Indian Cooking 301 — Recipe #4: Oven-roasted eggplant raita
Indian Cooking 301 – This lesson will focus on using black mustard seeds for the first time. And if you like raita, this takes it to a whole new level!
You will learn a common Indian cooking technique called ‘tempering’ and discover that it lends a completely different flavor profile to a variety of Indian dishes you might not have tasted before.
One of the main Indian whole spices you should keep in your cupboard are black mustard seeds; while it may not be easy to find in your local supermarket, leading brands like McCormick do carry yellow mustard seeds, so you can easily use them as a substitute. Although different from whole spices like cinnamon stick, green cardamom pods, and cloves, mustard seeds are used throughout the subcontinent, but are especially a hallmark of South Indian Cooking.
At the 301 level you will learn how to kick things into gear and make authentic Indian dishes using both ground spices (like cumin powder and turmeric) and whole spices (like cinnamon stick and whole cloves) that you can find at your local supermarket — no need to go to an Indian grocer.
You will continue to master my 5-10-5 Rule – a cheat sheet I created for my husband Sean of the basic things you need in your pantry to make a variety of delicious Indian dishes.
As my sister described in her post How to order at an Indian restaurant for the first time, whether or not you’re a fan of vegetables, curries with eggplant or spinach may not seem appetizing at first, but when prepared the Indian way, they make for delicious dishes. Eggplant is a funny one because it’s not quite like okra, but it can be a decisively love/hate vegetable for most people. My mom, for instance, prefers to eat vegetarian most of the time, and she makes lovely vegetable curries but does not like eggplant. Imagine our surprise when she revealed this only a couple of years ago. I was dumbfounded because she makes a South Indian eggplant dish called “eggplant gojuu” that we all love, but little did I know she doesn’t care for eggplant — even eggplant parmesan. Of course, some of us love eggplant, whether it’s layered in thin slices in a deeply rich Greek moussaka or blended as a creamy babaganoush. Many folks enjoy eggplant best when it’s grilled Italian-style and tucked into a toasted panini sandwich with bell peppers, sundried tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella with rich, green olive oil dripping down the sides.
This recipe will be a fun addition to your roster when you have an eggplant and aren’t quite sure what to do with it — you can turn it into a smoky, spicy eggplant raita that can be eaten straight out of the bowl as is, or paired with any type of grilled meat. As we showed in Indian Cooking 101 — How to Make an Easy Indian Raita, the yogurt-based condiment is often paired as a side dish with many Indian main courses to serve as a cooling agent. Now, a coment about mustard seeds. Black mustard seeds are a mainstay in Indian cooking and are ‘tempered’ by being heated in hot oil until they pop and the flavors are released — black mustard seeds are ready when you hear the popping has stopped, whereupon you typically add additional whole spices like cumin seeds, kari patha (curry leaves) and other good stuff. Tempered mustard seeds lend a very specific smoky layer of flavor to a dish and don’t taste like pure mustard at all. It just takes setting the heat/flame to the right level, listening carefully, and following the steps below. Preparing mustard seeds this way is often the first cooking step in preparing dishes as varied as this eggplant raita to lentil soups and stews to pickled lemons and green mango jam.
Oven-Roasted Eggplant Raita
- 1 medium-sized eggplant
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds (if you can’t find black mustard seeds, you can use yellow mustard seeds by leading brands like McCormick in your local supermarket)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 cups plain yogurt
- 1 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
- Finely chopped fresh cilantro (before serving)
- Set oven to broiler.
- Wash eggplant and dry it off. Spread canola oil on your hands and cover the eggplant so it’s well-coated. Pierce with fork in a few places to enable steam to escape.
- Put under the broiler for 15-20 minutes, turning it occasionally.
- Remove from oven onto a plate and let it cool. Once cooled, peel off the skin using your fingers or a fork, transfer the eggplant to a medium-size mixing bowl, and mash well with a wooden spoon or potato masher.
- In a small saucepan, heat oil with mustard seeds on medium heat, closing the saucepan with a tightly matching cover. You will hear the mustard seeds begin to pop — it will sound like popcorn. As soon as it goes quiet, lift the lid and add the cumin seeds, red chilli flakes, black pepper, onion, and garlic and sauté until glassy and golden. *Hold the saucepan away from you when you’re adding these items because it will splutter).
- Add saucepan spice mixture to the mashed eggplant and mix well. Add yogurt and salt and mix well again. Top with fresh cilantro before serving.