Stuffed aubergine in curry and coconut dal


When you buy your paneer – which makes the most satisfying filling for the grilled aubergines here, as it soaks up the coconut sauce – try to find a soft variety, which has a texture like compressed ricotta. Other varieties, which are harder and slightly rubbery, are more suitable for making vegetarian tikka kebabs, but they will also do if that’s what you have. For a vegan option, use extra-firm tofu. Try to get a good-quality, chunky Indian mango pickle for this. Both the aubergine slices and the lentil sauce can be prepared the day before, if you want to get ahead. In fact, you can make the whole dish a day ahead, up until before it goes into the oven: chill, then just bring to room temperatur­e before warming up.

SERVES 4 as a main PREPARATIO­N TIME 35 minutes, plus cooling and resting COOKING TIME about 1 hour

3 large aubergines, stalks removed, each cut lengthways into 6 x ½cm thick slices 3tbsp olive oil

220g paneer (or extra-firm tofu), roughly grated

2 limes: finely grate the zest to get 1tsp, then juice to get 2tbsp

45g hot mango pickle, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve

5g coriander, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve

100g large (not baby) spinach leaves, stems removed

FOR THE COCONUT DAL 3tbsp olive oil

5 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped

45g fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 red chillies, finely chopped 30 fresh curry leaves, optional 1tsp black mustard seeds 1tsp ground cumin

1tsp ground coriander ½tsp ground turmeric

2tsp medium curry powder

2tsp tomato paste 100g dried red lentils

1 x 400ml tin coconut milk (at least 70% coconut extract)

1 Preheat the oven to 240°C (220°C fan) mark 9.

2 In a large bowl, toss the aubergines together with the oil, ¾tsp salt and a good grind of black pepper. Spread out on two parchment-lined baking trays and bake for 25min, flipping halfway, until softened and lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

3 Meanwhile, for the coconut dal, put 2tbsp oil into a large sauté pan on medium-high heat. Once hot, add the shallots and fry for 8min, until golden. Add the ginger, half the chilli and half the curry leaves, if using, cook for 2min, then add the spices, tomato paste and lentils. Stir for a minute, then add the coconut milk, 600ml water and ¾tsp salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium and leave to simmer for 20min, stirring once in a while, until the lentils are soft and the sauce is thick. Pour into a medium baking dish, around 28 x 18cm, and set aside.

4 In a small bowl, toss together the paneer, lime zest, mango pickle, 1tbsp lime juice, the coriander and 1⁄8tsp salt.

5 Put one spinach leaf on top of each slice of aubergine. Put a heaped teaspoon of the paneer mixture in the middle, then roll up the aubergine, from the thinner end at the top down to the thicker bottom end, so the filling is encased. Put the aubergine roll seam-side down in the lentil sauce, and repeat with the remaining aubergine slices, spinach and paneer. You should end up with about 18 rolls, all sitting snugly in the sauce. Press the rolls gently into the sauce, but not so far that they are submerged, and bake for 15-20min, until the aubergine is golden brown on top and the sauce is bubbling. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5min.

6 Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a small pan on medium-high heat. Add the remaining chilli and curry leaves and fry for a minute, until the curry leaves are crisp and fragrant. Spoon over the aubergine rolls, drizzle over the lime juice and serve with the coriander sprinkled on top, and mango pickle on the side.

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