Subtle flavors of curry leaves always spell South Indian cuisine for me. This is a very fragrant and extremely flavorful dish which is surprisingly easy to make.
My love affair with curry leaves started very early on. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, we used to rent a place in one of the newer parts of Kolkata. We shared a common wall with the elderly owners of a local newspaper - they stayed and published from their home which was on a huge lot and were full of shady trees and flowering plants. The curry leaves plant and hibiscus plants crossed the boundaries of the brick wall and stooped over onto our side and the neighbors insisted that those two plants were as much ours as theirs. Such kind souls. That was how I was introduced to this fragrant herb. I cannot remember if my Ma used the curry leaves in her cooking, but I remember plucking a leaf or two, crushing them lightly between my palms and going on sniffing for as long as I could on while basking in the warm winter sun.
Then we moved. Many years passed. I got married and moved to the husband's ancestral home. They have a couple of huge trees and many potted plants. Some of the pots were huge! They even had a very old bathtub which they had transformed into a planter and beautiful marigolds added splashes of bright colors. Among them was a curry plant!
I knew the husband for 6 years before we got married (yup, I was still in high school and he had just started college when we first started dating) and it was only post our wedding I got to know that he did not like the flavors of curry leaves. I would see him avoiding food that would have curry leaves in it, like dhokla. It wasn't until last year when I had made Dhokla at home and saw him gobbling it up, that I realized his dislike for curry leaves can be attributed to a very ill-made dish using curry leaves when he was growing up!
Ever since I have been making dishes using curry leaves now and then, and he has never complained about the flavor.
Apparently, he doesn't like eggplants as well, unless it is Begoon Bhaja (Fried Brinjal, I make a baked version nowadays). I think, his feelings towards curry leaves and eggplants changed completely after he tasted this dish.
- Eggplant - 2 lbs or roughly 4 cups, cubed
- Onions - 1 big, roughly chopped
- Tomato - 1 big, chopped
- Garlic - 3 or 4 fat cloves
- Curry leaves - 1 sprig
- Cilantro - a handful, finely chopped
- Dried Red Chili - 2 (or more depending on heat preference)
- Chana Daal - 5 tbsp
- Coriander seeds - 2 tbsp
- Cumin Seed - 1 tbsp
- Oil - 2 tbsp + 3 tbsp
- Turmeric - 1 tsp
- Salt to taste
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, temper with chana daal & red chili. Once it started sizzling, add coriander seeds and cumin seeds and fry till they start spluttering. Reduce the heat to low and add the onions, tomato, garlic, curry leaves and fry till fragrant. Transfer the cooked spice mixture to a mixer and blend till everything turns into a coarse paste.
Now cube the eggplants and sprinkle salt & turmeric on it. Leave it for 10-15 minutes.
Re-heat the pan with 3 tbsp of oil and start frying the cubed eggplants in it. Sprinkle some more salt on it and fry for few minutes, tossing and turning with a spatula till the oil coats all the pieces. Slowly pour in the Masala paste onto it and toss to coat. Cook till the raw smell of the masala is gone and the eggplant pieces starts getting mushy. Cover and cook on low flame till the eggplant pieces are cooked through. If required splash a little water. Lastly, scatter the chopped cilantro leaves and give it one final toss.
Serve hot with rice or roti.
This recipe is inspired by VahChef's Eggplant Fry and modified with helpful tips from my friend (and also a blogger) PeeGee.