“Why does your house always smell of Indian food?” Last week, I had lunch with my mum and introduced her to miso soup. In return, dropping me off, she made this bold generalisation about the culinary aromas that linger in our small (and inadequately ventilated) flat. She later conceded that it might not be entirely true, but then I do like to cook Indian food. I like to listen for mustard seeds popping in hot oil. I like the smell of coriander seeds ground in a mortar. I like the expectation that builds as the layers of spice and ginger and garlic and chilli meld and settle. And I really like discovering new, untried dishes which turn out to be so delicious you wish you had made twice as much.

This was translated in the book I got it from as ‘aubergine and peanut mash’, which is accurate enough, but I think ‘bharta’ is a nicer word than ‘mash’, and doesn’t make you think automatically of sausages. Before you, um, bharta the aubergines, you smoke them – the technique is probably familiar to you if you own either of the Ottolenghi books or want to, but to sum up: remove the top bits of your hob, i.e. the trivet/rack that the pans sit on, and one of the circular metal bits that goes over the flame. Cover the exposed hob plate with foil, poking a little hole in the middle, and replace the round metal thingy on top. Turn the hob on and hold the aubergine over the gas flame until it starts to blister and blacken, turning occasionally (tongs help here) until it’s burned all over and starting to flop and collapse, indicating that the flesh is cooked through and soft. Leave until cool enough to handle and then peel off the skin and roughly mash the insides with a fork. This is extremely useful for making baba ghanoush and other tasty things.

Aubergine bharta 

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

1 large aubergine
2 tbsp rapeseed/sunflower oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste (a 2:3 ratio of ginger to garlic, both peeled, chopped and blended to a smooth paste with a little water)
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp roasted peanuts
handful coriander leaves, finely chopped
lemon wedge

Prepare the aubergine as described above.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the cumin seeds until they start to darken. Add the onion and fry until soft.

Add the ginger-garlic paste and chilli and fry for a minute. Add the tomato puree, turmeric and coriander and cook for a couple more minutes. Season to taste.

Stir in the aubergine and peanuts, sprinkle with the coriander and serve with a lemon wedge.

From ‘Healthy Indian in Minutes’ by Monisha Bharadwaj

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