Growing up, I didn’t have a very sophisticated palate. In fact, I knew no other foods besides my mother’s cooking and the occasional restaurant outing. The only “ethnic” foods I ate were Italian and Jewish, both cooked by my mother (and exceptionally, I might add). I guess you could say I was a very picky eater, liking only foods I was familiar with.
Once in a while, my parents would take us out for Chinese food and I would refuse to eat it. I remember looking at their plates of chow mein and chop suey and saying “you can’t tell what’s in there. It could still be alive, for all you know.” So my parents would get me other take-out food and bring it with us to the Chinese restaurant. While they were eating their veggie dishes, I was dining on White Castle (although I did like the fried noodles but no duck sauce please).
My sheltered palate stayed with me for a long time. In my late teens and early 20s, I dated a guy whose family was from Spain. They liked to go to Spanish seafood restaurants but I didn’t like to eat fish, not even breaded and fried. Needless to say, I didn’t win them over.
I went with friends to an Ethiopian restaurant where they refused to give us silverware saying we had to scoop the meat up with the injera bread. The four of us hated the food and tried to hide it in our napkins. The waitstaff even gave in and offered us forks but it was too late. We left the restaurant (where everyone else was happily eating seconds) and looked for a McDonalds. When I look back at this, I think what a waste that was and would love to go back in time with the palate I have now.
The first time I ever had Indian food was in med school (which is also the time I learned to love Chinese food – the staples of students are pizza and Chinese food). A bunch of us went to a Kosher Vegetarian Indian restaurant. I don’t remember what I ate…or tasted and then refused to finish…but I do remember hating it. It wasn’t until I was working in Tribeca that I came to love Indian food. My co-workers and I often went for lunch at a local favorite which served the most incredible all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. I may not have always known what I was eating but it was always delicious. When I became Vegan, the options at that restaurant severely decreased for me but my co-workers were happy to try some of the many wonderful Vegan eateries in the city.
Today there aren’t many foods that I can say I don’t like. In fact, I have a rule where I cannot say I don’t like a food unless I’ve tried it several times, prepared in different ways. I used to hate Thai food, now I love it. In the beginning, I hated tofu, tempeh, almond milk, etc. and now they are all favorites of mine. And I can’t believe that I ever didn’t love Indian food. I would happily eat it every single day especially this recipe.
My Indian Eggplant with Chile-Yogurt Sauce is so amazing. Tender, meaty eggplant chunks smothered in a spicy, creamy sauce of chile peppers, coconut yogurt and Indian spices. It’s decadent and delicious.
You can substitute tofu, tempeh or seitan for the eggplant. The sauce would be incredible over anything but I like to keep the dish simply veggies. I served it with a side of brown rice mixed with cilantro, cumin and garam marsala. And while it’s not too spicy (you can always use 2 chile peppers if you want that extra zing), you can add a dollop of raita or vegan sour cream if you like.
I am so glad that I finally let my palate evolve because with Vegan food, there is an entire world of incredible foods open to us and I plan on trying every single one!
Indian Eggplant in Chile-Yogurt Sauce
2 Tbs. grapeseed oil
1 small red onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, minced
1 red chile pepper, finely chopped or 1 tsp. red chile flakes
1 small bell pepper, chopped
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. raw brown sugar
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1 Tbs. garam masala
2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 medium eggplants, peeled and cubed
6 oz. plain coconut yogurt (or other type)
½ – 1 cup water
Fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped, for garnish
Raita or vegan sour cream (optional)
Heat a large sauté pan with the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger. Cook for about 3 minutes until the onion is softened and golden.
Add the chile pepper and the bell pepper and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste, the sugar and the spices to the pan. Mix well and cook for about 2 minutes until combined and fragrant.
Add the eggplant cubes and toss to coat the eggplant with the spice mixture.
Add the yogurt and 1/2 cup of water. Mix well. Cover the pan and cook until the eggplant has softened, about 10-15 minutes. If it takes longer and the sauce evaporates, add more water as needed.
Garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley and serve over rice. Top with raita or vegan sour cream, if desired.