The most common aubergine curry is probably Baingan Bharta, which is a dish from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan were the aubergine (eggplant) is minced before cooking. I had bought some small Indian eggplants the other day at the grocery store and wanted to make a dish that kept them more whole and did a bit of research before settling on making a Kerala inspired Indian eggplant curry.
Aubergines come from the Solanaceae family that includes nightshade and are believed to have originated in India before being domesticated and where they still grow wild today. Indian eggplants, sometimes called ‘baby aubergines’ are smaller than the more usual Italian aubergines and have a sweeter, mild flavour with a creamy texture when cooked. Not to be confused with Thai eggplants which are roughly the same size, but are green and white and don’t have the same sweetness.
The word aubergine is commonly used in Europe and is derived from the Arabic word baḏinjan which in turn came from the India. Even in India today eggplants go by many names including baingan, brinjal and in the Kerala language Malayalam, they are called valutana. The word eggplant used primarily in the USA is because of their shape when small resembling an egg.
Kerala has been a major producer of spices such as ginger, cardamom and cinnamon for thousands of years and in the cuisine they are commonly used as well as curry leaves, mustard seeds, chilies and turmeric. Coconuts are another abundant crop in Kerala and is frequently used in the dishes. These ingredients are the inspiration for this amazing aubergine curry. It is very mild and creamy, even with the addition of hot chilies, as well as being rich with spices.
Kerala Aubergine Curry Recipe Ingredients (Serves 4)
- 8 to 10 Indian eggplants cut in half lengthwise or 2 medium Italian eggplant chopped into large chunks
- 1 medium finely chopped onion
- 250ml of full fat, unsweetend coconut milk (~1 cup)
- 2 cloves of crushed garlic
- 1 tsp of crushed ginger
- 3 to 4 green chilies such as jalapeno. (Remove the ribs and seeds if you wish)
- 0.5 tsp of hot chili powder (optional)
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 0.5 tsp of mustard seeds
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tbsp of dried kasuri methi leaves (fenugreek)
- 1 large tomato, finely chopped
- 3 or 4 curry leaves
- The crushed seeds from about 5 or 6 green cardamom pods
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- Coriander (cilantro) leaves for decoration
- Vegetable oil
- 1 tsp of salt
Indian eggplant curry recipe method
- First roast the eggplants. Either pan roast then in plenty of vegetable oil or in a 200C (400F) oven covered in vegetable oil until the flash side is golden brown and the flesh is soft but not mushy. Remove the eggplant from the pan.
- Add about 2 tbsp of vegetable oil (and optionally a tbsp of ghee) to the pan and gently saute the onions until they begin to turn light brown.
- Add the mustard seeds, fennel seeds, curry leaves, cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, garlic and ginger to the oil and temper them for about a minute until they are fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes and chilies and cook for about a minute.
- Re add the cooked eggplant with about 125ml (half a cup) of water. Bring to the boil and cook until the eggplant is fully soft.
- Add the coconut milk and fenugreek leaves and heat until just simmering. Discard the cinnamon stick.
- Serve over basmati rice and sprinkle with fresh coriander leaves.
- Fenugreek Leaves (Kasuri Methi)
- Cardamom Pods
- Unsweetened Coconut Milk
- Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors