An Autumn Feast/Smoked Aubergine Dhal


I’ve been ordered out of bed on a Saturday morning to conjure up a Bengali feast for a posse of aunts, uncles, cousins and their adorable yet eternally hyperactive progeny. I usually relish these big messy get togethers; the preparation even more so.

This takes place with a casual sort of precision, all the women in the kitchen gossiping and joking at once. My aunt surveys me over her glasses whilst hacking at some pui saag (otherwise known as Malabar Spinach) and gives me the usual “so when are you going to start having babies then?” ribbing. I test the dhal and mutter something about one thing at a time but they feign deafness and chatter pointedly about my cousin Mitthu in Bangladesh who’s just had a beautiful baby girl. My other aunt tells me I look a lot more attractive now that I’m finally getting a bit of meat on my bones. What none of them can work out though, is why on earth I insist on cutting my hair short like a little boy. I turn a delicate shade of plum and defensively stroke my shorn occipital bone. They talk about how beautiful, plump and “fair” Mitthu is – “she has hair down to here!” my aunt pauses mid chop to hold the knife against her sari clad arse while everyone murmurs approvingly.

A very traditional Bengali feast consists of several courses, beginning with something bitter (to wake up the palate), followed by the lentil and vegetable dishes. Next comes fish, followed by meat or chicken and finally dessert. We aren’t that formal today, but nonetheless fry up crisp slivers of bitter melon simply adorned with cumin, turmeric and plenty of garlic to start. This is followed by the Malabar spinach sautéed in panch phoran (Bengali five spice) and smoked aubergine dahl, then a coconut prawn curry, a slow cooked beef curry and kitchuri. (the word “kedgeree” originates from kitchuri but instead of fish or egg, it’s made with a mixture of lentils, rice and spices). It’s more standard to make a biryani for these big gatherings, but there’s something informal and comforting about kitchuri and it goes perfectly with the beef. We finish with some Payesh, a rich, cardamom scented Bengali rice pudding.

It’s all finger licking good and even the fussiest child eats every last loving handful. There’s much boisterous laughter and yelling over one another, the little ones surge around, fuelled up on Vimto, while the uncles tease them and talk shop – everyone sated on the rich juices of family life.

Over the next week I’ll put up all the recipes, but for starters, here’s that smoked aubergine dhal…

Smoked Aubergine Dhal

There are literally hundreds of dhal recipes in the subcontinent, every village and family has its own. Traditional Bengali masoor dhal can be a simple and life affirming thing, but when entertaining it’s nice to make something more interesting…

The tender innards of blackened aubergines are often mashed with mustard oil, garlic, cumin, coriander leaves and finely chopped onion, to create a sort of Bengali “salsa” served with just rice, chillies and salt for a simple lunch or as a side dish. By adding the roasted nightshade flesh to a traditional dhal, the smoky flavours combine with the spices to a creamy, deeply nuanced effect made fresh with the caustic pop of chillies and lime.


300g/10 oz channa dhal/yellow split lentils

300g/10 oz masoor dhal/red lentils

2 fat aubergines

Mustard oil (use olive if you can’t get hold of mustard oil)

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 cinnamon stick

4 cloves

A pinch of mace/grated nutmeg

1 dried red chilli

The seeds of 4 cardamom pods

2 bay leaves

1 tsp mustard seeds

6-8 fresh curry leaves/about 10 dried ones

1/2 tbsp ghee/butter

2 onions, finely chopped

2 inches fresh ginger, finely chopped

3-4 cloves garlic crushed

1 litre Marigold veg stock/chicken stock

½ tsp Mr Naga chilli sauce OR fresh sliced chillies according to tolerance, taste and availability

1 tbsp natural yoghurt

Freshly chopped coriander

Wedges of lime


1)  wash and dry the aubergines. Smear each one with a slick of the mustard/olive oil and place over a source of low and direct heat. Turn until a  crisp, ebony crust has formed all over. Remove from heat and leave to cool.

2)  Grind the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, mace, cardamom seeds to a powder.

3)  Melt the ghee/butter over a medium heat. Add the bay leaves and mustard seeds.

4)   When the mustard seeds start to spit, add the curry leaves, cinnamon stick, onions, garlic, ginger and dried chilli.

5)  Stir and fry until the aromas intensify. Add the ground spices and keep stirring so the spices don’t char.

6)  Just as the alliums are on the point of turning, add the pulses. Keep stirring for about 5 minutes.

7)  Pour in the stock and reduce the heat. Leave for about 30-40 minutes, until the lentils are plump and swollen.

