India is a country that’s close to my heart, and I feel fortunate to have been able to spend more than a year of my life there, travelling, surfing, learning yoga, meditating and, most recently, fundraising for the charity Action Against Hunger. On that last trip, we cycled through Rajasthan, visiting AAH projects and learning how it tackles hunger on the ground with local solutions. Aubergine was a regular on the menu, and this wonderful purple fruit brought us much-needed sustenance on the road, served with other curried vegetables and roti.
Today’s dish is one I learned on that trip. As in baba ganoush, the aubergine is cooked over hot coals, on an open flame or in a griddle pan until the skin is charred and the insides soft and smoky. Because the outside is essentially cremated, it’s a great way to use up ageing aubergine with wrinkly skin or bruising.
Baingan bharta (mashed aubergine curry)
India has one of the richest food cultures in the world. Plant-based, super-thrifty dishes are nuanced by the addition of warm spices and served with those ubiquitous tin plates of rice and breads. My travels in the country have taken me from the tourist beaches of Arambol in Goa, where seafood, coconut and intense spices predominate, often with a Portuguese influence, to Gulmarg in Kashmir, high up in the Himalayas on the border with Pakistan. On the way up to Gulmarg, we stopped in Chandigarh and ate this dish. As in baba ganoush, it calls for the aubergines to be charred all over, which creates a unique, smoky flavour.
Serves 2, or 4 as part of a spread
2 aubergines (about 500g)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
Sliced red onion
Fresh coriander leaves
Toasted cumin seeds
Roti and/or rice
On a hot barbecue, griddle or open flame, char the aubergines whole, turning often, until blackened all over,then turn the heat to low and leave to cook, turning occasionally, for about 20 minutes, until the aubergines are very soft. Leave to cool a little, then scrape the flesh into a bowl and roughly chop; compost the burned skins.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat, add the onion and saute for five minutes, to soften. Add the garlic, ginger, chilli powder, turmeric, garam masala, coriander and cumin, and saute for 30 seconds, taking care the spices don’t catch and burn. Add the tinned tomatoes and the smoky aubergine flesh, bring up to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the curry thickens. Serve topped with sprigs of fresh coriander, sliced red onion and lemon juice, and with roti for scooping and/or rice.