With everything seemingly in place to make caponata, all should have gone as planned and I should be talking about what I did and how it turned out, with a photo or two showcasing the results. But plans change, which is exactly what happened in this case. In fact, I not only upgraded from making just one dish to an entire meal, but also switched my intended cuisine from Italian to Indian-inspired, all due to spotting an abundance of perfectly vibrant cilantro in the garden. Wanting to use some of the herb before any critters could claim it first, I opted out of caponata and decided to consult my copy of Madhu Gadia's The Indian Vegan Kitchen (2009) for inspiration, although I pretty much already knew that Baingan Bharta would be a good way to stick with the eggplant theme. Because Baingan Bharta didn't actually call for cilantro, I decided to implement the herb in a dish of chard and soybeans, as well as in spiced coconut rice, which would round out the meal.
Fresh chard and cilantro.
This being my first attempt at any of the recipes from The Indian Vegan Kitchen, I tried to follow Gadia's Baigan Bharta (or Mashed Eggplant) recipe as closely as possible, with only the following adjustments: I water sauteed the onions in a nonstick pan rather than using oil, substituted green chilis with ground red pepper, and used drained, diced tomatoes rather than fresh tomatoes. The dish was flavorful with a nice bit of spice, and I don't think it suffered at all from the absence of added fat. It would certainly be delicious served with daal and flatbread, as Gadia suggests, as the texture of the eggplant is ideal for being scooped up with pieces of bread. But I had already begun making another type of bread before I even decided upon Indian food (more on that in a later post), so rice would have to do.
The chard and soybean dish was an attempt to create something like saag (spiced greens), using more ingredients I already had in my kitchen; chard has been growing like mad in the garden, and I had cooked a batch of dried soybeans a few days prior to my Indian-inspired meal but had not yet used them for anything. A blend of finely chopped chard, sliced onion, ginger, garlic, soybeans, cumin, red pepper, and cilantro were cooked together to form a tasty greens-and-beans side to the eggplant dish. Rather than cooking plain basmati, I thought I'd give coconut rice a try, stemming from curiosity about whether fresh coconut water would work successfully in imparting the same amount of flavor as coconut milk. I used red rice, a mixture of coconut water and regular water, half a cinnamon stick, bay leaf, cloves, dried Thai chili (more of my garden bounty), raisins, more cilantro, and fresh lime juice. What resulted was aromatic, slightly sticky rice with a touch of coconut flavor and sweetness that was a nice contrast to the savory greens and eggplant. Coconut milk would probably be a better bet for future batches of coconut rice, but the coconut water wasn't a bad stand-in.
Spiced Chard and Soybeans.
The meal in its entirety was tasty and comforting. The sweet, savory, and spicy elements worked nicely together, as did the varying textures. The best part of it was that much of the meal was comprised of items harvested from the garden or from those that simply needed to be used. Another plus: I finally cooked something out of the newest addition to my growing cookbook collection and am eager to try more recipes from it. Sure, the caponata will have to wait a little longer, but I'm certainly not complaining about the tasty diversion.