I haven't yet posted an eggplant recipe this summer despite my obsession with this incredible vegetable, and here's the story why: I planted half a dozen eggplant seedlings this year, but being the slow-learning gardener that I am, I planted them a little too late. It was only a week ago that I finally started seeing tiny, bulb-like eggplants sprouting, and they are still too small to be picked. At the same time, I've been deluged by other veggies from my garden and have been trying to resist buying more from the market simply because I have no room to store any more.
Then this week my neighbor, Heather, offered me a beautiful purple eggplant she got from her CSA. I grabbed it, brought it home, and as I cut blissfully into its succulent flesh I realized just how much I had missed the little fellow.
Since it was a weeknight and I was running short on time, I decided to do what my mom did in a hurry: make Vangyache Bharit, a Maharashtrian-style mashed eggplant dish whose more popular north Indian version, Baingan Bharta, is often found in restaurants here.
While I love Baingan Bharta, I have a special place in my heart for Vangyache Bharit which is a very different recipe, despite the similar sounding name. Baingan Bharta is made with a cooked tomato-based sauce and is spicier, while Vangyache Bharit is creamy and tangy and mellow with yogurt and requires no cooking other than roasting the eggplant. Which in turn makes it a perfect dish for a hurried meal.
Besides, it's perfect comfort food, reminding me of times long gone and never forgotten.
There are many versions of this dish, including some that add tempering at the end, or add ginger and garlic and other spices or condiments, but I prefer to stick with this super-simple version that I find the most delicious, not least because it allows the eggplant's subtle but amazing flavor to shine through
1 medium eggplant, slit in half. Place in an oiled, oven-safe pan, cut side down, and roast in a 400-degree oven for 25-30 minutes. (My mom would roast this directly on the open flame of the gas stove, but I use a toaster oven which is perfect for this. If a knife pierced through the center slides in easily, it is thoroughly cooked and ready. Remember, half-cooked eggplant will be bitter and tough and will turn you off this delightful vegetable forever, so don't take shortcuts here).
1/4 cup shredded coconut (I use pre-shredded coconut from Whole Foods because that's all I get here, but freshly grated coconut would be wonderful).
1/4 cup soy yogurt (it works beautifully in this dish as a replacement for regular yogurt)
2 green chillies, minced
1/4 cup packed mint or coriander leaves, thinly shredded
1/2 medium onion, finely minced
1 tsp roasted cumin powder (optional)
1/4 tsp red chilli powder (optional-- don't add if you don't like too much heat because there's already some from the green chillies)
Salt to taste
Scoop the flesh of the roasted eggplant into a bowl. It will be golden brown and really tender. Mash with a fork until you don't have any large lumps.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.
This is perfect with any spicy dal-rice combination or with biryani. I also love to just scoop it up with a chapati.