It was our last summer in London. Post-graduate degrees in hand, we were going to leave the UK soon. I was to join my parents in Washington DC; S was to return to Karachi and Z was moving to Islamabad, her new home after having grown up in Manila. We spent our days walking around Covent Garden pausing to hear a street performer sing an aria, stopping at Caffè Nero for a creamy cappuccino, walking into Karen Millen to ogle the silk dresses (at that age, yes, Karen Millen was l’alta moda) or sitting in Z’s kitchen with her flatmates on the Pentonville Road in her uni housing, while she prepared a Pakistani scrambled egg dish of potatoes, cumin and green chilies for us. And there was tea, lots of tea, along with chocolate digestive biscuits for pudding.
Our dear friend A came from New York to visit us that summer. As we walked over the Embankment Bridge after attending a Sufi Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, I don’t think we quite realised that it would be years before we would be together again. With all of us interspersed all over the world, that is the last time we spent together, the four of us. Whenever we meet now, it’s in configurations of two or three; we’ve never been able to manage that Lucky Number 4.
Before making it home that night, we stopped at the greengrocer’s on the Edgware Road, picking up potatoes, tomatoes and aubergine for a simple vegetarian dinner. Onto bus #16 and then off, across the street from home in Maida Vale. While chatting with S, Z and A, I made a Pakistani dish of potatoes and aubergine: aloo baingan. It’s a dish in which the potatoes and aubergine sort of meld together, each bite velvety and comforting. The tomatoes perfectly balance it out with its hint of tanginess.
We toasted slices of white bread in the toaster to scoop up the aloo baingain with, and spent the night talking, on the floor in an almost empty apartment. I haven’t made this dish since then and so, this post is for you, A- because you loved this dish. I don’t know if the dish was as good as you remember it to be, but that evening certainly was. Here’s to being together again, the four of us, in London again, sitting in Soho and having a cappuccino together, at some coffeeshop chain.
The venue never really mattered then, and it wouldn’t matter now.
Serves 4 with a side dish
*1 tsp cumin seeds; known as zeera in Urdu
*a pour of corn oil (or other neutral oil)
*1 tsp ginger paste
*1 tsp garlic paste
*1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds; known as rai in Urdu
*1 lb potatoes
*2 lb aubergine (that will be 2 medium aubergine)
*1/2 lb tomatoes of your choice, I used cherry tomatoes, halved
*1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
*salt to taste
*1/4 tsp turmeric powder
*fresh coriander for garnish
*Place frying pan on high heat, add cumin seeds, when fragrant (10-20 seconds) take off heat and set aside.
*Remove skin from potatoes and dice into 1/4 inch cubes;
*Cut off stem of aubergine and dice into 1/4 inch cubes, with the skin on;
*Place pan (approximately 10-in diameter) on medium-high heat and pour in a glug of oil;
*Add ginger, garlic and mustard seeds-careful, it will splatter, have your pan lid handy (or some aluminium foil). Let it splatter for 30 seconds so the garlic and ginger is browned.
*Carefully remove lid (I take the pot off the burner and let it rest for at least 10 seconds before I remove the lid) and add potatoes.
*Turn the heat to medium;
*Saute for five minutes and add a tablespoon or more of water to prevent the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
*Add aubergine and continue to stir. Add cayenne, turmeric and salt to taste. Add a few more tablespoons of water (again, to prevent aubergine or potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan) and then add tomatoes.
*Turn the heat to low-medium, place lid on top and allow to steam for 15 minutes. Check at the 10 minute mark.
*When ready, sprinkle with roasted cumin and fresh chopped cilantro.
*Eat with rice, naan, chapati or toasted bread