8)  Mash the lentils lightly with a potato masher, adding more water if you prefer a more “brothy” dhal.

9)   Strip the aubergines of their blackened skins and roughly chop the flesh.

10)  Stir the aubergine into the dhal, along with the freshly chopped chilli/naga chilli sauce, the coriander and the yoghurt.

11)  Squeeze over the lime and serve hot.


  1. OH! I love the idea oif smoked aubergine in dhal! I put it in my relish for the lamb sandwiches and it’s my favourite thing at the moment. Also trusty moutabal. Lovely!

  2. Beautifully written post Reginald, and a really nice family recipe as well. I recently cooked the Ottolenghi burnt aubergine dip that employs a similiar method and loved it…..which means that now I have to try your recipe as I have a new found taste for aubergine and an almost pyromaniacal delight in burning them.

  3. foodallovermyface

    Ah yes, the fussiest child. I once wore that crown, and I’m sure that even in my most fussy hour I too would’ve licked the plate clean for a dish tasting only half as good as this sounds.
    I’ll be dahling it up soon for sure.

  4. I have a severe aubergine addiciton; I expect this will be making it’s way onto my dinner table in the near future. Thanks for posting the recipe!

  5. Aubergines …. I will kill to eat aubergines! Great recipe, will try it soon.. And beautiful post, as usual!

  6. wow this is probably the most involved dahl recipe I have ever seen but it sounds amazing

  7. gastrogeek

    Niamh – thanks so much! Am also a big moutabal fan. Those lamb sarnies sound fab.
    EssexEating – Thanks Dan,you firestarter you.
    FAOMF – cheers! What a lovely thing to say.
    Lizzie – you’re welcome, look forward to hearing how it turns out!
    Mathilde – thank you, that’s v.kind
    GourmetChick -Thanks- I find the more flavoursome ones usually are fairly detailed, as I mention in the post there are literally hundreds of recipes for dhal…..

  8. Oooh, while that dhal sounds lovely, I’m curious about the bitter melon. I was particularly fussy about that as a child but that which entered my mouth wasn’t crispy and spicy! Thinly sliced and just deep fried? Spices after?

  9. I loved this post. It’s very well written, and the dhal sounds amazing. I have a bit of a weakness for dhal, and I’ll definitely try it soon!

  10. Your family sound like mine! I can’t tell you how many times we were ribbed about having children in the first few years of our marriage.

    Some of them waded in, no holds barred, and demanded to know if I was having trouble conceiving and that there were doctors who could help me with that! Yes, really!

    I’m not usually a fan of dhal but I reckon this aubergine version might convert me! Will have to try it out for myself orm better still, wangle an invite to yours!

  11. This is something so different from the age old masoor dal recipe. I was getting sick of having the same type every time. Thanks for sharing this preparation.

  12. What a great post. A proper glimpse at family feasting (and the inevitable politics). Dhal and aubergines = heaven in a bowl. We will certainly be trying this recipe – a great excuse to bring out the pestle and mortar! The rice pudding sounds amazing too.

  13. What a wonderful picture of family life you’ve painted there and I echo the previous sentiments about aubergine, love the idea of your recipe. (You know I cut through a plump purple beauty once and found a remarkable image of Morrissey in the centre. I sold it for a hundred quid)

    And when ARE you going to have kids anyway?

  14. gastrogeek

    Su-Lin – I always give it a good salting before hand for about 45 mins or so, just like you might with aubergine to remove most of the bitterness, then it’s very thinly sliced and fried with the spices. Will post it up for you 🙂

    Maninas – thank you, I do love my dhal!
    Kavey – that’s so pushy of them! You’re always welcome at my flat for food
    Sudeshna – thanks, I’m so glad you like it!
    SarWW – thanks so much, would love to hear how you find it!
    Danny – really?! I sort of believe you….

  15. curlywurlyfi

    gosh this sounds divine. I love scorched aubergines mashed with tomatoes, garlic + yoghurt; putting them with dhal is inspired. does oiling the skin before sticking them in the flame make a big difference?

  16. Smoked aubergine in a dal sounds like my idea of heaven – thank you for sharing. And what a beautiful description of a noisy family feast – you write so beautifully!

  17. I’m so behind on reading everyone’s blogs (and writing my own…). Just stumbled accross this whilst I’m supposed to be working and, pre-breakfast, it’s making me feel decidedly hungry! I love aubergines. Cooked well they are probably (if not definitely) my favourite vegetable. In fact one arrived in the veg box yesterday so I can see this dahl on my horizon later this week…

  18. Pingback: Dhal ‘Stuffed’ Parathas — Food Stories

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