Best Ever Eggplant & Chickpea Curry (that just happens to be vegan!)

I’ll begin this entry by stating that curry is one of my absolute favorite foods. As I love it so much, I am also quite critical and picky when it comes to finding good curry. Before I show you how to make the tastiest eggplant curry you’ll ever have, I’d like to teach you a few things about curry itself.

First off, let me just clarify that curry is not a spice, contrary to popular belief. There exists an herb called the curry leaf, though it is nothing at all like the yellow, processed powder that North Americans refer to as “curry.” This blended curry spice is entirely of western origin, dating back to the 18th Century, presumably sold by Indian merchants to the British.

So what makes curry curry? The answer to that differs depending on who you’re talking to. One thing all curries have in common: a complex blend of flavours and spices, that are often (but not always) enhanced with different types of chilli peppers. There are more varieties of curry than there are christmas cookies, and their ingredients differ by region, ethnicity, and cultural background. For example, a thai curry will often feature lemongrass, ginger and coconut, whereas an Indian curry will usually contain a mixture of turmeric, coriander and cumin.

The majority of the curries that I cook are Indian style, but are not necessarily traditional. A friend of mine, who is from India, taught me that an authentic curry from her region will make your ears burn and your eyes tear up, but will be so deliciously addictive that it’s worth building up a spice tolerance for.  For months, I watched her make her curries, throwing handfuls of spices in, which seemed, at the time, to be tossed in at random, in abundant quantities. I later learned that she must have known exactly what she was doing though, because through lots of trial (and some error) I have discovered that blending the correct amount of spices is an art form. Certain spices, like fenugreek, can add wonderful complexity, but if overused, can leave you with a terribly bitter aftertaste. Others, like cinnamon, may get lost in the mix if you don’t add enough.

Today’s curry is a simple one, with a spice level that you can easily control. It’s great for those who aren’t too familiar with Indian food, and who want to try something different. Let me stress, especially if you’ve never made curry before, to follow these instructions exactly. Too many times, I’ve seen comments on recipe blogs from users who have “tested” out a recipe, having made so many alterations that the recipe isn’t at all what it was meant to be, and then they complain that it didn’t taste good. (Well, yeah, if you’re making chocolate cookies, and you decide to replace the chocolate with kale, it’s going to taste a little weird, geniuses!)  /endrant. As with all recipes, I suggest that you follow this exactly, and adjust to taste only at the end (with salt or spice.) Organizational note: I roasted my eggplant the day before to allow for a faster weeknight meal prep.

Now… the recipe you’ve all been waiting for…

The Best Ever Eggplant and Chickpea Curry
an original recipe by allison sklar

ingredients

1 large eggplant
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch salt

2 tbsp butter (or coconut oil, to keep it vegan!)
1 tbsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed with mortar and pestle
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp cumin powder
pinch turmeric
1 can chickpeas, drained
2 large handfuls fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup water (more if needed)
1 tbsp sambal oelek  (found in most major grocery stores in the International/Asian section)
salt, to taste

instructions

Roast your eggplant: Slice in half, lengthwise, and rub it all over with olive oil. Sprinkle the fleshy side with salt. Place flesh side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast at 400F for 30 to 40 minutes, or until skin begins to bubble and shrivel. Allow to cool enough to handle. Scoop flesh out, roughly chop, and reserve in a bowl for later.

In a wide, heavy bottomed saucepan, melt your butter/coconut oil. Add the onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion is golden in colour (about 10 minutes). Be careful not to burn the onion. When onion starts to become golden, add the coriander seed and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the rest of your ingredients except the cilantro and sambal olek. Stir. Cover and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring intermittently. (If you notice your curry looks too dry, add a bit more water, 1 tbsp at a time.) Remove lid and add cilantro and sambal olek. Stir and continue cooking until desired consistency is reached. Salt to taste. Serve over basmati rice, or with chapati bread.

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