Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

"Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant..."


One of my favorite food books is Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. Not so much a cookbook versus a collection of essays that serves as a salve for anyone who feels alone in a plethora of recipes, entertaining tips and other general advice on tablewear and decor you'll never use.

Laurie Colwin talks to you and with you about cooking. Successes and failures. Foolproof, straightforward dishes and ways to elevate them depending on who's coming over for dinner. Some of her recipes didn't turn out well, but I can't hold it against her. The accompanying essay nourished me enough. The title of this post is also the title of one of my favorite chapters in the book and more recently, the title for another modern cookbook. In honor of Ms. Colwin, her writing and her recipes with varying degrees of success, I played alone in the kitchen with an eggplant. This is what happened.


Eggplant with Turmeric & Yogurt

I love Indian food. It wasn't until fairly recently I mustered up the courage to gather my rag tag collection of spices and coerce them into an anything elegant, refined and full-flavored. This dish, for all its color and character, is wonderfully easy and when done alone is equivalent to a meditative practice. The sugar may seem out of place, but it's functional in that it tempers the tartness of most commercially available yogurt and is a common flavor in a few Indian regional cuisines, such as Bengali.

2 Japanese (slender) eggplants OR 1 large globe, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds * 1 teaspoon ground turmeric * sea salt * oil for roasting * 1 cup plain thick, Greek yogurt OR 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, strained and drained in a paper towel-lined strainger * 1/4 teaspoon chile powder * 1 teaspoon ground cumin * 1 teaspoon sugar * salt to taste & fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

1.  Place the eggplant slices on a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and a bit of turmeric onto each eggplant slice; repeat the process on the other side. Mind you, the turmeric is a vibrant orange and will color your fingers. If you have a manicure you want to preserve, use a spoon as I did. Otherwise, have at it with your hands and notice the lingering complexity of this dried, ground rhizome on your fingers throughout the rest of the day. Drizzle with a bit of oil and place in the hot oven. Cook for 8 minutes and then flip the pieces over with a spatula. Add more oil as needed -- eggplant is like a sponge. Cook for another 8 minutes. At this point, the eggplant, simply spiced is quite nice as side dish for fish, chicken or pilaf. You can also cook the eggplant to this point and hold it until you're ready to serve it, at which point you prepare the yogurt. Just be sure to heat the slices up again in a dry fry pan over a medium high heat before adding to the yogurt.

2.  Place a large saute pan over a low heat on the stove. Add the yogurt, chile powder, cumin, sugar and salt, stir to combine and let it gently heat up. Patience is a virtue here. Cook it too quickly and you'll end up with grains of yogurt, which even to my adventurous palate isn't all that pleasing. Give it a taste and add more salt or chile pepper as desired. Then tumble in the eggplant slices and stir gently to cover each slice. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve warm. Serves 4 as a side. I can eat the whole batch, alone,  in one sitting with some cooked Basmati.