I said while setting up the poll to select this month’s recipes that this was currently my favourite way of cooking and eating eggplant. This is still true. It hurt me to say it then and hurts me more to repeat it now. This because the recipe comes to me from a Tamil nationalist who persecutes me on a near-daily basis: Aparna Balachandran (who you may remember from this piece last year on reading Agatha Christie during lockdown in Delhi). In August I had a brief flood of long green eggplant from my garden (I really recommend planting the Thai Long Green varietal if you can find it) and she suggested I make some of it this way. Normally, I would have discounted this as “make it in a Tamil style” is her answer to everything (her other favourite occupation is claiming that anything that is good about other South Indian cuisines is basically due to Tamil derivation); but I had a lot of eggplant and I needed new ways to cook it. And wouldn’t you know it, this is in fact a great recipe.
The name of this dish may seem complicated but translated from Tamil literally it just means eggplant (kathirikai) with a spice powder (podi) added (potta). One person’s exotic is another’s banal. It’s a very simple recipe though some care needs to be taken with the roasting of the spices for the podi.
I have followed Aparna’s recipe closely for the most part—the major change is that I doubled the amount of eggplant and accordingly adjusted the spice powder—not doubling it but multiplying the ingredients by 1.5. If you have just a pound of eggplant you should adjust back down accordingly. Don’t worry if you don’t have long green eggplant—this will also be very good with the long Japanese varieties, or for that matter with regular globe eggplant cut into cubes.
- 2 lbs eggplant, preferably a long variety halved lengthwise and cut into small pieces
- The following roasted lightly in a tablespoon or so of oil, cooled and ground to a coarse powder:
- 3 tblspns chana dal
- 3 tblspns urad dal (split, peeled)
- 3 tblspns coriander seeds
- 3 Kashmiri chillies [affiliate link]
- 1.5 tblspns shredded dried coconut
- The following for tadka:
- 3/4 tspn dark brown/black mustard seeds
- 1/2 tspn hing
- 3/4 tspn urad dal
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- 3/4 tspn haldi
- 1 tblspn jaggery (optional)
- Salt to taste
- 2-3 tblspns of neutral oil of choice
- Heat the oil over medium heat and when it shimmers add the mustard seeds, hing and urad dal.
- When the urad dal darkens and the mustard seeds start popping add the curry leaves.
- Add the cut up eggplant, haldi and salt, stir to combine and saute till the eggplant has softened (but not till it has disintegrated). If it’s taking too long you can speed things along by covering the pan for a bit (but if you do so lower the heat and make sure to check that nothing is sticking at the bottom).
- When the eggplant is cooked/softened add the roasted and ground spice mix and the jaggery (if using). Mix thoroughly and cook for another 2-3 minutes. The final consistency will be dry’ish with the spice powder caked onto the eggplant.
- Serve with dal and steamed rice or chapatis along with a spicy pickle.
- The jaggery is not in Aparna’s recipe. I used it the first time because I wasn’t paying attention and scorched the dal while roasting it. But then I liked the dish with the sweetness and kept it in.
- You really do have to be careful while roasting the dals and spices for the podi. Don’t walk away for a few seconds and then forget what you were doing. As soon as the dals darken a bit you’ll be done. Till you get the hang of it it’s better to err on the side of lightly toasted than scorched.
- You can make this hotter dried chillies too.
- The dried coconut is optional. I like it a lot with.
- It’s quite common to see recipes for this dish that also include tamarind. Aparna doesn’t add it because her mother doesn’t, she says. I didn’t add it the first time because we’d been eating a lot of sour preparations of eggplant—and we liked it so much that way that I haven’t changed a thing about how I made it then.