Smoked Eggplant with Yogurt and Onion

(Dhungare Baigan)
While visiting Lucknow, a house cook made this dish for our dinner. Traditionally it involves a quick-smoking technique called dhungar, with coals of nonaromatic wood, but it's also good unsmoked.

Smoked Eggplant with Yogurt and Onion
We enjoyed this traditional dish while visiting Lucknow, India.
Yield: serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 34 lb. small (about 4"–6" long) eggplants
  • 2 cups whole-milk yogurt
  • 12 -1 green serrano chile, stemmed and minced
  • 1 tbsp. cumin seeds, toasted, finely ground, and sifted
  • 1 tsp. garam masala, sifted
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 4 onion "cups"
  • 4 tbsp. usli ghee, melted
  • Leaves of 1/4 bunch cilantro
  • Salt

Instructions

  1. Put eggplants into a medium pot and fill pot with cold water. Cover pot and boil over medium-high heat until eggplants are completely soft, 45–60 minutes. Drain, stem, and peel eggplants. Put eggplant flesh into a wide bowl and mash with a fork. Add yogurt, chiles, cumin, garam masala, and three-quarters of the sliced onions to bowl and stir until well combined.
  2. If you choose to give a smoky flavor to the eggplant mixture, spread the mixture out in a large skillet or a wide dish with a tight-fitting lid. Make four wells in the mixture and set 1 of the onion cups in each well. Add a hot hardwood-charcoal coal to each cup, spoon 1 tbsp. of the ghee over each coal (it will immediately begin smoking), and quickly cover skillet or dish. Set aside to let smoke for 10 minutes. Discard onion cups, extinguishing coals, if using, in water.
  3. Chop all but a few of the cilantro leaves and stir into smoky or unsmoky eggplant mixture. Season to taste with salt. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with remaining onions and cilantro leaves.