the onion and garlic and sautee gently to soften.

Add the tomatoes and aubergines and stir well.

Add the water, bring to the boil and simmer.

Leave for at least half an hour, until the aubergine is tender.

Add the garam masala and stir well.

Taste and add more salt if it's needed.

Serve it on its own with rice and/or naan bread or with other accompaniments.

Vegetable oil should be neutrally flavoured, like sunflower or rapeseed.

About 30% of the population of India are vegetarian. This amounts to over 350,000,000 people, over five times the entire population of the UK. It's therefore not surprising that probably the best vegetarian food in the world is from India, like this dish. I've got a few more great veggie curries up my sleeve for later blog entries.

I've mentioned before that aubergines are part of the nightshade family, also including tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. We could survive without these plants (in Europe we actually did without most of them before Columbus), but food would be so ridiculously dull.

Garam masala is a mixture of aromatic spices that pep up the flavour of a curry that might be lost during the cooking process.

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