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Recipes

Asha's Eggplant with Spiced Tomatoes & Halloumi

Recipe By: Asha Loupy

Serves 4

Asha's Eggplant with Spiced Tomatoes & Halloumi
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Asha Loupy

Drawing inspiration from the flavors of kathirika pulikari (a Tamil dish with eggplant in a tamarind gravy) and my favorite bites of moussaka—those cheesy, cinnamon-scented tomato-saucy one—this one-skillet meal stars summer's finest baby eggplants and the sweetest tomatoes you can find. The sauce gets a little bit of earthy spice from both Nagauri Cumin and Wild Ajwain, a touch of heat from Kashmiri chillies, and a gently sweet, warming spice, courtesy of Sri Lankan Peni Miris Cinnamon. Make sure to have lots of bread on hand for sopping up all the delicious juices!

If you want to make this vegan, you can omit the cheese and add more eggplant. Or, you could also crisp up some tofu, seasoned with salt and Aranya pepper, and add that in place of the cheese.

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Ingredients

  • 1 golf-ball sized piece (about 20g) tamarind
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/4 pounds small eggplant
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 8 ounces halloumi or paneer, sliced into ½-inch thick planks
  • 1 head garlic, top quarter sliced off to reveal cloves
  • 1 teaspoon whole Nagauri Cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole Wild Ajwain
  • 1 1/2 pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes (I like using half cherry tomatoes and half large tomatoes), keep bite-sized tomatoes whole and cut large tomatoes into a large dice
  • 1–2 teaspoons powdered jaggery, coconut sugar or brown sugar, depending on how sweet your tomatoes are
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons Peni Miris Cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon powdered Kashimiri Chillies
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Aranya Pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, tender leaves & stems, very roughly chopped

Methods

  1. Place the tamarind in a small bowl, cover with the boiling water and let sit for 15 minutes. Strain the tamarind through a fine mesh sieve into another small bowl, pressing the tamarind with a spoon to extract as much of the liquid and pulp as possible. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  3. To prepare the eggplant, slice lengthwise down the eggplant, leaving the top quarter intact. Rotate the eggplant 90° and slice through lengthwise again, so you are left with an eggplant with four quarters held together by the stem. Season the eggplant, outside and inside the cuts with 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoon olive oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. Add the eggplant and cook on all sides until the skin starts to brown and the eggplants just start to become tender, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the par-cooked eggplants to a plate and set aside. Place the cheese in the pan and brown on one side until deeply golden, about 2–4 minutes. While you are cooking the cheese, add the head of garlic, cut side-down and cook until light golden, about 1–2 minutes. Transfer the garlic and browned cheese to the plate with the eggplant.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they start to turn golden and are fragrant, about 15 to 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, jaggery, cinnamon, Kashmiri chilli, pepper and reserved tamarind water and stir to combine. Nestle the browned eggplants and the head of garlic into the sauce, cover and bake for 25 minutes.
  6. Remove the lid and nestle the cheese among the eggplants and into the sauce, with the browned side up. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the eggplant is fully cooked through, the garlic cloves are tender and the tomato sauce has reduced by a quarter to a third, about 30–35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
  7. To serve, zest the lemon over the skillet and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro. Cut the lemon into wedges and serve alongside to squeeze over tableside.Enjoy straight out of the skillet with plenty of bread for sopping up all those delicious juices!
     
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