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Extreme Vegan Makeover: Indian Eggplant in Chile-Yogurt Sauce Edition

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.


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6 Responses to Extreme Vegan Makeover: Indian Eggplant in Chile-Yogurt Sauce Edition

  1. Rhea Parsons October 2, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    Thanks Christina!

  2. Rhea Parsons October 2, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Nicola, it’s become one of my faves that I’ve made again and again!

  3. Nicola October 2, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    Indian food’s my absolute favourite and this looks divine!


  4. Christina October 1, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    Oh, I LOVE Indian food! And my neighbor just brought me some eggplants from her garden – score!

  5. Rhea Parsons September 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    Hi Patrice,
    Thank you for all the nice comments.

    I’ve just recently learned to like Thai food and now I’m wondering what I’ve been missing 🙂 They should definitely be able to make dishes vegan – they tend to use coconut milk and as long as there is no egg or butter, you’re fine.

    You could certainly sub any oil. I just got my first bottle of grapeseed oil which is common in Indian dishes but otherwise I’d probably use vegetable oil.

    I have never pressed or salted eggplant because I don’t find it bitter. If you don’t use salt, that’s fine. And sure, agave can be used instead of sugar. Just balance out the heat to your liking – sounds like you really like hot!

    I only learned to cook recently, pretty much when I became vegan. Before that I had a couple of dishes I could make but being vegan meant cooking more so I learned. HOpe you are enjoying your journey!

    Vegan hugs back xoxox

  6. Patrice September 23, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    First off, I just added your blog to my favorites list under “vegan food” and “sites to check regularly” folders! I know which room is the kitchen in my house, and that’s not too far short of all I know about it, lol!

    Seriously, this sounds wonderful! An Indian restaurant just opened in my town and I picked up their menu. I asked about vegan dishes when I saw the ones listed under “vegetarian”. She said I’d have to ask the cook about specifics, but felt sure some recipes could be adapted. I’m excited because I LOVE Thai food – 4 stars heat, thank you, and my local one can make any dish vegan!

    So, Rhea, in this recipe you state grapeseed oil, but could I substitute olive or sesame? Also, seems you don’t press the eggplant, correct? Makes sense since it’s a stewlike dish. Don’t have any sugar in this house, but recently bought some amber raw agave sweetener for a Thai recipe I’m going to try. Can I use a bit of this for sweetness? Also, no salt in my house – do I need it or substitute ??.

    Thanks for your patience! But while I’ve been vegan for just over 2yrs. now, I’m a bore in the kitchen but I’m happy with my food! I’m now on a mission to expand my cooking abilities, even though I only cook for myself. Thanks so much for your feedback! There must be others in my situation and you will help us all to expand our vegan cooking knowledge and experience! Vegan hugs!!

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