Growing up in a vegetarian household and living in a culture that cultivates a vegetarian lifestyle, I have learned to love vegetables from broccoli to bitter gourd. This has not been the case for many of my friends. A lot of people have grown to rely on meat-based meals, citing the richness and flavor of the meat as the reason why they would never eat vegetables. But unlike me, they haven’t yet discovered various textures: fried squash contrasts a crunchy exterior with a tender inside but a squash soup has a uniform a silky smoothness. On top of that, the wide variety of flavors make vegetables so amazing: the umami earthiness of a shitake mushroom is nothing like the chewy savoriness of a porcini mushroom.
But I don’t just love them, I utilize them in every way possible.
Take eggplant, for example, a vegetable people think tastes like slimy cardboard. They find it bland or gross, or something they would never even touch. But the reason we have it growing in our backyard is because of its incredible versatility. It is frequently used in French, Italian, Indian, Pan-Asian cuisine because of its ability to absorb various flavors and sauces in any dish it is presented in. Like mushroom and jackfruit, it is substantial enough to be the centerpiece of a delicious vegetarian meal. In fact, it’s actually a berry, but for all practical purposes, who cares.
Today I will show you three of the endless possibilities of the amazing eggplant.
On top of having these delicious recipes, from three different cultures: Thai, Italian, and Indian, I had the luxury of using homegrown eggplants. Because I had incredibly fresh eggplant, I was able to easily achieve a tender inside that resembled butter and a very clean taste that wasn’t bitter at all. In fact, the reason it gets bitter is that it starts getting old. This small difference made a huge impact on the taste and texture of each and every dish, but it had the most impact on the eggplant parmesan. The tender flesh of the homegrown eggplant created a soft butter-like interior that contrasted with the crackling exterior of the parmesan crust. It was an amazing flavor-packed experience. Also, without the bitterness of a store-bought eggplant, the charred flavor and smokiness of the eggplant in the Baingan Ka Bartha shone through and complimented the Indian spices.
Each of these recipes is quick and simple to make, although the Baingan Ka Bhartha will take a little longer to make.
Thai Basil Vegetables –
- An assortment of vegetables (1 eggplant, ½ bell pepper, 1 onion thinly sliced)
- 1 cube tofu sliced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire, 2 tablespoon tamari, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 4 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon of sriracha, 1 teaspoon chili flakes.
- 1/4 cup Thai Basil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 green onion
- Add in 1 tablespoon of oil into a nonstick pan and sauté vegetables with 3 cloves of minced garlic and minced green onions until vegetables become crispy and begin to brown. Place the vegetables into a separate bowl.
- Take the sauce mixture and pour it into a nonstick pan with the rest of your minced garlic. Add in salt and pepper to taste, chili flakes, and a few sprigs of that basil. Put the sauce in a separate bowl.
- Add a tablespoon of oil to the nonstick pan and gently place in the tofu strips well spread out. After 2 minutes on medium-low or until they begin to brown on one side, flip the tofu and roast until it is fully golden brown.
- Place all your vegetables and tofu in a bowl and pour the sauce over the vegetables adding more basil for some freshness.
Quick and Easy Eggplant Parmesan –
- 1 Cup Panko Crust
- ¼ Cup Flour
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 2 cup Marinara sauce to taste
- ¼ parmesan
- ¼ sliced ball of mozzarella
- 1 Eggplant
- 1 egg whipped
- Take 3 pasta plates and fill one with flour, one with panko, and one with the egg.
- Scallop your eggplants and coat them with the flour first, egg next, and finally the panko crust. Make sure the full eggplant is coated.
- Bake your eggplant at 375 degrees for 40 minutes (check on this)
- Take out your eggplant from the oven and sprinkle it with Parmesan. Then pour over the marinara sauce on top of the cheese and top everything off with some sliced mozzarella balls.
- Turn your oven to broil and bake everything for another two minutes. If you like some freshness add chopped parsley.
Baingan Ka Bhartha – This is a Punjabi dish that has a very well rounded flavor with some smokiness, acidity from the onion, and sweetness from the tomatoes.
- 2 Tomatoes
- 1 Onion
- 1 Whole Eggplant
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
- 1 teaspoon of garam masala (mix of nutmeg, pepper, coriander, cumin)
- Mince up the onions finely and grind the tomatoes to a paste in a blender or with any large utensil.
- Put the tomatoes and onions in a pot at low heat with two tablespoons of oil for 30-45 minutes and saute them until all the oil has been taken out from the vegetables (the onion and tomato should immediately absorb the oil and after some time they should release the oil.)
- While the tomatoes and onions are cooking, take a cast-iron skillet and roast a whole eggplant over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. The eggplant should begin to char on the outside but not burn on the inside.
- After 30 minutes, take the eggplant off the skillet and begin peeling it. You should know that the eggplant is ready because the skin will peel off really easily without tearing too much.
- Pour out the excess oil from the tomato-onion mixture into a separate bowl and drop in the roasted eggplant. Mix everything together until it forms a cohesive mixture.
- Add all your spices (cayenne pepper, cumin powder, ginger garlic paste, and garam masala) into the pot and stir to incorporate flavors evenly.
- Sautee everything together for another few minutes until everything is warm.
- The best way to eat this is with roti or naan. Using the oil you took from the onion-tomato mixture, toast your bread of choice on a cast iron dosa kallu (Indian cast iron pan)