Only two ingredients—lemon and milk—are what it takes to make paneer at home. It’s an experiment worth trying (it certainly feels like conducting a chemistry experiment!), both for a sense of achievement and for unrivaled freshness. If you buy your paneer—which makes the most satisfying filling for the grilled eggplants 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’ve got. For a vegan option, use extra-firm tofu. Try to get a good-quality, chunky Indian mango pickle for this.
Both the eggplant 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, then chill in the fridge and just bring to room temperature before warming up.
The coconut dal is a great recipe in its own right. Double it, if you like, and serve with curry-crusted rutabaga steaks and some rice.
Stuffed Eggplant in Curry and Coconut Dal
- 3 large eggplants, stems removed, each eggplant cut lengthwise into 6x¼ inch/½ cm-thick slices (6 cups/750g)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Table salt and black pepper
- For coconut dal:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 shallots, peeled and finely chopped (1⅔ cups/250g)
- 1½ ounces/45g fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 red chiles, finely chopped
- 30 fresh curry leaves (optional)
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons medium curry powder
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- ½ cup/100g dried red lentils
- 13½-ounce/400ml can full-fat coconut milk
- 2½ cups/600ml water
- ¾ teaspoons table salt
- 8 ounces/220g paneer (or extra-firm tofu), roughly grated
- 2 limes: finely zest to get 1 teaspoon, then juice to get 2 tablespoons
- 1½ ounces/45g hot mango pickle, roughly chopped, plus more to serve
- ¼ cup/5g cilantro, roughly chopped, plus more to serve
- Table salt
- 3½ ounces/100g large (not baby) spinach leaves, stems removed (2 cups/60g)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 450°F/220°C fan. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, toss the eggplants with the olive oil, ¾ teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper. Spread out on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 25 minutes, flipping halfway through, until softened and lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
- For the dal: Put the olive oil into a large sauté pan on medium-high heat. Once hot, add the shallots and fry for 8 minutes, until golden. Add the ginger, half the chile and half the curry leaves (if using) and cook for 2 minutes, then add all the spices, tomato paste and lentils. Stir for 1 minute, then add the coconut milk, water and salt. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to medium and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring once in a while, until the lentils are soft and the sauce is thick. Pour into a 7×11-inch/28x18cm baking dish and set aside.
- In a small bowl, toss together the paneer, lime zest, 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, the mango pickle, cilantro and ⅛ teaspoon salt.
- Place one spinach leaf on top of each slice of eggplant. Put a heaping 1 teaspoon of the paneer mixture in the middle, then roll up the eggplant, from the thinner end at the top down to the thicker bottom end, so the filling is encased. Put the eggplant roll seam-side down in the lentil sauce and repeat with the remaining eggplant 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 15-20 minutes, until the eggplant is golden brown on top and the sauce is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small pan on medium-high heat. Add the remaining chile and curry leaves and fry for 1 minute, until the curry leaves are crisp and fragrant. Spoon over the eggplant rolls, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice and serve with cilantro sprinkled on top.