Boy, today was h-o-t! Yesterday was bad enough but this morning was unbelievable. April’s not even over yet and we’ve already had a record high of 92°F. To many of you it may seem that I’m overstating this, since you may live in much hotter places. Heck, I’ve lived in much hotter places. Bombay is far from a ski vacation and college in Texas had many sweltering days where being outside gave you a fairly good idea of what hell must feel like. The difference is, here in the Bay area, we’re spoiled weather-wise, especially in San Francisco. Think bright beautiful sunshine with your own personal air-conditioning around you. That’s what it is like, sunshine with heat optional. The fog ensures that we need jackets in the summer, because when there is no sun, it is cool. Even on hot days, the temperature difference between night and day can be as much as 30°, as it is supposed to tonight. And as I sit here writing this, smelling the ocean on this hot spring night, the breeze starting blow in through my window is telling me this will be true.
It’s a darn shame I can’t sleep on the roof of my apartment building. I would brave random nocturnal creature attacks to enjoy a few hours of cooling slumber. It is impossible trying to sleep when you are hot. You slowly roast where you lie, incapacitated and zapped to near death by the crazy heat. Living in these cooler climes has taught me that I prefer the cold. I love everything about summer except the heat. Crazy but true. Even as I continue to slowly type this at the rate of two words per minute, I’m getting slower as my brain continues to melt into oblivion. Oh my future and past kingdoms for an air-conditioned room! (Incidentally in case you are wondering, apartments here rarely have air-conditioning, courtesy the normally fabulous weather.)
Though I wanted to be nowhere near heat sources today, food was required to hold what was left of body and soul together. So we opened up every window in the house and made us a batch of Afghani Baingan (eggplant or brinjal) à la Jaya, a lovely friend from grad school who I’ve sadly lost touch with since. Spicy food is great for cooling down on a hot day, as is yoghurt but for two very different reasons. This lip-smacking dish combines both factors very effectively. The spice is a deep rich flavour which melds well with the sourness of the curds. The refrigerating it calls for ensures you are putting something cold in your system, which in itself is what is needed. The dish required some initial frying but by keeping the heat high I cooked up a quick batch in ten minutes. Those ten minutes in Hades bought me an amazingly cooling dinner.
Serves 2 to 3
Eggplant/Aubergines/Brinjal – 1 large
Red chilli powder – 2 tsp
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Tomato – 2 to 3, pureed
Yoghurt – 1 cup
Garlic – 4 cloves, minced
Grated black cardamom – 1 to pinches
Black pepper powder – 1/2 tsp
Cilantro – few leaves for garnish
Oil for frying
Salt – 1 tsp each for the yogurt and the tomato mixture
– Cut the brinjal transversely into round discs about 1/2 inch thick. Toss these with 1 tsp of salt, turmeric powder and 1 tsp of the chilli powder. Set aside for about ten minutes to marinate.
– Meanwhile, lightly saute the tomato puree with salt and 1 tsp chilli powder, in a 1/2 tsp of oil until lightly browned.
– In a bowl, bring together the yoghurt and garlic. Add pepper powder and black cardamom powder and mix thoroughly.
– In a fryer or large vessel, heat some oil. Fry the eggplant, dropping in two to three discs at a time for a couple of minutes each. Drain on paper towel until cooled.
– The dish now has to be assembled in layers. Take a deep casserole type dish and start with a layer of the tomato puree. Next put on a layer of the fried eggplant covering with a layer of the yoghurt mixture. Start again with the puree and continue in this fashion until all the ingredients have been used up, making sure that the yoghurt mixture is the topmost layer.
– Add some drops of red cooking oil on top and garnish with cilantro.
– Move dish to the refrigerator for a half hour before serving.
This dish was great for a day like today served with some cooled rice. The melding of the heat of the spices and the coolness of the dish make for an exceedingly cooling combination. I’ve often served this as one of many sides when having a bunch of friends over. This is the dish that is invariably finished first. Whether or not it is truly part of Afghani cuisine, I don’t know. Jaya had told me this is what she knew the dish as. Its dubious roots notwithstanding, you will be tempted to lick your plate clean.