August 11, 2021
It’s not every day that someone cooks a meal for me and seldom do I remember one for as long as the one my friend Emmy Vest cooked for me early this spring.
Emmy and I worked at Cafe Annie together back in the day, and shortly after I left to open Indika, she went on to run the food division at NASA. We come from totally different cultures (she is of Colombian descent), but we’ve bonded over our immigrant stories, have remained friends ever since. She is one of the few people with whom I can have inexhaustible food conversations.
That afternoon, enjoying a meal at Emmy’s home with cool air coming in from the nearby coast of Galveston, I tasted yet another iteration of my beloved eggplant. Emmy had made boronia, a Colombian concoction of smoked eggplant and plantains peppered with spices. It reminded me of the Punjabi baingan bhartha, but even better.
Here, smoked eggplant and smoked plantain come together with sofrito — essentially a masala with peppers, onions, garlic, cumin and tomato — to make the heavenly boronia. I popped cumin seeds in it for a better punch and threw in turmeric and black pepper. Eat it over warm toast, stuffed into an omelet or with roti or pita. It’s good warm, room temperature and cold. Pair it with fresh herbs such as mint, cilantro or basil and a sharp cheese such as aged cheddar or chèvre.
2 medium firm purple eggplants
2 ripe plantains
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 red bell pepper, minced
1 small red onion, minced
10 to 12 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons chili powder
1 large ripe tomato, minced (roughly 2 cups)
Serves 4 to 6
Over a hot flame or outdoor grill, flame the eggplants and plantains until their skin is black and crackly. The eggplants’ insides will collapse slightly, but keep cooking all sides to make sure the eggplants are evenly smoked. The entire plantain exterior will also need to be smoked to soften the insides. Mash them both separately and set them aside.
In a large sauté pan over high, heat the olive oil and pop the cumin seeds. Immediately add the red bell pepper, onion and garlic. Cook on high heat, stirring frequently. In about 6 to 7 minutes, the onions and peppers should have sweated and turned translucent.
Add the mashed eggplant, salt, turmeric, black pepper and chili powder. Lower the heat, cover the sauté panand let the eggplant mixture simmer for another 4 to 5 minutes. Add the mashed plantains and tomatoes and cook for another minute or two. Turn the heat off and let the mixture rest for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.
In a pinch, I have used smoked ripe bananas instead of plantains. They do not have the depth of flavor plantain does, they do also work with this dish.
To ripen plantains, place them in a brown paper bag and keep them away from light. They will turn dark and gnarly but will sweeten on the inside.
When smoking eggplants and plantains, tiny pieces of the charred fruit will fall into the mash — keep it there; it only adds to the flavor.
December 02, 2022