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My friend Ryan likes to eat at this Middle Eastern restaurant called the Earthen Jar in downtown Ann Arbor. However, he also likes to cook and eat food while not necessarily visiting any restaurant; Ryan's a co-op kid and very into the huge communal meals you make and eat with lots of friends. So one day he decided to try and see if he could duplicate a dish the kids at said Earthen Jar make. Lo and behold, he could! He wrote down his recipe, and it has been hanging on our kitchen wall ever since.

Ryan entitled his recipe "Earthen Jar eggplant stuff", but it has come to be called "eggplant business" instead. This is just because the usage of the term "business" in the phrase "X business" was prevalent among the people living in our house at the time. Language! Idiom! Yay!

The dish itself is a thick tomato and eggplant curry, served over rice or with naan. People were hesitant about combining tomatoes and curry at first, but it worked out really well, so if you are concerned about such a thing, fear not. It's substantial, spicy, and vegan to boot. This version will serve two people.

You need:

  • Eggplant, one small, approx 2 cups cubed. See ratatouille for my eggplant-chopping technique.
  • Garlic, plenty (eight cloves?), diced.
  • Onion, yellow, one medium, also diced.
  • Ginger root, maybe a thumb-sized chunk, diced as fine as you can get it. DO NOT use powdered ginger unless you are desperate! You will regret it!!
  • Sesame seeds, a good two handfuls. Use your eye on this one.
  • Sesame oil or olive oil, for sauté purposes. Ryan strongly prefers sesame but I usually actually have olive in the cupboard.
  • Tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes (for thicker end result), a 16-oz can, more or less.
  • Curry powder. Ryan says "half of your curry". So, to taste.
  • Cumin, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and salt, also to taste.
  • Mozzarella cheese for optional garnish.
  • Pans, one sauce and one frying, plus another saucepan for the rice if necessary. I use a 3 quart saucepan and a deep 10 inch frying pan. You can actually do this all in one pan, but I learned on two pans, so I shall tell you both ways.
  • Rice or naan with which to eat your finished product, as mentioned.

Ok. If you are making rice, start it first; naan can wait until afterward. Make about a cup to serve two people. Use whatever kind of rice you want; brown rice is nice. Rice!

Get yourself your pans and a wooden spoon. If you are using two pans, put your frying pan over low to medium heat; if you are using one pan, just use your saucepan. The frying pan allows things to cook faster, since there is more surface area available. Add your oil and sauté your garlic, onion, ginger and sesame seeds until translucent and/or fragrant. You want the ingredients to be more or less evenly proportioned, but with a bit less ginger than everything else. When you are ready, turn the heat down a bit, add your cubed eggplant, and continue to sauté. You may need to add a little more oil to keep things from sticking. If you want to add other vegetables, zucchini and bell peppers work well. Keep stirring every once in awhile, until the eggplant is cooked to your liking.

Get out your saucepan and put it over medium heat to make your tomato sauce. For those of you using one pan, just add all this to the eggplant mixture once it is reasonably done. Just dump in your tomato sauce and spice the hell out of it. Spicy is very good here. I use commercial curry powders (McCormick, generally), but if you have your own curry mix, go ahead and use that. Or use Spider Monkey's curry powder; I personally haven't tried it, but it looks like quality stuff there. Use lots of curry powder (two tablespoons, maybe?), almost as much cumin, and a couple shakes each of cayenne, black pepper, and salt. Maybe a little more salt. Simmer for a couple minutes to get all the spices good and infused throughout the sauce. Taste it and see if you want to add more of any spice.

Meanwhile, your eggplant mixture should be about done. Taste a piece and see if it's a good cooked texture. If you are satisfied, add the eggplant mixture to the pot of sauce and stir to mix. If it's already mixed, great. Simmer for ten or fifteen minutes more, until you are too impatient to wait any longer. Ryan says "Stew till Delicious! Eat and be happy!" I concur.

I generally serve over rice and grate mozzarella cheese over the top. It's a nice mild contrast to all the spice, and provides some dairy and protein as well. It does make it non-vegan, but then I'm not vegan. Anyway, it's just as good with no cheese. Be sure to have lots of ice water ready to drink; otherwise, you don't really need anything else with this.

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