I am enchanted with the Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India cookbook by Lachu Moorjani. I’ve been really engrossed by it since discovering it at Viks Chaat Corner on our food excursion to Berkeley a few weeks ago.
It caught my attention because it was the only book for sale at that place. That might normally put someone off, but, since I enjoyed the food at Viks so much, I thought that perhaps the Viks chef may have read the book and given it the “Viks Chaat Corner Seal of Approval.” Therefore, it must be good.
Well, I looked in vain for the golden seal. But it turns out that Ajanta didn’t need help from anyone. Lachu has a restaurant, also called Ajanta, somewhere in Berkeley. I have yet to try it, but hope to very soon.
What’s cool about Ajanta is that the recipes are organized both by region in India and in such a way that you could create an entire multi-course meal of traditional foods from a single region. Or you could mix and match, like we did this time.
Today’s dish is called Badal Jaam. It’s a Kashmiri dish made with eggplants, tomatoes, yogurt and spices. I love eggplant and I was amazed by how tasty it turned out to be. We served it with a basmati mung bean pilaf that was adapted from the same book, though from a different region: Sindh.
2 medium eggplant cut into 2/3 inch thick rounds
Vegetable oil for frying
6 ripe Roma tomatoes, chopped fine
6 garlic cloves chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp Hungarian paprika
2 tbsp amchur powder (mango powder)
2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp crushed red pepper
1 cup thick Greek yogurt
1 inch thick piece of ginger, peeled and grated fine
Some sliced cherry tomatoes and coriander leaves for garnishing
Sprinkle eggplant slices with salt, and place them in a colander to sweat for about 45 minutes. Rinse with plenty of water and dry them with paper towels.
Fill a frying pan with about 1/4 inch of oil. Bring temperature to medium high and fry eggplant slices for about 4 minutes per side. Eggplant will turn brown, the skin will shrink a bit and the centers will be soft when pinched with a fork. Remove from pan and place on more paper towels to soak up excess oil.
Add 2 tbsp of oil to a sauce pan then bring temperature to high. Add ginger and garlic and sauté for about a minute. Add onion and continue sautéing until onion becomes soft and translucent. Add Hungarian paprika, salt and tomato. Bring to a boil then lower to simmer. Cook for about 50 minutes. A sign that it’s ready is when the sauce becomes very thick and the oil separates and floats on top.
Add cumin and coriander seeds to a skillet and toast them for about a minute or until aromatic. Transfer to a coffee grinder and pulse until fine. Mix with mango powder, some salt and crushed red pepper.
Pre heat oven to 285F.
Arrange eggplant slices in a single layer on a glass dish. Place a dollop of tomato sauce on top of each slice. Top with spice powder mix. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven.
To serve, gently remove each eggplant slice to a serving platter. Place a spoonful of yogurt over each then decorate with coriander leaves and sliced cherry tomatoes.
There are a lot of steps to this. I prepared and baked the eggplant the day before serving them. Then on Monday when Steven came home from work, he re-heated the eggplant then garnished them with yogurt, etc. The meal was really good and a huge upgrade from regular Monday fare.
One last note, the author recommends dressing the yogurt with lime juice, fresh crushed garlic and salt… we didn’t get to that point but will try it next time.