This dish was incredible! A real show stopper. A bit time-consuming if you make the tamarind paste yourself, but honestly one of the most flavorful dishes I’ve eaten in quite a while. The combination of the sweet with the coconut, onions and spices was superb. A little too much for my three year old, but fantastic for an adult dinner. In India, this dish is made in large quantities and served as a side dish, but we enjoyed it over a nice bed of quinoa and made it a meal.
1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into thin crescents (1 1/2 cups)
3-inch piece (3 ounces) fresh ginger, peeled and cut into slivers
3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground dried red chilies
1/2 cup finely grated unsweetened desiccated coconut (not the kind used for baking)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon tamarind paste *see below for directions
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Trim the eggplant and halve lengthwise. Cut each half lengthwise into 3 slices and then each slice crosswise in half for a total of 12 pieces. (Seems like an unimportant step, but if you cut the pieces smaller, the cooking times will be off and you could end up with mushy eggplant).
Put the eggplant in a colander, sprinkle with the turmeric and 1 teaspoon salt, and toss to coat. Let the eggplant sit in the colander over the sink for 30 minutes.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/2 cup of the oil over medium heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the onion and stir and cook until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the ginger and continue cooking until the onion turns golden brown, another 4 to 5 minutes. Add the sesame seeds, cumin, coriander, chili and remaining salt and cook until the spices turn several shades darker and release their fragrance, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.
Pat the eggplant slices dry with paper towels and arrange in one layer in the skillet with the spices. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Uncover and stir and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the coconut and simmer for another 3 minutes. The coconut will soak up the oil so if it starts to scorch, add more oil Raise the heat to medium and stir in the brown sugar and tamarind paste. Stir and cook until the sugar dissolves completely, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add the remaining oil and simmer for another 3 minutes. The eggplant should be soft and shiny with oil but not swimming in it.
Dribble the sesame oil over the eggplant. Let it sit for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to meld before serving. Serve at room temperature with freshly steamed basmati rice. (We at it a half hour later and had leftovers the next day…it was equally delicious).
Eggplant soaks up a lot of oil. Use your discretion if you’d rather not add the last 1/4 cup.
*You can buy tamarind concentrate in a jar or tub, but here’s how to make it from scratch. First, find yourself a box of pods in the nut/dried fruit section of your favorite Asian grocery store. If you are lucky, you can find them elsewhere.
Funny…ALL the tamarind brands said they were the best ; )
Use 1/2 cup of hot water for every 3 tablespoons of tamarind pulp and soak (without the hard outer shell) for 5 to 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, rub the pulp with your fingers until the seeds are free of pulp and fiber. Grab the seeds and fiber, squeeze out any liquid, and discard. Push the pulp through a sieve with a wooden spatula to yield about 6 tablespoons of glossy brown paste. Discard the seeds and fibers. Leftover paste can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Tamarind tasted to me like a citrusy date. If you can’t find tamarind, a little squirt of lime juice will do the trick. If you have a date to mash up with it, that’s even better.