03 May 2010

The Caponata That Wasn't

My approach to cooking a dish or meal usually begins with either inspiration from a pre-existing dish or simply finding myself in the mood for food of a particular cuisine.  I recently wanted to make my first attempt at cooking caponata, a sweet and tangy Italian eggplant dish, after seeing it featured on a few restaurant menus.  I had also seen it prepared several times on various cooking shows and both the ingredient list and method seemed simple enough.  At the end of last week, I spied several large eggplants at the grocery store as I made a quick dash in for a few items, and remembering that I had caponata on my to-cook list and that I had everything but the main ingredient already at home, I snatched an eggplant up before heading to the check-out stand.

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.
Baingan Bharta.
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.
My plate.
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.


  1. That is a commendable dinner! So rounded out and delicious looking! I've never heard of capotana, I look forward to a future post about it :-)

  2. I don't know why, but eggplant is one of the few (maybe the only one) veggies I don't love. I can eat it, and it's ok, but it's not my favorite one.
    The only way I can eat it in indeterminate amounts is in spead/dipp form (a quite popular dish in Russia)

    I like the coconut rice idea :) The spiced Chard and Soybeans look delicious too. I just love soybeans ^^

    I can recall to your improvisation/mood cooking method because I do it myself :P I hardly ever follow a recipe but inspire in it (sometimes due the lack of some ingredient)

  3. That is a commendable dinner! So rounded out and delicious looking! I've never heard of capotana, I look forward to a future post about it :-)


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