I finished reading Americanah, a book written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, while commuting to and from work each morning and evening. It has probably taken me a month. I like to savour books, not speed read them. I know I’m not the only one who feels like a different person, like I’ve lost a friend, after I turn the last page on a story written for me (I think?). I definitely savored this one. I left the last chapter unread for 2 days because I knew that once I read it, I couldn’t change the ending. I was scared it wouldn’t end the way I wanted. It would end the way she wrote it, the way she wanted the story to be.
It was perfect. As an immigrant, I had certain luxuries when I moved here. I knew I would have a place to stay and didn’t need to rush to find a job. It makes me think deeply about those who don’t have the same circumstances. They are either running away from a hard life or they want to do better for themselves. Like me, they could be neither. I don’t think people really understand what it is to be an immigrant until they actually have to be one – illegal or otherwise. It’s hard. You leave everything (should be all-caps but I’m restraining myself) and you are forced to understand what a new society thinks of you. Your colour becomes the way you’re identified and people are shocked when you speak “good English”. I remember when I was 6, I could spell “environment”. I remember because my dad was proud/surprised and I was still in Std I. I was proud too because I loved to read. It’s so silly – as if my English makes me superior. Then you’re asked about spicy food and I can’t do all of this in just 2 minutes. I need more time so I’m not reduced to a stereotype.
I’m one of the privileged. I have the education, means and ability to work my way through this new system. Not everyone does. I didn’t come here to hit the jackpot. I came here to live with my husband. There is no sob story except when I think about my family. My story is unique as is every immigrants’* all over the world so we deserve not to be clumped together. I posted this video by Adichie on my facebook page recently and I come back to it a lot. I am guilty of some of the things she speaks about but I’m a lot better at catching myself. Notice the power structures and seek voices you wouldn’t have ordinarily sought. We are all trying to get by.
*I make zero distinction between legal and illegal. Nobody was here** first. Don’t be an asshole.
I was thinking of baingan bharta while I made this, but it’s different because there’s not much of that smokey flavour you get from charring the eggplant directly over a fire. Also, I didn’t use too much spice. I felt strange calling this anything but bharta, so here’s a stew.
If you have trouble finding whole canned tomatoes, you can use about 8 whole tomatoes, dice them and then use the back of the knife to lightly mash them. Use them the same way but cook them a bit more than you would with canned tomatoes. Try cooking it for 20 minutes instead of 10 after adding the eggplant and spices.
- 1 kg/2.2 lbs eggplant
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup red onion (1/2 large onion), sliced in thin half-rings
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 can (794 gms/28 oz ) whole fire-roasted tomatoes with juices, coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 can (425 gms/15 oz) chickpeas
- 1 big pinch garam masala
- Salt, to taste
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped
- Yogurt/seeds/nuts/bread/rice to serve (optional)
Set the oven to broil (500 degrees F) and line a baking sheet with aluminium foil. Make sure the foil is long enough to wrap up the eggplant into a tight bundle with no room for steam to escape. Place the eggplant on the baking sheet and into the oven for 10-13 minutes, until the skin is blackened and the eggplant inside is very soft. Take the baking sheet out of the oven and bundle up the eggplant with the same foil. Let it sit tightly wrapped for 10 minutes. Open up the foil and carefully peel off and discard the eggplant skin. Coarsley chop or mash the peeled eggplant and place in a bowl.
While the eggplant is steaming on the kitchen counter, place a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid or a dutch oven on medium heat. Pour in the olive oil and let it heat for about a minute or 2. Add the onions and garlic to the saucepan and cook until the onion turn soft and lightly brown along the edges. Stir once or twice while they cook. This should take about 10 minutes. Once the onions are cooked, add the chopped canned tomatoes to the pot and stir them together until well combined. Let the tomato juices come to a slow simmer. You will also notice some of the juices separating and bubbling to the top. This is when you add the chopped eggplant. Mix it in well after adding the paprika and cumin. Bring it back to a simmer and cover the saucepan. Turn down the heat to medium-low (Between #3 and #4 on the electric stove) and let it stew for 10-15 minutes. Add the chickpeas in at the end and give it a big stir to combine. Sprinkle in a big pinch (I measure by using whatever fits between my thumb, index and middle fingers + a little more) of garam masala and salt. Cook for a minute more before taking it off the heat.
Throw in some fresh, chopped cilantro before serving. It also goes well with plain yogurt stirred in. Serve hot over pasta, rice or with bread. It tastes best the next and the next day.