Cremini Mushroom and Eggplant Curry
Cremini Mushroom and Eggplant Curry
This recipe is not really based on anything specifically traditional. Mushrooms are a fairly new addition to Indian cuisine, after all, so there’s not much history to speak of (and many restaurants don’t serve them). But, my girlfriend loves both mushrooms and eggplant, so there’s motivation to create right there. Plus, we’ve been looking for ways to eat a bit lighter (with more vegetables) lately, and this definitely fits the bill.
The idea here was to see if I could create a sauce from the eggplant itself, and avoid things like cream, yogurt, or too much oil. It works out fairly well as eggplant, when pureed, becomes very light and fluffy, almost creamy. Please do try to use Chinese or Asian eggplant if you can; the flesh of the eggplant is a bit denser and less watery (and has less seeds) than traditional eggplants and in general, are less bitter. In the photograph, you are seeing a traditional large eggplant that I used in my second kick at this recipe’s can, but we definitely enjoyed the Asian eggplant much more. Since the flavour of the Asian eggplant is milder, it allows the spice flavours to really shine without getting too much of that eggplant bitterness clouding the curry. Also, for whatever reason, the Asian eggplant let the Kashmiri chili powder and tomato paste colour the sauce a bright orange-red, which was nice, while the eggplant seen in the photograph is decidedly browner (although not unattractive).
There is a type of curry in Indian cuisine known as bhuna, which involves frying dried whole spices in oil (with no water added) to release the spices’ volatile oils into the cooking oil. It’s a very effective starting technique to add flavour to a curry and along with this recipe, I’ve used that technique in many recipes of my own, and from books. We’re going to do it here with cumin, chili, bay leaf, cinnamon, and black cardamom. The black cardamom is a nice touch, accentuating the eggplant with a pleasant smokiness (which is nice, since I’m too lazy to properly roast the eggplant to get a “real” smoke flavour).
Once we have created the eggplant puree, and used the bhuna technique on spices, onion, garlic and ginger, we combine the two, add the mushrooms and simmer until it’s ready to eat. This is really quite simple, and I guarantee you can’t mess it up.*
- 2 Chinese eggplants, about 500 grams combined
- 1 cup of water
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
- 1/2 tsp garam masala (this one)
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 4-5 tsp ghee
- 2 dried chilies
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 black cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 medium-sized onions (about 2″ in diameter)
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 tbsp chopped ginger
- 200-250 grams of cremini mushrooms, cut into halves or quarters
- 1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
- 1 tbsp heavy cream or plain yogurt (optional)
Serve with: chapati, and seasoned cucumber (see below)
What you will need: deep saute pan with a lid, chef’s knife and cutting board, measuring cups and spoons, bowls to organize the ingredients, blender or food processor, long wooden spoon
- Prepare ingredients: Cut the eggplant into 1 inch cubes, roughly. Portion out all the dried spices (chilies, bay leaves, cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom) into a small bowl. Dice the onion into 1/4″ pieces (or however you like it – I usually just slice them into half-rings). Chop the garlic and ginger, and set them aside together. Rinse the mushrooms quickly, and quarter them. Set them aside in a bowl. In a measuring cup, pour in 1 cup of water, and then stir in the tomato paste, Kashmiri chili powder, garam masala, and salt.
- Pour this water into your deep pan, and turn the heat to medium-high. If any spice is leftover in your measuring cup, add a splash of water to rinse it out into the pan. Get all that spice! Wait until the water is starting to boil, then add all the eggplant cubes.
- Cover the pan with the lid, turn the heat down to simmer (2-3 on my dial, maybe) and let the eggplant cook for about 15 minutes. Halfway through this time, open the lid and stir the eggplant around; the top pieces won’t cook as fast as the bottom ones.
- Check the eggplant. Is it totally soft now? Cool (if not, let it cook for a few more minutes). Pour the eggplant and the red water into blender. Blend it. Until it’s fairly smooth. Mmm, delicious eggplant slime. I mean sauce.
- Rinse out the saute pan and dry it. Don’t leave drops of water in the pan (or worse, Drops of Jupiter *shudder*) – they will spatter in hot oil, and you may get horribly disfigured.
- Add ghee and turn the heat to medium (4-5). Once it’s fairly hot, add the dry spices, and let them sizzle and crack for about 20 seconds. Let the cumin be your guide. If it’s red-brown and fragrant, it’s done. If it goes black, it’s burnt and you’ve failed. Let’s assume you did not fail (if you do, scrape out the spices and the oil and start over) and continue.
- Add the onion, and fry for about 4 minutes until it’s lightly browned, and golden. Stir them around to get the spices mixed up in them nicely.
- Add the garlic and ginger and fry 2-3 minutes until the garlic loses its raw smell and becomes sweetly fragrant and browned.
- Pour in the eggplant sauce from the blender. Stir it around to get the onions and spices mixed into the sauce.
- Bring the sauce to a gentle bubble. If the sauce it kind of thick, add a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water to thin it out a bit.
- Add the quartered mushrooms and let them simmer for 5 minutes in the sauce.
- While the mushrooms are cooking, tear up, or roughly chop a fistful of cilantro (“a fistful of cilantro” is also the working name of my latest screenplay)(not really)(I don’t have a screenplay) and add it to the pan. Stir it in and let it cook for a few minutes as well. If you’re adding cream (don’t feel obligated) this is a good time. Stir it in and when it’s hot, serve!
I enjoyed adding diced cucumber on the side of this curry afterwards, to provide a bit of soft/crunchy, and hot/cool dynamic to the meal.
Using half an English cucumber, cut it into 1/3″ cubes, and sprinkle with 1 tsp of chaat masala. Chaat masala is a known as a “cooling blend” (“garam masala” translates as “hot blend” roughly and provides the opposite effect of the chaat masala) and together with the cucumber form a nice cooling counter-balance to the spicier curry. Overall, a pretty great lunch.
Chaat Masala: grind together 2 tsp toasted cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 1 tbsp mango powder, and 2 tsp salt. This mix is a great garnish for things like bhajis, samosas, or pakoras. My recipe is not totally authentic, exactly, but all you want is a bit of salt to season, the toasted cumin, and some tang from mango powder.
Make it Vegan: change ghee to vegetable oil, and omit the optional cream. Easy!
* Guarantee valid in Jeff’s kitchen only.