I met my uncle in a hotel lobby in Rajkot. We nervously pulsed between curious questions and hugs. I couldn’t help but look for my grandad’s face in his as I jumped on the back of his motorbike to go over to meet the rest of the family.
It is the universal rule of having guests over in an Indian home that you offer them ‘chai’ and ‘pani’, (masala tea and water) the moment they set foot through the door. And so we were promptly hydrated before we sitting down to a home-cooked feast.
We sat around a laminated flowery table with my granddad’s sister, 82 year old Lilly, and her three generations. We ate the most delicious fire – smoked aubergines, millet flour chapattis, home-made plum chutney, deliciously crunchy-pickled turmeric, home-made white butter and some roasted poppadoms. They chucked a few crisps on my plate too – which they said were famous in Rajkot.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after 40 days of eating restaurant food on this trip I felt incredibly relieved to eat some proper home-cooked food and was struck by how amazingly familiar these distant relatives suddenly felt. There is something about home-cooking in itself that makes you feel the warmth of a home and being part of a family.
Harsha’s fire-smoked aubergines
The key to this dish is having a gas stove which you can roast the aubergines on and a nice big pair of (pete) tongs.
1 and a half red onions, finely chopped
4 fat garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp sugar
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
6 small/ baby aubergines (you can use big aubergines too – but they’ll take longer to roast up)
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of ginger
2 tbs groundnut oil (or sunflower/ veg or olive)
salt to taste
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander powder
1tsp cumin powder
Put the aubergines over a medium heat on the stove. If you have a skewer you could do a couple at a time. You want to roast them, turning them over every minute or so, until the flesh is soft and the skin is black. Patience pays off with this one.
While the aubergines are roasting, chop the onions, garlic, tomatoes and ginger. Heat the oil in a pan, add the onions and fry on a medium heat until they’re translucent, add the garlic, ginger and chilli and stir. When the onions are turning golden, add the tomatoes.
We need to wait for the tomatoes to cook down and release their flavour, after around 5-7 minutes until they become pasty, with little water running from them.
While you’re waiting for them, check to see if the aubergines are done. If so, take them off the heat and when cool enough, peel off the black skin and chop the flesh into a fine mash.
When the tomatoes are done, add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt and pepper to taste. Add the aubergine mash to the tomatoes and heat through for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with chapatti or naan bread.