Here is a rather grand dish I created by combining the boorani of Afghanistan, with its layers of satiny eggplant, yogurt and tomato, and the street snacks that I grew up with in Delhi, laden with chickpeas and tamarind chutney. It is entirely vegetarian and can be served as a main course or as a side dish with other Indian meat dishes or, indeed, with a roast leg of lamb. Three sauces are required here, all of which may be made a day in advance. Only one of them, the tomato-chickpea sauce, will need reheating just before you serve. The others can be cold or at room temperature. I use three large eggplants and cut each of them, crosswise, into five thick slices. The slices are generally 1 1/4 inches or so thick, depending upon the size of the vegetable. They flatten a lot as they cook.
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 3 large eggplants (each about 1 pound and 2 ounces)
- Peanut or corn oil, for deep frying
- 3 tablespoons peanut or corn oil
- 2 whole hot dried red chiles
- 1 teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 (28-ounce) can good-quality whole tomatoes, finely chopped, with the liquid
- 10 fresh curry leaves, if available (use basil as an alternative with a different flavor)
- 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed or 12 ounces cooked and drained
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 10 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons thick tamarind paste
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
For the final serving:
- A little extra salt and freshly ground pepper, fresh mint or cilantro leaves, for garnishing
To prepare the eggplant: Pour 3 quarts of water into a very large bowl or large pan. Add the salt and stir well.
Trim the eggplants, slicing off the very top and bottom, and then peel them. Cut them, crosswise, into about 5 slices each. Each slice should be about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick. Put the slices into the salty water as you cut them. The slices will float. Upturn a plate on top of the slices and balance a weight (such as a clean glass jar filled with water) on top of the plate. Set aside for 3 to 10 hours.
Remove the slices from the water and pat them dry.
Pour about enough oil into a large pan to come to a depth of 3/4 inches, and set over medium heat. Allow time for the oil to get very hot, then put in as many eggplant slices as the pan will hold in a single layer and fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until reddish-gold. Remove to a large plate or tray lined with a double thickness of paper towels. Fry all the eggplant slices this way, adding more oil, if needed, and using as many plates or trays as you see fit. I like to change the paper towels at least once. I also pat the tops of the slices with more paper towel. The eggplants may now be set aside for 3 to 4 hours, if desired.
To make the Tomato-chickpea sauce: Either use 3 tablespoons from the frying oil or, if you prefer, fresh oil, and pour it into a large, lidded pan. Set the pan over medium-high heat, and, when the oil is very hot, put in the chiles and mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, a matter of seconds, add the garlic. Stir quickly once, then put in the tomatoes, curry leaves, chickpeas, salt, cumin, coriander, and turmeric. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove the chiles before serving.
To make the yogurt sauce: Put the yogurt in a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork or small whisk until smooth. Stir in the salt and cumin. Cover and refrigerate, if not using within 2 hours.
To make the tamarind chutney: Combine the tamarind paste, sugar, salt, and cumin in a small cup. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate, if not using within 2 hours.
To prepare the dish: When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spread out the eggplant slices in a single layer on a baking tray and dust very lightly with salt and black pepper. Place in the oven and heat through, about 15 minutes. If oil accumulates at the bottom of the tray, pour it out.
Heat the tomato-chickpea sauce.
Arrange the eggplant slices on a very large platter in a single layer. Pour a small ladleful of the tomato-chickpea sauce on top of each slice. Center 2 tablespoons of the yogurt sauce on top of the tomato-chickpea sauce and then put a generous dot of the tamarind chutney on top of the yogurt. Garnish with mint leaves.