Southern Indian spicy chickpea and aubergine stew

I learned how to cook Indian food simply because my man loves it and he would, probably, be able to live on it months on end. My fair city of Brussels doesn’t offer many good alternatives; even in my early days of cooking Indian food at home, we always had the feeling that I was doing much better than the restaurants. Little by little, I started embracing it, but not by the way of my taste buds, more by the way of reading and learning about it. I find it fascinating how the food ties into the story of India and how the food itself has been influenced by the religious, political and social changes. I love the rich dishes with lots of yogurt and silky sauces of the north and west and the Mogul cuisine, but I also adore the hot, sharp flavors and spiciness of the south. I like Balti dishes and the blend of different ingredients. The abundance of spices makes me feel great after eating Indian food. This is food that transports you and makes you dream!
I recently read this article about “vegetarian India” which seems to cause quite a debate: if we were to trust it, it seems that about 71% of the population loves their meat. From my European-biased spot, I confess I like both veggie and meat dishes and I don’t really grasp all the deep cultural and social aspects of the debate. I cook and enjoy most variety of Indian dishes, this time we decided to go for a fiery chickpea and aubergine vegetarian stew, from Southern India. It was so flavorful, it combined different textures and tastes, that we couldn’t help for a second serving. We kept the leftovers and had them at dinner the next day as a side next to a simple pork stake on the grill. Sacrilege!, some might say, I simply thought it was pure perfection.

What you need

Two large aubergines
One can of chickpeas
Four garlic cloves
Three onions
Two tbs vegetable oil
One full tbs cumin seeds
One full tbs coriander seeds
Two cinnamon sticks
Three red chilies
Two cans of tomatoes
A bunch of fresh coriander/ cilantro
Rice to serve

How to make Indian spicy chickpea and aubergine stew

Start by toasting the cumin and coriander seeds: I do this in a non-stick small pan; then finely grind them in the mortar. Heat the oil in a heavy pan; in the meantime, slice two onions and chop the garlic and the red chilies. Add the onion, garlic, chilies and spices to the pan, together with the cinnamon sticks. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the onion is golden and soft. Chop the eggplant in bite-size pieces and add it to the pan; mix well so the eggplant pieces are smeared with the onion-chili-garlic-spice mixture. Lower the heat, cover the pan and let it cook for about 10 minutes or so, till the aubergine is done: it should be soft, but still firm. Add the canned tomatoes (I used home-made, but good cans will do well) and the chickpeas and cook uncovered for another 20 minutes. In the meantime, slice the remaining onion and fry until golden crisp. I wanted to skip this step, but it would have been a horrid mistake: the crispy onion adds to the dish and makes it complete. By now, your kitchen should smell divine and your stew should be ready. Place the cooked rice in a bowl, add the stew, top with the crispy onions and grossly chopped cilantro and some additional fresh chilies for extra spiciness. I also added a few drops of heavy yogurt, my man ate it simple: both were incredibly satisfying! Enjoy with a glass of cold white wine and crispy flat breads.

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