Crispy diced Eggplant with Bitter Neem Leaves
The ingredients for this dish are mentioned in the chaitanya Charitamrita, a fifteenth-century Bengali text describing the pastimes and activities of Sri Chaitanya Maha Prabhu. The author describes a feast prepared in honor of the great saint: “Among the various vegetables offered were newly-grown leaves of nimba (neem) trees fried with eggplant”.
Bitter-tasting vegetable dishes are popular in Bengal. They are known to stimulate a failing appetite and pleasantly contrast with other tastes. I suggest beginning with only a hint of this flavoring agent, enough to enliven and heighten the vegetable. Once overdone, nothing can remedy bitter seasonings. Bitter neem leaves (in English, margosa) are rarely, if ever, available at Indian grocery stores. A substitute is dry-roasted fenugreek seeds. Bengalis prefer to cook this dish in mustard oil, but you can use the oil of your choice. Serve the dish in portion of 2-3 table spoons (30-45 ml) to complement a full lunch or dinner menu.
Preparation time (after assembling ingredients): 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
• Eggplant (1 ¼ pounds/570 b) – 1 medium-sized
• Salt – ½ table spoon (7 ml)
• Turmeric – 1 teaspoon (5 ml)
• Ghee, mustard oil or vegetable oil – ½ cup (120 ml)
• Powdered bitter neem leaves – ¼ – ½ teaspoon (1-2 ml) or Powdered roasted fenugreek seeds – ¼ -1 teaspoon (2-5 ml)
1. Dice the eggplant and transfer to a bowl. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt and the turmeric, toss and set aside for 15 minutes. Toss again, then remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon and pat dry with paper towels.
2. In a frying pan, heat the ghee or oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. (If you use mustard oil, let it smoke for 5 seconds before adding the eggplant. This makes the pungent oil docile.) Add the eggplant and stir-fry until browned and crisp. In the last minute of cooking, add the neem or fenugreek and the remaining salt. Toss well, drain in a strainer or on paper towels, and serve hot with a sprinkle of Lemon or Lime juice.
5 or 6 small servings
5 or 6 small servings
By Yamuna Devi Dasi