Charred Eggplant Recipe (Olo) by Vishwesh Bhatt

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This is my mother’s family recipe. Every fall we used to visit my maternal grandmother and spend a week at her house in the countryside. Grandma cooked this mashed eggplant, which is called olo in Gujarati, with much fanfare every visit. My uncles used to visit nearby farms to pick good eggplants, dig up green garlic and pick peppers. I often went with them—with the house full of guests, it gave Grandma a little respite.

When we got home, mom and grandma watched while the uncles lit a fire with acacia wood and hay. Once the fire was reduced to embers, the women would roast the eggplant until it was charred and soft. While the eggplant cooked, they pulverized the green garlic and ginger with a mortar and pestle and chopped the green chilies. They cleaned and mashed the smoked eggplant and folded it with sautéed garlic, ginger, chili peppers, mustard seeds and garam masala. We all sat on the veranda and ate the olo with millet flatbread, cooked on a clay concave plate over the fire. Also on the table were raw scallions with a squeeze of lime, mango or olive pickles, yogurt and freshly churned butter. We washed it all down with glasses of fresh buttermilk.

When I olo at my home in Oxford I no longer light a fire but use the grill instead. I serve eggplant as a side dish, usually with something else that has been grilled. If young, green garlic is available at your farmer’s market, use that instead of regular garlic. Thousands of miles from my grandmother’s house, it still reminds me of her.

Gujarati Charred Eggplant from Vishwesh Bhatt (Olo)

Excerpted with permission from I’m From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef by Vishwesh Bhatt, published by WW Norton

  • 3 medium eggplants
  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as peanut or canola, divided
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon of asafoetida
  • 1 small red onion, minced (¾ to 1 cup)
  • 2 pieces of minced ginger (2 heaping tablespoons)
  • 2 to 3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped (about 2½ cups)
  • 1 bunch green onions, finely chopped, greens separated from whites
  • 5 or 6 garlic cloves (preferably green garlic), minced
  • 2 or 3 serrano chiles, chopped (barely ¼ cup)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (store-bought or homemade)
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Sliced ​​chives or greens from the top of a green garlic bulb, for garnish
  • Lime wedges, to squeeze
  1. Heat the grill to medium heat.
  2. Brush the eggplants with 1 tablespoon oil and grill, turning often, until very tender and charred, 12 to 15 minutes. (Ideally you want to do this over a wood fire, but charcoal or gas also work.)
  3. Place charred eggplant in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let them sit for about 10 minutes. The resulting steam and heat will finish cooking the eggplant and make the skin easier to peel.
  4. Once the eggplants are cool enough to handle, remove the stem, peel off, and discard as much of the charred skin as possible. Mash the eggplant with a fork or cut it into small pieces.
  5. In a small dry skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander seeds for about 1 minute. Add the cumin seeds and toast, shaking the pan gently so the seeds toast evenly and don’t burn, until both spices are fragrant, about 1 minute longer.
  6. Remove from the heat and, when cool enough to handle, grind in a spice or coffee grinder, or with a mortar and pestle. Put aside.
  7. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add 1 tsp mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop, about 30 seconds. Add asafoetida, onion and ginger. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 6 minutes.

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