Years ago, my wife brought home a jar of pasta sauce that she said “sounded interesting.” We whipped up some spaghetti, and topped it off with her find, which was a sweet and savory tomato-based sauce featuring big chunks of roasted eggplant, and a subtle note of spicy cumin.
Though I’ve periodically considered attempting to deconstruct the sauce, and create my own homemade version, I had never seriously endeavored to do so. Until last week.
I’ll set the scene.
‘Twas a boring Sunday afternoon. I found myself lazing about the house, intentionally seeking distractions, any and all of which seemed preferable to grading tests. While cleaning out the fridge, possibly for the second time that day, I came across a lonely eggplant wallowing in the crisper drawer, all but forgotten under a half-used bag of arugula.
“Alas!” I exclaimed, as I held the eggplant at eye level, pondering the purple fruit much as Hamlet pondered the skull of poor Yorick, “and what shall we do with this, Horatio?”
“Good Lord, you’re a nerd,” chimed my loving wife.
“Perhaps, a sauce I shall make!”
It was the work of mere moments to assemble the remaining necessary ingredients, after which I got to work slicing peppers, dicing onions, and cubing the eggplant.
Since eggplants are notoriously watery, I doused the cubes in a decent helping of salt, placed them in a colander in the sink, and weighted them down with a glass bowl in a effort to squeeze out some of the liquids. After that it was a simple matter of laying on the proper flavors, and introducing each ingredient to achieve the desired texture and flavor profile. My goal – which I daresay I achieved – was to create a smooth tomato base with subtle Italian flavors (garlic, basil, etc.), which would serve to emphasize the toothsome chunks of pepper and eggplant, and allow to shine the subtle spice and smokiness of the red pepper flakes and cumin. The result, which I just realized is vegan-friendly, is a wonderfully rich and satisfying sauce in which even the lugubrious Prince of Denmark would find joy.
Try it, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
- 1 medium yellow onion – diced
- 4 medium red bell peppers – sliced
- 1 large eggplant – cubed
- 6 cloves garlic – minced
- 6 15 oz cans organic tomatoes – diced or stewed
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp cred chili flakes
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
Start by preparing the eggplant. Cube it and place the pieces in a colander, toss the chunks with a liberal dusting of salt, and place the colander in the sink with a heavy bowl on top to weigh it down and help squeeze the water out. Let it sit for about 20 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the rest of the ingredients: dice the onions, core and slice the peppers, and mince the garlic.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large crock pot or stock pot (whichever you’ll be using to make the sauce). Blot the cubes of eggplant dry with paper towel, and dump it into pot.
Fry the eggplant in the oil, stirring occasionally, until the cubes begin to brown and soften. This should take about 6 minutes.
Remove the eggplant to a bowl and place the pot back on the heat. Add another tab of olive oil if need be, and add the diced onion. Saute the onion until it’s translucent – about 3 minutes.
Add the pepper slices to the pot, and stir until the veggies begin to soften – 2-3 minutes.
Add the garlic, and the Italian seasoning, and stir until the mixture becomes effervescent – about 1 minute.
Before the garlic burns, return the eggplant to the pot, and add the tomato, basil, oregano, cumin, chili flakes and smoked paprika.
Stir it all up, and let it simmer (stirring occasionally) for the next 60-90 minutes. The liquid will slowly reduce, but if you don’t want to wait for it, you can always add a can of tomato paste.
As always, taste your food as you go (careful, it’s hot), and season it up with salt and pepper to suit your personal style.
Serve it up hot with your favorite pasta, and enjoy!