Aubergine and Paneer Subji

by Sanjukta Moorthy

This is a dish totally of my own invention, which I made for dinner earlier this week. I salted some aubergines to make Pasta alla Norma, one of my all-time favourite comfort foods.

Turns out we had no pasta whatsoever. Whoops.

So I thought, why not turn it into a subji?

Just to clarify, subji is the Hindi word for ‘vegetable’, which Indians will use to describe a vegetable dish – what’s basically known commonly as a ‘curry’. Those who know me will know that I hate the word ‘curry’ because of the stereotype of terribly greasy, spicy and unappetising Indian food that goes with it!

I put this dish together using my knowledge of spices and my mother’s special homemade garam masala (thanks for both of those Amma!)

Indian food is really easy and can be fantastic if you know what spices work together, and the various ‘stars’ (vegetables, chicken, lamb, beef, fish etc) which work well with them.

Garam masala is fantastic with everything and my mother’s super special mix is really nice and sweet with a nutty smell, and it’s full of flavour and always reminds me of home. I thought some of that, with a little coriander powder, some coconut milk and maybe a dash of paprika powder would make a simple but really satisfying and comforting dish which would remind me of home. Which it did!

We had some paneer (Indian cottage cheese, you can get it in every supermarket) in the freezer, which after some quick Googling, discovered could be defrosted in the microwave for a few minutes. We defrosted about 200g for about 3 minutes, which brought it to room temperature.

So here it is: my surprisingly fantastic invention! It was a massive ego boost, because now I know I can cobble together a nice Indian meal without fuss and just rely on my own knowledge of tastes!

Serves 2

2 large aubergines, sliced (I cut them widthways into thirds, then cut those individual pieces into sticks about 1cm square)

200g paneer, cubed

1 can coconut milk

2 onions, chopped or sliced

2 tsp ginger-garlic paste (available in all supermarkets and a fantastic storecupboard staple for Asian and Indian food. If you can’t get it, a 1 inch piece of ginger and about 2 cloves of garlic, mashed together or chopped finely will do)

3 tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp coriander powder

2 tsp paprika powder or mild chilli powder

Parathas, naans, chappatis or rotis to serve

Chop or slice the onions, and in the mean time bring your wok or large saucepan to a medium heat with some olive oil.

Add the onions and the ginger-garlic paste, and leave them for about 5 minutes to soften – this should be done on a low to medium heat, to get all the sweetness out of the onions.

Once that’s done, turn the heat up and add the garam masala and coriander powder. Indian food relies on the base of either onions or onions and tomatoes to be flavoured first, and strongly, then that flavour then being distributed across the rest of the dish. Adding the spices now will also help them cook a little and release the aromatics.

Now add the cubes of paneer. For the paneer to cook, it needs to brown on as many sides as possible – just like halloumi, basically. When the paneer looks beautifully golden, you can turn it over. The best way to do this is to leave the paneer in the pan for a few minutes on one side, on a medium heat, so that it browns, then to turn it over and shake everything around, let that sit for a few minutes too and then repeat etc.

When the paneer is browned on as many sides as you’d like, add the slices of aubergine.

I had salted the aubergine a few hours before, in the hopes of making the Pasta-That-Never-Was. I’d recommend doing that, because it draws out the moisture, meaning you have to use less oil to cook the aubergines. The easiest way to do this is to add about 2 tsp of salt per aubergine, to a tea towel so you can pat the aubergines dry before cooking. Leave them from anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, bearing in mind that the longer you leave it, the less it needs to cook, meaning that you can eat that much faster. Always a good thing. Don’t forget to wash the aubergines in a colander or sieve before you cook them – this removes the excess salt but still makes sure they’re really salty so won’t need to add any more to the dish. If you haven’t salted your aubergines before-hand, about 1-2 tsp would do for this dish, and you can add it with the aubergine.

Stir the aubergines around and turn the heat up. In a few minutes you’ll see the skin start to blister and turn a lighter purple, and the paneer will get a little more golden. This is all good, and means your dish is about 15-20 minutes away from completion, hurray!

Keep this mix stirring, you want to coat everything in the yummy spices.

When the aubergine has cooked for about 5 minutes, add the can of coconut milk. Turn the heat up, so it bubbles a little, let it bubble for a few minutes then turn the heat back down again.

At this point, you can add the naans/chappatis/rotis in the oven to warm through. If you’re making parathas,

 Taste it now, and if you think it could use a little more salt or garam masala, add it now. This is also the time to add your paprika, so let that cook for a few more minutes.

When you think the spices have all mixed well and the coconut milk has thickened enough, the dish is probably done.

Garnish with chopped coriander if you have any, then serve with yoghurt and your breads!

Enjoy, let me know if it worked for you!