Some flavor combinations are like an old pair of jeans, comfortable and reliable. You turn to them again and again, and again, and finally, the 47th time you've turned to them, you're like, okay, I think the ass in these jeans is starting to sag and it's really time to buy a new pair.
Like eggplant and garlic. And eggplant and garlic. And eggplant and... you get the picture. I honestly don't think I've ever cooked eggplant without garlic, and it's not like the seams of my life were slowly untangling, but damn if I wasn't ready to make an eggplant dish that, for once, had a non-Mediterranean flavor profile.
Monica Bhide's entire book Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen (Simon & Schuster, 2009) is like a brand new, but instantly comfortable, pair of jeans with no ass-sagging downside. It has both solved my eggplant crisis and illuminated new crises I didn't even know I had, and solved those, too. When I made the pan-seared eggplant with ginger and honey (pictured above), I knew, KNEW, that I was going to eat the entire 4-person side dish in about 8 minutes. The recipe was ridiculously easy, the flavors vibrant and unique.
I've also made Bhide's pomegranate shrimp, another quick dish that fuses two seemingly disparate flavors into a cohesive whole. You'll want to locate your nearest Middle Eastern or Indian market and invest in a $4 bottle of pomegranate molasses for both these recipes.
Bhide is also the author of The Everything Indian Cookbook (Adams Media, 2004) and has written for the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. Check out her blog, A Life of Spice, here.
And really, if your jeans are saggy or, god forbid, low-rise (that ship has sailed), it's seriously time for a new pair.
Recipe for Monica Bhide's Pan Seared Eggplant with Ginger and Honey
(From Modern Spice, reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster)
6 tablespoons vegetable oil (more if needed)
1 medium eggplant, sliced into 3/4"-thick rounds
3 tablespoons Ginger and Honey Marinade (recipe follows*), warmed
Heat the oil in a large lidded skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the eggplant and cook, covered, 12 to 14 minutes on each side, until soft and well-browned. If all the eggplant slices don't fit into the skillet, do this using two skillets simultaneously. This way, the first batch won't get cold while you are making the second batch.
Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Season with salt.
Place on a serving platter and drizzle with the marinade. Serve immediately.
Ginger and Honey Marinade*
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup warmed liquid honey
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon grated lime or lemon zest
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir thoroughly to combine. Transfer to a covered, nonreactive container, and refrigerate until needed.