Aubergine (eggplant for my American friends) has always been one of my favourite vegetables. It’s the perfect ingredient to add to any sauce from pasta to curry and works especially well with Indian spices. In fact, a simple side dish of aubergines were always a staple in my home.
I happened to get some baby aubergines and paneer (a type of firm Indian cottage cheese) on one of our recent visits to a local Indian store. They’ve been lying in the fridge ever since. Every time I spotted them, I felt a pang of guilt at not having used them up already. So today, I found the patience to do something with these lovely vegetables before they went bad.
The paneer was cut into cubes, crisped up and set aside to be added back to the dish at the last minute. This adds a nice texture along side the soft aubergine. Although not a traditional combination, it turned out great – mushy aubergines and crisp paneer in a fragrant mix of spices. A great dish to be had on those days when you crave something warming.
Aubergine and Paneer with Indian Spices
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
500g/1lb baby aubergines – you may use ordinary aubergines instead
8tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
1tsp turmeric powder
1tsp ground coriander
1/2tsp ground cumin
1tsp garam masala
1/4-1/2 tsp chilli powder – customise this depending on how hot you’d like things to be
1 garlic clove minced
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
salt to taste
250-280g/about 10oz paneer cut into cubes
Remove the stems from the aubergines. Create deep slits in each aubergine by slicing twice lengthwise in a criss cross manner, almost but not entirely all the way through. Doing this helps them keep their cute little shape but if you are using ordinary aubergines, you can simply dice them into large chunks. Mix together 3 tablespoons of the oil with all the other ingredients except the paneer. Spoon the spice mixture into the slits of the vegetable or toss the chunks of aubergine with the mix.
Heat the rest of the vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed pan on medium-high. Once hot, add the paneer cubes and fry them until they are nice and golden to dark brown on almost all sides. Do be careful while doing this as the moisture from the paneer can cause quite some splutter. Remove the cheese cubes and set aside on a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain excess oil.
Add the aubergines to the pan. Add a small amount of water, about a quarter cup, into the pan. Lower the heat to medium low, cover and let it cook for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the lid after this time period, let the excess moisture bubble away until you can see the oil clearing up. Keep mashing the aubergines lightly once in a while with the back of a wooden spoon. This helps soften them.
Once the sauce is almost all gone and there’s just enough coating the aubergines, add the paneer to the pan. Stir everything together. Serve warm garnished with fresh coriander leaves and a dollop of yoghurt with rice or naan.