From the Yoruba Kitchen…

Baked potato on white plate served with tomato eggplant sauce
Tomato Eggplant Sauce in a black cast iron pan.

As a child, living in Lagos Nigeria, I was more familiar with garden eggs than I was eggplant. Sometimes, tomato sauces were made with the garden eggs. I never liked the tomato garden egg sauce. Something about the text just put me off. Many years later in adulthood, this same sauce is the inspiration behind this tomato eggplant sauce.

As with many vegetables that I eat, my relationship with eggplant was frosty to begin. I am not sure when I became a fan of eggplant but here we are. Suddenly, grilled eggplants have become a signature item of my kitchen. The other way I love my eggplant is in this versatile Tomato Eggplant Sauce.

This sauce is perhaps the most Nigerian recipe I have shared so far. It features the classic trifecta of a Yoruba woman’s kitchen; onion, tomato and red pepper. I should add that Yoruba people love spicy food so there is fourth item, habanero, that is used in the traditional blend. Every Yoruba woman, and many Nigerian women, have their preferred ratio for these vegetables. Some like a sweeter mix and others prefer a spicier or more pungent mix. Sometimes, the tomato pepper mix also changes with the dish being prepared.

Baked potato topped with tomato eggplant sauce, basil, and cheese on a white plate

Growing up, the tomato pepper mix I have used in this Tomato Eggplant sauce was always available in the freezer. On Sundays, a fresh tomato pepper blend would be made, boiled down to get rid of the moisture and then stored in the freezer. This blend was then used during the week to make stews, egg sauces, beans, and other items. It was the backbone of many meals.

I don’t eat as much tomatoes as I did when I lived in Lagos. This is mostly because I find the quality of tomatoes disheartening. Too watery in most cases, not enough sweetness and definitely missing a lot of the tartness that balances a good tomato. In the winter, I often choose processed and packaged tomatoes over fresh ones because the quality is better and more consistent. Also, I like that I can get fire-roasted tomatoes when I make things like Jollof Rice or even this Tomato Eggplant sauce.

spooning out slices of cooked onions from tomato eggplant sauce in a black cast iron pan

One of the things I have grown to love about this Tomato Eggplant sauce is its versatility. For this post, I have served it with baked potatoes. The slightly spicy edge of the sauce is perfect for a hot potato with cheese. Plus, I really can’t resist the sweet tendrils of caramelized onion covered in tomatoes with pillowy potato morsels.

The tomato eggplant sauce would also make a good dressing for pasta or even a base for shakshuka. There are many possibilities for the sauce; you need to be a bit adventurous.

Smoky Tomato Eggplant Sauce

A simple and relatively quick tomato sauce that is versatile and filled with lovely vegetables. 
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Dinner, Sauce
Cuisine: African, Nigerian
Keyword: Aubergine, Eggplant, Pasta Sauce, Tomato Eggplant Sauce, Tomato Sauce
Servings: 10
Author: Sinmi

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Purple Eggplant
  • 1 can Diced Tomato
  • 1 Onion (Large)
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Red Pepper (Medium)
  • 1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp Parsley
  • 1/2 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1 tbsp Crayfish Powder optional*
  • 1 tbsp Chili Flakes
  • Salt to taste

Instructions

  • On a gas stove or in a grill, burn the skin of the whole eggplant. The eggplant should have a substantial char all around it. The process of charring the eggplant usually takes 10-15 over an open gas flame. Also, it is possible to do this can be done ahead of time.
  • Place the burnt eggplant in a bowl and cover. Trapping the heat of eggplant would steam off the skin. Let it rest for about ten minutes. Once it is cooled down, remove as much of the skin as possible. Don’t be tempted to scoop out the middle. The bits of the skin left after cleaning helps to give the sauce a smoky aroma.
  • Roughly chop off the cleaned roasted eggplant flesh. Don’t do this in a blender because you don’t want a paste. You want chunks of soft eggplant.
  • Add the tomato, 1/2 of the onions, garlic, the red pepper as well as the chili flakes into a blender. Pulse into a rough paste.
  • Slice the remaining onion.
  • Add the vegetable oil into a saucepan over medium heat. After a minute, add in the onion slices and a pinch of salt. Let the onion cook gently. 
  • Once the onion slices are wilted and almost caramelizing, add in the tomato sauce into the saucepan. 
  • Stir in the herbs, paprika and crayfish powder into the tomato sauce at this point. Let the sauce simmer for about 20 minutes, mixing occasionally. 
  • The tomato sauce is ready for the eggplant chunks when most of the moisture is cooked off. The tomato sauce should be thick before mixing in the eggplant. Make sure to mix in the eggplant chunks so that it is well distributed within the saucepan.
  • Taste the sauce to check for salt. Now is the time to adjust.
  • Let the tomato eggplant sauce simmer for about 5 minutes and then it is done.

Notes

*I debated adding this ingredient to the recipe because it is so culturally specific but I want to be able to talk about how I cook as a NIgerian woman. A good substitute for the crayfish powder would be to melt in some anchovies into the sauce. This boosts the flavor of the sauce.

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