I’ve always thought this was one of the worst-looking food dishes I’ve ever seen. Brownish-red slop with lumps in it. Totally awful. Then I tasted it.
That was, oh, 5 years ago, give or take. I’ve realized since then that your perception of food’s appearance is highly dependent on your experience with and enjoyment of the flavour. Now I see the same slop and think about how marvelous the deeper red colours are, how rich it looks with cream floating on the top. I understand now how black gram’s luxuriously creamy texture is one of the finest selling points of this dish.
There are actually dozens of recipes for this snack online, with few variations from one to another. I suppose, then, it’s not essential to write my own, but damn it if these aren’t one of the tastiest mid-day snacks ever. I have to write about them. More importantly, I have some information to add about plantains.
About 3 years ago, I purchased a large bag of dried chana dal from Loblaws, having no idea what chana dal was, or what to do with it. What I did know was “lentils are healthy and I should be eating some lentils”. So I took this bag home and tried out a recipe from an Indian cookbook I had.
It turned out mostly terrible. Not only have I learned that the cookbook in question routinely calls for 50% of the salt needed to make anything taste good, the preparation steps were vague about how to cook the lentils themselves. Over the next few years, I tried the dish a few more times with mixed results – the lentils were too hard, not seasoned well, too dry, etc. Of course, it didn’t help that I had never actually eaten dal before. All I had was a picture of something that looked pretty good, and some brief descriptions of the finished product. I have this problem often.
This recipe is going to get a bit ridiculous. Fair warning. I was heading out into the Ontario farmlands with my two friends, Jim and Andrew, to record a rock and roll album at Chalet Studio, and since we were staying overnight, we needed to bring food. One problem: Jim is a stubborn vegan, and Andrew leans vegetarian (or at least, he did) so I built a hybrid vegan biryani out of recipe ideas for 3 or 4 vegetable curry and rice dishes. The end result was pretty great: a spicy-hot tomato curry infused into richly flavoured baked rice, with large pieces of potato, cauliflower, and carrot mixed throughout. The whole thing was topped with fried cashews and raisins, and lidded with phyllo pastry (egg-free, naturally).
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.
Chana Masala – another one of those Indian buffet staples – means simply “spiced chickpeas” (or close enough). My most memorable experience eating chana masala was not at a buffet, but at a downtown food court in Boston. It’s not that it was great food (it was good) but I did find it surprising that there was an Indian vendor at a food court. It made me realize that in Toronto, there is no food court (outside of Gerrard st.) I know of has any Indian food, and I’ve been to many food courts (sadly). One day, I hope that changes. I’m getting tired of Manchu Wok, and don’t even get me started on Subway. Ok, moving on…
Cashew-Stuffed Indian Eggplants
The eggplant is a pretty versatile and tough plant. You can do pretty much anything with it – deep-frying, grilling, slow-roasting, mashing, etc – the eggplant can stand up to intense cooking for significant amounts of time. In fact, the eggplant often requires longer cooking times than most things in the kitchen. This recipe will back that up, as we’ll roast tiny eggplants for half an hour, a length of time that could turn a chicken breast half-dry (if you’re lucky), or a tomato into sauce. To help prove the strength and resiliency of the eggplant, we’re going to cut it open first, and stuff it with a nut and spice mixture.
That’s where things get tasty. Cooked eggplant on it’s own has a somewhat complex flavour, but we’re going to add roasted cashews, cumin, masala, fresh cilantro, and mango powder – all of which are packed with their own flavours. Nutty, spicy, rich and aromatic, balanced with fresh herbs and a hit of sour from the mango powder – all slow-simmered to infuse the eggplants with flavour.