Late summer recipes are my favorite. See, on the one hand, you've still got all kinds of delicious summer produce available — in fact, September is probably the time of year when produce is at its peak. Yay for veggies! And on the other hand, it's just starting to cool down, especially in the evening. There's less daylight and you can feel the season beginning to wind down. That means I'm ready for heartier, cozier meals.
This eggplant curry is exactly the kind of meal I love during those last few weeks of summer. It uses late summer eggplant, with hearty lentils, juicy tomatoes, and lots of warming spices.
My inspiration for this dish was baingan bharta, which is a favorite Indian restaurant dish. I've tried a bunch of recipes, but never been able to recreate the dish perfectly at home, so I decided to throw recipes out the window and create something of my own. So whereas baingain bharta roasts the eggplant until it falls apart, I opted to sauté my eggplant and then simmer it up with lentils and tomatoes. The result was excellent — a saucy, spicy curry that highlights some summer produce, but has a nice stick-to-your-ribs feel that I'm sure I'll enjoy when the weather really starts to cool down.
When you cook this one you might be tempted to throw the dried lentils right into the curry instead of cooking them separately, but please don't! A while back after having a batch of chili simmer for what seemed like forever I found that the lentils were still hard. I later learned that the acid in tomatoes prevents them from cooking fully, which is why you need to simmer them separately in this recipe. If you can find canned lentils, feel free to use them instead.
- ½ cup dried brown lentils
- 2 cups water
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 medium 1 pound eggplant, cut into ½ inch cubes
- 1 onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 serrano pepper seeded and minced (optional, leave it out for a milder dish)
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 to 3 tablespoons garam masala to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Cooked basmati rice for serving
- Place the lentils into a small saucepan and cover them with 2 cups of water. Place over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Lower heat and allow to simmer until tender, about 35 minutes. You can add water during cooking if it gets too low. When the lentils are done, drain any excess water.
- While the lentils cook, coat the bottom of a large pot with the olive oil and place it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant. Sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the onion and continue to sauté for about 5 minutes more, until the eggplant begins to brown and the onion is soft and translucent. Add the garlic, serrano pepper, ginger, 1 tablespoon of garam masala, and the cumin. Sauté about 1 minute more, until very fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes and bring the mixture to a simmer. Taste test the sauce and add more garam masala if you'd like. Allow to simmer until the eggplant is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cooked lentils and simmer another minute or two, until heated throughout. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve with basmati rice and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro.