In my home country of Trinidad and Tobago, this garlicky eggplant dish, known colloquially as baighan or melongene, isn’t considered a recipe because all it requires is a low flame, a handful of garlic cloves, a hearty dash of curry powder, and eggplant. The process of making this dish seethes with a simplicity that defines island life. Folded into the ease, however, are deep flavors rightfully attributed to the island’s vast and vibrant East Indian culture, from which this dish is believed to originate.
Many foods from the subcontinent were hybridized and adapted when Indian indentured laborers arrived to the Caribbean in the mid-nineteenth century. Take curry, for example. It is a popular catch-all culinary term, albeit one that doesn’t hold much contextual weight or historical accuracy. However, the curry used in this recipe is a powder made by the Trinidad-based company Chief. The brand was started by Sayeed Khan, the grandson of an Indian indentured laborer, who envisioned an easier way for locals to achieve the rich and complex notes of freshly ground dried spices without the labor of toasting and pulverizing many individual types.
This curry powder in particular is a household staple and national darling, beloved for its fresh, bold, and nuanced profile. In this recipe, the inclusion of curry powder adds perfume and a brilliant hue. If you can’t find Chief curry powder, however, madras curry powder is an acceptable substitute (but not an exact one).
The biggest win of this wholly vegan eggplant recipe, which tingles with bright bursts of heat and bite, is its range and functionality. Growing up on the island, I ate it for breakfast with sada roti. These days, my husband is thrilled to heap creamy spoonfuls of melongene over steamed brown rice for a hearty meal on a weeknight. And during these balmy summer months, we adapt it ever-so-slightly by pairing it with peppery fresh arugula and pan-seared citrusy chicken thighs. In whatever mode preference dictates, this stewed eggplant is a workhorse wonder that’s sure to surprise.
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Brigid Washington is a chef and journalist based in Raleigh and the author of the cookbook Coconut. Ginger. Shrimp. Rum.: Caribbean Flavors For Every Season.
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