Living the Good Life…

My food blog & cookbook in progress

8 ways: The menu

First course: A duo of dips

1.1 Litti Choka

A rustic, street food speciality from the regions of Bihar, Jharkand and eastern Uttar Pradesh in India, Litti Choka is a unique, delicious and pungent treat that is sure to fire up your taste buds and clear out your sinuses. The pungency comes from multiple sources, both the way of cooking (traditionally smoked over a fire fueled by gobar, dried cow dung) as well as special ingredients. Litti is a roll made of a wheat-based shell and a nutty stuffing of sattu–a blend of lentils and pickling spices, and Choka is best described as a smoked mash of vegetables–eggplant of course, is the hero but there are others–flavored generously with a sinus-clearing wasabi-like-kick-giving mustard oil. 

1.2 Baba Ganoush

Who doesn’t know (and love) Baba-Ghanouj, that signature eggplant dish from the Middle East? Usually paired with other famous regional dips such hummus, this creamy concoction from Nahed’s kitchen can easily stand on its own, especially when served as it is here, studded with jewel-like pops of tangy pomegranate. In this tasting menu, it also offers the perfect complement to our other smoked offering, the Choka, creamy and soothing where the latter was spicy and punchy.

Second course: Eggplant stack

This riff on the famed Melanzana Parmigiana, aka Eggplant Parmersan, of Italian fame, is actually a representation of how foods from different parts of the globe come together deliciously, a true meeting of East and West somewhere in the middle (the word Mediterranean literally means Middle-Earth). Eggplants are said to have originated in the Indian subcontinent while everyone knows that tomatoes were a New World discovery. Yet it was in the kitchens of Italian mammas where, melded with local flavors of oregano, dried hot Sicilian peppers, and wonderful cheeses–fresh Mozzarella di buffala, and of course, Parmigiana Reggiano–that a magical alchemy took place to produce this toothsome bite.

Third course: Makdous

Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Makdous is the name both for our next dish but also for the little egg-shaped variety of the aubergine with which these tasty tangy pickles are made. There are likely as many recipes for makdous as there are homes in the Middle-East. Today we are enjoying a Syrian version from Nahed. She recommends trying it with a dollop of labneh and so that’s how we’re serving it, individually in little boats for you to pick off the tray. Wrap it up in some pita from the baskets at your table and enjoy. A nice palate cleanser before moving on to the mains of the meal so to speak.

First main: Bom Chount Wangan

Kashmir boasts a unique cuisine that uses combinations of spices in ways unknown elsewhere in the Indian subcontinent, and indeed the world. It is also one of the cuisines you are unlikely to experience in Indian restaurants (even when they are named Kashmir!). In addition to that unique mix of spices–we challenge you to identify some of them–it also combines eggplants with the tangy crunch of green apples.

Bom Chount Wangan is a rare and seasonal–to the time before the apples on the trees begin to ripen–treat, so rare that even the Kashmiris reserve it for special occasions and festivals, especially those to honor their ancestors.

Second main: Eggplant Mapo Tofu

Chinese food aficionados and connoisseurs may claim this version is not the genuine article but then again, mapo tofu is the sort of dish that has many incarnations. While we cannot claim any authenticity, our version is inspired by the flavors from the Eastern reaches of the Silk road, with classic ingredients of those cuisines including soy, fermented blackbeans, shitake mushrooms, rice vinegar, and even, unexpectedly, mulberries, which was indirectly the basis of the silk trade. Served with noodles instead of rice for a change, we hope “my-po” tofu will please. 

Third main: Vangi Bhaath

Although bhaath is a term used for either rice or rice-based dishes in many parts of India, it is in the bottom half of the Deccan Plateau, where rice is the staple grain, that you will find the preparation of bhaaths raised to a fine art. There is a near infinite variety of them–each one a magical mixture of rice tempered with a blend of toasted spices and some other surprise ingredients. Popular types are tamarind and lemon, but of course, our hero for this meal being the eggplant–Vangi as it’s called in the South–we give you Vangi Bhaath together with a cooling cucumber pachadi (raita) to help it go down easy. 

Just dessert! Murabba Batindshan

How many people expected to find a dessert featuring aubergine? To be honest, even some of us who put this menu together had not expected to feature it in this way. But in the Levant and in Morocco, they actually candy eggplants as they do other fruit (botanically eggplants are fruits) and result is a jammy melt-in-the-mouth sweet treat, that we are serving with a touch of eshta (creamed ricotta) and a biscotti for some textural contrast, to be washed down with a refreshing glass of mint tea.

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