Supermarket ingredients provide a passage to India.
As a child in India, I was raised on meals without meat. But fat was another matter altogether. For many of my favorite dishes, my mother's first step was to sauté spices in a quarter cup of oil. This traditional Indian technique renders the spices more fragrant and digestible and flavors the oil, which in turn flavors the ingredients that are added later. My mother also used oil or the Indian staple ghee (browned clarified butter) to thicken and enrich sauces.
On the West Coast of the United States, where I now live, I follow a vegetarian diet, happy that the abundance of produce year-round makes it so easy. The classic recipes from my childhood are still the ones I like best, but today I'm more concerned about the amount of fat I consume. In this trio of complementary dishes, I've reduced the oil in a variety of ways. Roasting the eggplant instead of frying it requires less oil and imparts a smoky flavor. The tomato sauce that's served with the eggplant calls for only one tablespoon of oil, and the aromatic corn pilaf for just enough to mellow the spices. Pureed chickpeas take the place of most of the fat in the hearty chickpea and red pepper dish. While you're enjoying the meal, think about this: there's not one milligram of cholesterol in the entire menu.
Each serving of roasted eggplant, chickpea medley and corn pilaf contains less than 16 grams of fat (25 percent of the recommended daily intake).
BHARTI KIRCHNER is the author of three cookbooks. Her forthcoming book Vegetarian Burgers (HarperCollins) will be published this spring.