Driving never really came easily to me. At age 14, my brother got a better score on my permit test then I did, and despite passing my driving test on the first try, I occasionally (OK, most of the time) have to think about which way to turn the steering wheel while in reverse. That being said, I am still a safe and competent driver, but the process was not a walk in the park.
Cooking, on the other hand, feels like second nature. I think that everyone has a particular talent that they excel at without enormous amounts of effort. Some people, like my dad, can pull expertly timed sarcastic comments out of thin air, and my mom can organize a group of volunteers before you can say “we may have to cancel…” whereas others like my brother can sprint around the 400m track with almost no training.
I cook based on my intuition and my senses—unlike driving, where I grit my teeth and white-knuckle my way through merging onto the freeway. This eggplant curry started with a pile of fresh tomatoes and our first eggplant from the garden. A few minutes and a pan of caramelized onions later, I was on my way to an Indian dinner. I used the array of above spices (cumin, fenugreek, curry powder, garam masala, ginger, and red pepper flakes) because together, they smell like a spicy, yet warming complement to slowly simmering eggplant and tomatoes. Cumin adds earthiness while garam masala has the slightest notes of cinnamon to add a sweet dimension to the dish. Once heated and pressed, salted eggplant is like a sponge for the traditional flavors of Indian curry. This curry comes together in just about 40 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time for a pot of brown rice to cook while the eggplant becomes tender. These kinds of dishes remind me why I love Indian food—it’s simple, fast, vegetarian, and allows the cook to experiment with spices and textures. There is nothing better than digging into a bowl of this heaped onto hot rice. On evenings where I’m hungry but want a homemade meal, I’m thankful that my ability to cook is something that I can count on every day. Driving is something I can live without, but good food is a necessity.
Serves 4 as a side dish, 2-3 as a main course with rice
1 large eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 1 inch cubes
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 ½ cups water
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, diced (or 5 Roma tomatoes, or a 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes)
2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
- Line a large microwave safe plate with a double layer of paper towels and place the eggplant on top. Toss with the kosher salt, then microwave on high power for 5-6 minutes until the eggplant releases liquid and begins to collapse. Press carefully with another double layer of paper towels to release excess moisture. Set aside.
- In a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat, heat the canola oil, then add the onion and sauté until golden brown, 6-8 minutes. Add the ginger, fenugreek, garam masala, cumin, curry powder, and red pepper flakes. Sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds until fragrant.
- Add the microwaved eggplant, and stir to coat with the spices, about 1 minute. Add the salt and the water, cover, and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the tomatoes, stir to combine, then cover and cook for 15-20 minutes longer until the tomatoes have broken down and the eggplant is tender, stirring every few minutes. Stir in the chopped cilantro and serve.