from one generation to the next
The first time I made this dish it was so bitter it was inedible. I’ve made loads of other recipes from Madhur Jaffrey’s book “Eastern Vegetarian Cooking,” they’ve all been delicious, what had I done?
I turned to “Spice Notes” by Ian “Herbie” Hemphill to try to understand more about the spices I had used, their characteristics, interactions and what can go wrong. I knew the answer would be in this gem of a book.
Firstly I read about mustard seeds and was amazed to discover that the cracked seeds need to make contact with water to activate the enzyme that creates the familiar pungent mustard flavour. Step 2 of this eggplant recipe then made sense. There was no mention of bitterness.
After I had checked on the mustard seed I began ticking off the spices in the panchphoran* mix, fennel, cumin, nigella and fenugreek. I suspected that fenugreek was the culprit, it’s known to be bitter but I’d already picked out several to minimize the amount in my tablespoon measure, however I learned that while fenugreek needs to be toasted to reduce bitterness, if you allow the seed to get too brown, it intensifies the unpleasant bitter taste. I know I made the seeds a toasty brown!
The second time around I was very cautious. After I had added to seeds to the pan, I followed Madhur Jaffrey’s instruction implicitly, “only stir once” before adding the eggplants.
This dish is a delicious surprise. I liked that the eggplants were cooked in water, they were silken in texture and once the yoghurt was added, creamy, and I really enjoyed the pungent mustard flavour.
*Panchphoran is a Bengali 5 spice mix made of equal quantities of cumin, fennel, nigella, mustard and fenugreek seeds.
Eggplants, Crushed Mustard Seed and Yoghurt – serves 6 with other dishes
1 large eggplant approx 500g
1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red chilli
2 tablespoons mustard oil
1 tablespoon panchphoran
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup natural yoghurt
generous grinding of black pepper
Wash the eggplant and cut into 3cm x 3cm cubes.
Grind the mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle, empty them into a bowl then add 250mls of water.
Heat the mustard oil, add the panchphoran and stir once.
Immediately add the mustard seed mixture, eggplants, chilli and salt.
Bring the liquid to the boil then simmer until most of the water has evaporated.
Add another 250mls of water, turn the heat to low, cover the pan tightly and simmer for 15 minutes or until the eggplants are soft.
Remove the lid, increase the heat and continue cooking until all the liquid has evaporated.
Turn off the heat and allow the pan to rest for 5 minutes.
Gently stir in the yoghurt, adjust the salt and add a generous grinding of black pepper.
Transfer to a serving bowl.