As the temperature oscillates between extremes, the body is confused: to wrap the fingers around a hearty cup of soup or to sit outdoors under the shade and cool off with a mild salad? This winter definitely seems undecided.
Being in Texas we seem to live on “borrowed” weather. If the snow storm sweeps the north east we are into the lower twenties, with the chilling winds knocking the knuckles out. No snow. No freeze. If the chinook blows in Colorado, the next day will be a gift with the sun shining down on us at a 65 F.
Hot chocolate or cold coffee? Spicy bowl of dal or a quick raita? Down jacket or a vest? Decisions to make. To keep up. Ah! the troubles of life.
No not really troubles. For I am blessed with a life of peace. If I can shut my eyes and ears to the killing and crying happening in other corners of the world. There is not much that I want to see when the news is on. I shy away on purpose when scarred, bleeding faces of children flash on Google news. Ignorance is bliss. It is.
Oil tempered with spices to season the yogurt.
Raita is a popular side dish or a salad or condiment (whatever way you want to see it). The base ingredient is yogurt, mildly seasoned. What you add to the yogurt is entirely up to you. Probably the most common is the cucumber raita. Little chunks of cooling cucumber with chilled yogurt and mint offers respite during the dry summer heat. Sometimes during summer months that is all you crave for.
However there are fruit raitas and raitas made with with other vegetables which are raw or are slightly cooked. Like eggplants.
The spices used for seasoning the yogurt varies from one part of the country to another, depending on traditions, availability and popularity of spices. A sprinkle of roasted cumin is popular in the north. A tempering of mustard and curry leaves belong to the south. What I did today is my own. It works well. The slight pop of the mustard seeds, the smoky flavors of the red pepper, and the fenugreek. The mint adds the cool refreshing touch.
Pomegranates? I would add to anything. It is not a requirement in the Eggplant Raita. But it does add that irresistible crunch and sweetness. Do not give it a miss if you have the pomegranates!
I only remind ourselves how fortunate we are: to be sheltered, surrounded by luxury. To have the choice of food and respond to the needs of our body as the temperature dips or rises outside. There are people out there who would be happy to have some water to quench their thirst. Forget the hunger or the blankets or the bed. Or the shade that sprawls over my backyard.
Count my blessings. Every day. Every moment.
The more I think, the meaninglessness of the sorrows becomes ever more prominent. So many tears, so much pain. Yes one can make a difference. We can try. But how much difference. No drop goes unheard. Yet it is not enough. Never enough.
Yet it is not just now. It has been always. Over the ages of time. It just portrays in different forms. Recently I read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” again. I sat shocked, stunned. Is it really possible? That human beings can degrade to that level? It had left me speechless when I had read it as a child. The time when I only knew love and trust. My grandmother had got the book for me to read from her school library. Sitting in another corner of the world, I had cried with a million questions in my mind.
This time I am where the earth is stained by the bloods of the “slaves”. Of parting, of whipping and of unsung graves. Let it rest. For if I think anymore…
The dust has covered the stains. The heroes and the good and the evil forgotten. We have apparently leafed over a new chapter.
But have we really?
There are choices in life to make. For those of us where choices are allowed.
So one fine day when the dawn broke with a clear cloudless orange, I knew it was going to be good. A warm day in the midst of winter is always a gift. No one dare to throw it away. The little heads of mint showed up already in two days of warmth. Happy to be swaying under the warm rays.
The sun streamed in the open windows. The leaves of the plants dancing to the breeze, inhaling the crisp freshness.
Baingan or Eggplant Raita is what I chose. Cool yogurt combined with the earthy, meaty eggplants and the fresh hint of mint and pomegranate. Thick creamy wholesome yogurt coating the spoon. A slice of Naan on the side. All is good!
Baingan Ka Raita: Eggplant in Seasoned Yogurt
- 2 long Chinese eggplants, washed and cubed
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1-2 hot green chilli peppers, very thinly sliced (de seeded and membranes removed if you do not want spicy) – optional
- 1.5 – 2 cups well drained plain unflavored yogurt (or Greek yogurt)
- fresh mint (use dried mint if fresh mint is not available)
- 1 teaspoon sugar (or honey) – adjust to taste
- oil to shallow fry the eggplants
- salt to taste
- fresh mint for garnish
- pomegranates (optional- but recommended as it pairs beautifully with the eggplants)
- 1.5 teaspoon oil
- a tiny pinch of hing/asafoetida (optional)
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 4-6 fenugreek/methi seeds (do not use too many of these: they are sort of bitter if you happen to bit into them)
- 1 whole red dry chilli pepper
- red crushed pepper (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon red chili powder (use paprika or cayenne for less heat)
Note: you may adjust the amount of yogurt to eggplant. There could be just enough yogurt to coat the eggplants or there may be more.
Cube the eggplants and sprinkle salt and turmeric on them. Toss and allow them to sit for about 15 minutes.
Heat enough oil in a pan to shallow fry the eggplants. When the oil shimmers, add the eggplants and cook them while frequently tossing them until they are brown on all sides and cooked to tender. They will still hold their shapes and will not mush. Remove from pan and set aside and allow them to cool.
Whisk the yogurt with sugar or honey, salt (to taste) and finely chopped fresh mint (or crumbled dried mint) until smooth and creamy.
Gently fold in the fried eggplants into the yogurt. Next fold in the pomegranates and the sliced chili peppers if you are using them. You may save some of the pomegranate arils for garnish.
Now you will temper the raita to flavor it with spices: Heat 1.5 teaspoon oil in a small small. Add the hing/asafoetida (if using), mustard and fenugreek seeds, whole red chili pepper and the crushed pepper. When the seeds starts to pop and the pepper turns brown, switch off the heat and remove from heat. Add the red chili powder or parprika or cayenne to the hot oil. This will add color to the oil. Immediately pour the hot, spiced oil over the yogurt and gently stir in.
You may garnish with more fresh mint.
Serve warm or chilled. This is a side dish and pairs very well with any Indian meal or just with warm buttered Naan.
Preparation Time: less than 15 minutes
Cooking Time: Less than 15 minutes
Difficulty Level: Very easy