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September 20, 2014
Melt-in-the-Mouth Burnt Aubergine and Spinach Curry
I live and breathe Gujarati food. They are simple vegetarian dishes I eat every evening, and have done since I was young. Burnt Aubergine and Spinach Curry (Oroh) was one of those dishes mum would cook as a midweek dinner after our evening swim at our local leisure centre.
What is Oroh?
Oroh is simply a name for smoky aubergine cooked with garlic, onions, tomatoes and chillies. If you’re a fan of North Indian food, you’ll probably know it as Baingan ka Bharta – the North Indian version. Oroh is the Gujarati name for it and here’s how we cook it at home.
Baingan ka Bharta is a part of the national cuisines of all nation states of the Indian subcontinent. It’s a well-loved vegetarian dish that’s made by mincing aubergine or eggplant that is grilled over charcoal or direct fire. At home we do it over direct fire.
A whole head of garlic?!
It’s really easy to be afraid of overdoing it with the garlic in this dish. You might think it’s mad to add as much garlic as my recipe calls for but please do stick with it. The burnt aubergine needs flavours that can stand up to it so that the result is smoky, spicy, punchy and tangy.
Can beginners make Melt-in-the-Mouth Burnt Aubergine and Spinach Curry?
Absolutely! This is one of the first dishes my mother taught me to cook. I’d seen her make it a million times before and it was a favourite in our home. Gather your ingredients and take your time roasting the aubergines over the open flame. Why? Because this is where the dish gets a tonne of flavour so it’s important to get this bit right. Finally, don’t skimp on the charring.
My love affair with Melt-in-the-Mouth Burnt Aubergine and Spinach Curry
I learnt to cook this when I was 12 years old and it blew my mind. I thought it was insane to cook aubergines on an open flame until they’re practically incinerated on the outside. It went against everything I thought to be true about Indian food. However, the very beauty of it was that while the outside burns to a crisp, the inside is cooked until butter-soft and smoky. Perfection.
Some important things to remember when making this aubergine curry:
Before you start, make some holes through the aubergines – otherwise there will be explosions and they won’t be fun to clean up.
I also recommend you line your gas cooker with aluminium foil. That way once you’re done, you can just lift it off and throw it away. Besides, nobody wants to be scrubbing their cooker for hours.
You’ll only be using the inner flesh of the aubergine in the curry. As a result, the charred skin will eventually be discarded. Therefore, try to think about the skin as a protective layer that needs to be charred for the greater good of the flesh. Wow, that got philosophical quickly!
What can I add instead of spinach?
I’ve added spinach to this but to make classic Gujarati Oroh, simply leave it out. I like the combination of leafy green spinach and melt-in-the-mouth aubergine. Similarly, I’ve made this successfully with kale. Note: kale takes longer to cook than spinach so keep this in mind when simmering for a final time. It’s likely to take around 10-15 minutes longer.
How to serve Melt-in-the-Mouth Burnt Aubergine and Spinach Curry
250gbaby leaf spinachwashed and squeezed of excess water
Fresh coriander, lemon wedges and chopped green chilliesto garnish
Make around 10 holes in each aubergine and place one on each burner of your gas cooker. Turn the flame on high and cook the aubergines for 8 minutes. Don’t touch or move them during this time. Trust me.
Once 8 minutes have passed, use tongs to turn them over and cook the other sides for 8 minutes, again not moving them. Steam will escape from the holes you’ve made. It’s important not to leave the kitchen during this time! Open a window too. Once charred on the outside, use tongs to place each aubergine onto a plate and set aside to cool.
In a large pan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds and optional asafoetida. Cook for a minute and then add the onions. Allow to cook on a medium heat until golden, about 10 minutes. Add in the garlic and chillies and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
Tip in the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients except for the spinach and freshly-chopped coriander. Cook for around 15 minutes, stirring frequently until the sauce is thick and the oil begins to separate from the tomatoes slightly.
Whilst the sauce is cooking, check the aubergines have cooled enough to handle. Split each aubergine lengthways and scrape out the soft inside. It’s okay if some burnt skin comes away with it but try to remove the large pieces. Chop it all up roughly and add to the tomato sauce along with the spinach. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring all the time until the spinach has wilted and any excess water has evaporated.
Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander, chopped green chillies and lemon wedges.
This curry can be made 48 hours in advance. The flavours get better with time so it’s a great make-ahead recipe!
Make a double batch and freeze half for later! Allow the curry to cool completely, transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 6 months. Defrost and room temperature and ensure the curry is piping hot before serving.
This curry is traditionally eaten with chapattis and salted lassi. Badasses can add a side of Gujarati Lasan ni Chutney if they like. Yeah, MORE GARLIC!
Once your cooker has cooled down completely, you can lift off the foil lining and wipe down as normal.