Egyptian Musaqa'a: Vegan-Style Aubergines
Aaaaaand here we go -- a little dunking into the good old Egyptian stuff! Well, kind of -- this would be a slight amendment to the traditional musaqa'a -- according to nearly every person I've met, musaqa'a in Egypt is usually made with minced meat, but I'm not sure why we never made it that way at our house. Even in the absence of minced beef, my mother made a MEAN batch of musaqa'a that was, to my delight much later, quite vegan. I remember distinctly there was this one day when she asked me to help her out and chop the peppers and tomatoes for her, and I was fascinated by how it came together -- especially while she was salting the eggplants. A little trick that apparently isn't widely known, done to keep eggplants from absorbing a gallon of oil while being shallow-fried. The salt, which is sprinkled quite generously onto the eggplants, is meant to draw out the bitterness of the vegetable, and remove its sponge-like nature. Within the hour in which the eggplants are left salting, a 'sweat' a darkish liquid will appear in little beads and drip to the bottom of the colander -- that's when you know its ready for frying.
Always better eaten cold the next day (and I've wondered if this has anything to do with the name in Arabic, which in my very modest knowledge, i believe means 'cold' -- I definitely need to ask more about this!), we made musaqa'a in huge batches and stored it air-tight boxes. Some of those boxes would find their way into the freezer, and the rest would be devoured within a few days with our good old 'balady' bread. I'd even make sandwiches of this stuff and take it with me to college and later to work. I think the abundance of garlic and vinegar really makes the taste of the eggplants pop -- I'm quite positive you'll love it this way, all meatless and chunky :).
2 large eggplants, sliced or cubed
Vegetable oil (I use sunflower oil)
2 green bell peppers
1/2 kilo ripe red tomatoes
1 large onion
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon each of cumin, dried thyme, and turmeric, and allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup vinegar
Water as needed
Rinse eggplants, and layer in a colander, sprinkling each later generously with salt. Leave covered for an hour until it's lying in a pool of dark liquid (this draws out the bitterness and it absorbs less oil during frying. Be sure to have a plate ready underneath the colander to catch the liquid as it drips).
While eggplant is salting, chop the 2 green bell peppers, red tomatoes into rough squares. Set those aside.
Rinse the eggplants, squeeze dry, and shallow-fry in batches until golden in a deep-set pan over the stove. Set aside.
In the same pan, fry chopped onion with minced garlic.
Throw in the peppers, followed by the tomatoes, and 1 spoon on sugar (sugar helps dissolve the tomatoes).
Add tomato paste, followed by cumin, dried thyme, and turmeric, allspice, pepper and salt to taste. Then, add half a cup of vinegar, and a cup and a half of water. Stir it to the consistency you want (adding more water if you need) but it should be thick and tangy to taste).
Add your eggplants back in there, and simmer together on low heat.
Serve hot or cold from the fridge with toasted bread. Enjoy!