Young cooks often think that they can only produce edible creations through meticulous measurements and attention to detail. However, a seasoned chef can develop a sense of culinary intuition and learn how to add a little bit of this and a lot of that to cook a dish to perfection, no teaspoon measurement required.
I learned about this second style of cooking over the shoulder (or head—she’s very short) of my friend’s mother. I spent as many nights as was socially acceptable lingering at my friend’s house in the hopes that her mom would be making Iranian food for dinner. Once she got comfortable with me semi-living in their house and told me she had adopted me as her son, I finally decided to ask her to teach me how to cook.
During the eventful evening during which I got to act as sous chef, I was impressed to find that she didn’t measure a thing. To make the rice, she poured what seemed to be an arbitrary amount, rinsed the grains until the water ran clear, and then stuck her finger in the pot. When I gave her a confused look, she explained to me that the water should come up to somewhere between her first and second knuckle on her index finger—that’s what she learned from her mother. I looked down from where I stood next to her and reminded her that my hands are about twice the size of hers, so her measuring mechanisms were hardly applicable to me. That’s when I knew that I would be in trouble if I planned to learn from her.
I spent the rest of the cooking adventure trying to figure out how to translate her statements of “put in some oil…but not as much as I just did,” and “cook it until it feels done,” into something quantifiable I could write down on my yellow legal pad.
However blasphemous it may be, I’m attempting here to translate approximations and generalizations into numbers. As one of my roommates just came back from a semester abroad in India, I decided to honor her by attempting to make Indian food.
By combining some ideas from recipes from the Internet with a recipe from my large cookbook of Indian dishes and sprinkling in a dash of my roommate’s advice, I came up with something reasonably close to baigan bharta—a mashed, roasted eggplant dish—or at least something that satisfies me and can be made entirely with ingredients from Weshop. Luckily, this recipe is flexible, and eggplant’s relatively neutral flavor can serve as a great transportation device for whatever spices you feel like throwing in. So be creative and don’t get too caught up in the details; remember, a recipe’s nothing more than a suggestion.
2 medium eggplants
8 cloves garlic
1 small onion, chopped
2 fresh tomatoes (or 3-4 canned, peeled tomatoes)
2 thin slices fresh ginger
turmeric, to taste
cayenne pepper, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
cumin, to taste
curry powder, to taste
neutral oil (grapeseed, peanut, or canola)
1. Preheat oven to a low broil.
2. Using a sharp knife, poke four small holes in each of the eggplants. Stuff one garlic clove into each, and brush each eggplant with oil and two teaspoons turmeric.
3. Bake eggplants for 10-15 minutes, turning frequently, until blackened. Allow to cool.
4. Once cool, peel the eggplants and mash with a spoon. If you don’t mind ending up with yellow skin, mash them with your hands. It’s really satisfying.
5. Heat oil and cumin in a large, heavy skillet for about one minute.
6. Once oil is hot, add onions and cook about five minutes.
7. Add eggplant and tomatoes. Mash tomatoes with whatever utensils you are using.
8. Let cook until oil seeps out. Add spices excessively.
9. Enjoy over rice! Or with naan! Or with your fingers!