Thursday, January 24, 2008

South Indian Baby Eggplant Curry

Update (January 2011): Upon retiring his long-running Minimalist column, Mark Bittman selected his top 25 recipes and this was one of them.

Update (April 2008): Mark Bittman adapted this recipe and featured it in his Minimalist column in the New York Times.

I don’t think I need to reiterate my love for eggplant. My mom has been making this dish for many years, but I never bothered to learn how to make it.

When I was home this past weekend, I noticed some small eggplants in the fridge and my mom told me to take them with me and make this curry with them. I had never made it before, but she assured me it was incredibly easy to make. She was right – the whole thing took under 20 minutes to make, there was minimal cleanup (courtesy of microwave cooking), and the best part is that it tasted exactly like my mom’s version of it.

South Indian Baby Eggplant Curry
(serves 2-3)

10 small egg-shaped eggplant
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon sambar powder
1 tablespoon chickpea flour
1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
Dash of asafetida
3 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut*
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon tamarind paste

* I use frozen shredded coconut, which is available at Indian grocery stores.  If you can't find this, you can use sweetened shredded coconut - soak it in hot water for a few minutes (to remove the excess sugar) then drain well.


Wipe the eggplants clean and cut off the stems (or not - I like leaving the stems on - makes for a nicer presentation). Starting at the rounded end, cut the eggplants lengthwise into quarters, but do not go all the way through to the stem end – leave about ½” – 1” intact.

In a small bowl, mix together the oil, sambar powder, chickpea flour, asafetida, and turmeric. Heat on high power for 1 ½ minutes, stirring halfway through. Add the coconut to another small bowl and heat on high power for 1 ½ minutes, stirring halfway through. Add the coconut, salt, and tamarind to the bowl containing the spice mixture.

Spread the spice mixture inside each eggplant and then put them into a microwave-safe dish. Partially cover the dish and heat on high power for 5 minutes. Cook on high power for another 2-3 minutes. If they seem to be halfway done, 2 minutes should be enough, otherwise cook them for 3 minutes.

Remove the lid from the dish, gently stir the eggplants, and add more salt and sambar powder if necessary. Return the dish to the microwave, uncovered, for another 3-4 minutes.

Serve with basmati or jasmine rice and yogurt.


M^2 said...

I don't know why, but I was surprised how good this was. The eggplant was perfectly succulent and the curry added a perfect amount of kick and heat. Highly recommended.

malini said...

I am sure that you will be cooking more south Indian dishes soon, as you have efficiently mastered a few. The baby eggplant curry and the beans curry look great.
Like you correctly pointed out the South Indian dishes call for a few simple ingredients, easy to make and very healthy.

VnV said...

So glad to find such a simple recipe for Bagara Baingan (I think that is what this is called - an Andhra dish more than a Tamilnadu dish.) I love the dish but hardly make it because it takes so long to do it on the stove.

Suguna said...

Great to know one can do this - are you in the United States Roopa?

That would explain the use of all the powders. In the original Meenakshi Ammal, goddess of South Indian Brahmin cuisine, or for that matter my amma's recipe, one uses toasted chana dal, coriander seeds, curry leaves and red chillies, salt and asafoetida apart from the coconut instead of all the powders. One coarsely grinds all the ingredients separate from the coconut, (which if ground with the other stuff gets kind of pasty and not powdery. You then mix it with with the shredded/dessicated roasted coconut for the filling. That way you get a nutty, grainy crunchier taste - a pleasing counterpoise to the mushy texture of eggplant.

Suguna said...

Btw - this to vnv - bagara baingan is a completely different and yes, Andhra dish, in a thick strong masala gravy that also uses tamarind, onions, garlic too - the last two very rarely featured in Tamil Brahmin cooking

roopa said...

Suguna - You are right - this is definitely not an Andhra dish, but a Tamil Brahmin dish, and such dishes very very rarely (if ever) use onion and/or garlic.

The method you describe for the eggplant is definitely the authentic version, but even my amma now uses the method I've listed - and she has all three of Meenakshi's books in Tamil! :) I actually just got myself a copy of the "best of" her three books - it should be an interesting read!

VnV said...

To Suguna and Roopa,

My bad!!
This recipe was not in my mom's repertoire growing up, and instead I learnt its close cousin (bagara baingan) from a Andhra friend. Now I know!
Guess, I have something to add to my recipe box and my farmer's market shopping list this week! Thanks Roopa for the recipe.

Sangeetha said...

Nice blog!

Would this curry turn out as nice with the big eggplants? I don't get the little ones here in Spain.

I really want to start using the microwave a lot more... fewer pots to clean, i think!
Before I start trying out your recipes, could you tell us whats the wattage of your Mwave? That way I can adjust the timings right from the start instead of experimenting....

roopa said...

Sangeetha - My microwave is 900W.

You can definitely use regular large eggplants in this recipe - either cut them into pieces that are about 1" wide and 2" long or use the method in Mark Bittman's version of my recipe (although I think you should stick with my ingredient list - I'm not too fond of his addition of ginger and omission of sambar powder!)

Michael Natkin said...

Hey Roopa - this recipe sounds delicious, and I'm really interested in the idea of dishes where the microwave gives good results with no compromise in the flavor or texture. Pretty cool that you got Mark Bittman's attention with it!

leah said...

This may be a crazy question, but do you think freezing this dish would ruin it? It's eggplant season where I live, I'm trying to make recipes with it that I can freeze for winter.

roopa said...


I’ve never tried it with this specific dish, but I think it should work out ok, perhaps a bit mushy when defrosted, but I don’t think anything worse than that.

Hope that helps!

Indian Take Away said...

It is always a mesmerizing experience to have delicious Indian cuisines and deserts. However one should know the different dishes and their preparation styles to enjoy the meal as per your preference.

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