It has only been in the last few years that my father started to foray into the kitchen (save for our childhood favourite of his French toast fingers). But since then, he has taken on the majority of culinary duties, exploring and expanding his repertoire of specialities to include his Thanksgiving turkey roulade, his mahogany-hued beef and broccoli stir fry, and his fabulously decadent caramel custard. But none of these can come close in fame to his true calling card; Indian food.
The French may have their mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot), and Creole cuisine may boast its trinity (onion, celery, green pepper), but in my father's pan there is but one triumvirate - onion, ginger and garlic.
In fact, it is the frequent refrain when I call to ask him for recipes; "start with onion, ginger, garlic ...." As soon as the three hit the heat the scent immediately brings me back to thoughts of my parents home. Slowly cooking on the stove, this fragrant tangle forms the basis of much of the Indian menu; the backbone flavour of many dishes, both meat based and vegetarian.
This succulent spread of sweet blackened eggplant and barely-caramelized onions is lifted by handfuls of grassy cilantro and spiky rings of green chili. Simple to make yet boundlessly versatile, it can be served as a vegetable offering in an Indian meal, combined with spiced ground meat (keema) for something more substantial, mixed with thick yogurt and topped with ground toasted cumin for a dip, or simply spread on griddled flatbread for a quick snack.
My father's eggplant spread
His own recipe
Canola oil or other neutral oil
1 medium eggplant (aubergine)
1 large onion, cut lengthways then into thin half moons
2 teaspoons ginger, grated (see note)
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 small green chili, sliced finely
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
salt to taste
Use a few drops of canola oil to lightly grease the skin of the eggplant. Over the dying coals of a charcoal fire, place the whole eggplant on the grill. Cook, turning occasionally, until the eggplant has shrivelled and blackened. The flesh should yield easily to pressure, and most of its moisture will have cooked away. Do not panic if the skin splits while cooking, this is perfectly fine. Remove from the heat and set the eggplant aside to cool.
In a medium saucepan, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for about 10-15 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the garlic is sweet. Add the green chili and cilantro, cooking for 5 minutes more.
Using a spoon or your fingers, peel away the skin from the eggplant. Scoop the flesh into the pan with the aromatics, breaking it up and stirring to combine. Season lightly with salt. Increase the heat to medium and cook the eggplant for 10 more minutes, or until it begins to slightly darken in colour and any residual moisture has dissipated. Check for seasoning and serve.
Makes about 1 cup.
• My parents store their ginger in the freezer; it keeps forever it seems and can be easily grated while frozen. The measurement in this recipe is using frozen ginger, and may vary if using fresh.
• Carefully remove the seeds and ribs (white pithy veins) from the green chili for those prefer less heat.