“I do not want to be human. I want to be myself. They think I am a lion, that I will chase them. I will not deny I have lions in me. I am the monster in the wood. I have wonders in my house of sugar. I have parts of myself I do not yet understand.” —Catherynne M. Valente
I pulled out a few roots this week, amid much excitement and trepidation. It is strange after years of constantly moving, packing, and adjustment that I feel such hesitation about making one change in my otherwise comfortable and amenable life. Maybe this is the nature of growing older, or more importantly, the nature of growing dense. I am finding which roots need support and which need removal. I am learning to understand the difference between environments of intention and environments of happenstance. Growth sometimes means taking a step back. Adulthood—am I right?
AM made his triumphant return from Paris in January and to no one’s surprise, my kitchen has seen more curries in the past six weeks than it did the entire time he was gone. I am not complaining though—rather I’ve been encouraging it. About a month earlier, as we chatted on the phone about what we each wanted for the holidays, he mentioned a desire to up his knowledge and skill in Indian cuisine. I immediately went to the bookstore and searched for something that would be both informative and full of character. I happily settled on Made in India by Meera Sodha, secretly wishing the copy was for me instead (it may or may not be on my bookshelf and not his right now). And then two days later, if by some form of divine kismet that I don’t really believe in, I got an e-mail from The Pantry and they were doing a cookbook potluck on this exact title. We had to go.
It was a lovely evening of sampling and that feeling of satisfaction that only seems to come from passing plates. Sodha’s recipes came to life and there were hardly any disappointments. From cilantro chutney chicken to pav bahji, a sloppy-joe-like cauliflower mixture spooned onto grilled buns, we all reveled in how nearly every dish could easily find home in a weeknight repertoire. Plus, who can complain when someone else is pouring the wine and your glass is never empty?
As we’ve continued to cook from Sodha’s book, I have so enjoyed her stories and the unique perspective her family brings to her food. Her approach to a meal feels grounded, true to the simple nature of food in that we all need to eat, and yet novel in how she experiments so freely. My only complaint, however minor, is that often her instructions could never yield the food depicted in her photos. Cilantro chutney simmered for 10 minutes will not retain its formerly vibrant hue and eggplant cut an eighth of an inch thick will disappear and not stand out texturally with stewed tomatoes. These are small qualms, but they require knowledge of cooking and foresight in the kitchen in order to avoid. I worry that these discrepancies would be enough to discourage the same home cooks unfamiliar with Indian cooking that she is trying to reach, but alas, I am very particular about these things.
On Saturday, we made a simple curry of eggplant and tomatoes. It took a mere half hour or so and with a dollop of yogurt nestled directly on top, we uncovered a bit more comfort for the weekend. We tweaked this recipe a bit, adding some more ginger and a little apple cider vinegar at the end—fiddle to your personal taste and don’t fret. It will be worth it.
Eggplant and Cherry Tomato Curry
Lightly adapted from Meera Sodha’s Made in India
3T vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 serrano chili, minced
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
11.5 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
½ t. ground turmeric
1 ½ t. ground cumin
1 ½ t. ground coriander
2 T. tomato paste
1 t. sugar
2/3 c. water
2 large eggplants, chopped into 1/2inch pieces
2 t. apple cider vinegar
Heat the vegetable oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven over medium heat. When shimmering, add the onion and cook until translucent and just beginning to brown, 6 minutes. Add the serrano, ginger, and garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes. Stir in the cherry tomatoes, cover the pot, and cook until the tomatoes are soft, 7 minutes.
Stir in the salt, turmeric, cumin, coriander, tomato paste, and sugar. Cook until the tomato paste begins to brown on the bottom of the pan, 2-3 minutes. Deglaze the bottom of the pan with the water, scrapping up all the brown bits. Add the eggplant and cover the pot.
Lower heat to low and cook until eggplant is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the apple cider vinegar and check for seasonings, keeping in mind that eggplant often needs quite a bit of salt.
Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt on top, a bit of cilantro, and a bunch of naan.