As the summer starts to disappear, and with it any hope of having a barbecue, think of this recipe. It uses the classic and ancient Indian dhungar method of smoking food by placing a smoldering piece of charcoal in the center of the curry and pouring a little oil over it, then covering for a minute so that the smoky flavors permeate. Close your eyes and you could be in a street market in Delhi, just without the cows.
In order to cook this dish safely, it’s best to smoke it outside—i.e., when you’ve burned the coal, place it in the pan and carry it outside, so that no smoke enters your house. Only ever use non-toxic natural lumpwood charcoal to smoke with, as it’s a natural form of wood charcoal.
Serves 4 to 6 as a side
4 tablespoons canola oil (plus 1 teaspoon for smoking)
2 medium white onions, sliced
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1½-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
3 medium eggplants (2 pounds), cut into 2 inches x ¾ inch batons
4 large ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
1¼ teaspoons ground red chile
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
a piece of charcoal around ¾ inch square
Put the 4 tablespoons of oil into a large lidded frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the onions and fry for around 10 minutes, until soft and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until the raw smell of the garlic disappears.
Next add the eggplants, along with 6 tablespoons of water, stir, and pop the lid on the pan. Cook for around 15 minutes, until the eggplant pieces have collapsed, stirring very occasionally. Add the tomato wedges, ground red chile, salt, turmeric, coriander, and cumin, cook for 3 to 4 minutes with the lid off, until the tomatoes become jammy around the edges, then take the pan off the heat.
To smoke the curry, place a little heatproof bowl in the center of the pan. Hold the charcoal in a pair of tongs over a small flame until the edges burn white and red. Then place it carefully in the small bowl, put the lid over the pan, and carefully carry outdoors, along with the oil for smoking and a pair of tongs. Place the pan down, open the lid, pour the teaspoon of oil over the hot coal, and close the lid again to trap the smoke. For a subtle smoky flavor, smoke the curry for 1 minute. For a nicely smoked flavor, smoke for 2 minutes. Remove the bowl using the tongs and run it under a tap to extinguish the coal.
Taste the curry for chile and salt. Adjust if need be, then serve with rice or buttery naan and yogurt.