My mum who happens to be 3,850 miles away, was advising me over the phone on how to cook mild curries to introduce Pakistani food to the bland palate of my 6 year old. Little did she know, that Chicken curry is at the top of his favourite foods list. But I didn't tell her the whole truth. That curry comes from a Lloyd Grossman's mild korma curry jar. Some secrets should really go with you to your grave, and this one certainly would, unless I wish to be burnt live at the stake.
I am a bit impartial to cooking curries at home; even when I have spent most part of my life in Pakistan, cooking all kinds of curries and rice under the watchful eyes of my mother. Learning to cook is pretty much a part of growing up in our culture as a girl. No sooner than you are 10, it's time to get started with over-cooked and unsalted rice or misshapen chappatis (flat-breads) which are compared to maps of various countries at the dinner table.
After moving here some 12 years ago, being jobless, I ended up watching a lot of day time television and evening soaps, as you do! I once heard one of the characters in one of the dramas mentioning her Indian friend, saying she is nice and that her house does not smell of curries like they normally do. Shock and horror! I have been obsessed with this concept ever since and try and avoid this eventuality at all costs. Though I must admit, it is harder to achieve in houses and flats built for winter, where exhausts hardly function properly compared to large open houses with open doors and windows, and exhaust fans loud enough to render you deaf and powerful enough to power a boat.
Anyways, I think that is just a lame excuse. Cooking for me is all about sharing and with a busy lifestyle it is much easier to resort to jacket potatoes, soups and pasta for my dinner. That is- if it's not left over fish fingers and onion rings. On some weekends, nothing gives me more pleasure than to temper spices, whilst keeping my kitchen door closed and the window open, and sharing it with friends. Alternatively, there is always that jar of Lloyd Grossman's curry and my little monster to share it with.
Aubergine or Brinjal (baigan in Urdu/Hindi)
This fruit, which is used as a vegetable, originated in India and you can find many different varieties there, including smaller green, white or stripy round shapes which resemble an egg and hence the more popular American name-eggplant.
Traditionally they are salted to get rid of the bitterness but this is not necessary with the varieties available in the UK. The aubergines are spongy in texture and notorious for soaking up oil. There is a famous Arabic dish by the name of Imam Bayildi (the priest fainted) and the rumour has it that he fainted when he heard how much oil his wife had used for the recipe. Or was it because it was so delicious?
One of my most favourite dishes featuring this humble vegetable is Baba Ghanoush (smoked aubergine with garlic, tahini, lemon, parsley and yoghurt). I think it is the whole experience of charring aubergine, peeling the burnt skin which can be very messy that makes the whole experience so enjoyable.
Roasted Aubergine Curry (serves 6)
Being home sick, the only connection, left to my homeland was food. I had come here with a journal of recipes which provided comfort in many dark cold winters. Bhagare Baigan was one of them. This recipe originates in Hyderabad, India and is traditionally eaten as an accompaniment to Biryani. My mum loved cooking and was always on the hunt for new recipes. If it wasn't the many cookery shows on the satellite channels, it was through friends that she introduced us to all sorts of international and new recipes. She came home with this recipe from work one day and set to grinding and roasting all the spices and we instantly fell in love with it.
You wouldn't find this recipe in your typical take away as it is quite time consuming and a unique blend of spices. After my research, I have pretty much stuck to my mom's recipe with some additional spices for tempering. The recipe usually calls for frying the aubergines twice in buckets of oil but I have opted to roast the aubergines, rather than fry them to make it a little healthy.
- Aubergine (small tubular or round) 8-10
- Sunflower oil 1 tsp
- Mustard seeds: 1/4 tsp
- Cumin seeds: 1/4 tsp
- Fenugreek seeds : 1/4 tsp
- Nigella seeds: 1/4 tsp
- Curry leaves: 4-6
- Sunflower oil 2 tbsp
For curry paste:
- Poppy seeds 1tbsp
- Dessicated coconut 2tbsp
- Raw peanuts 2tbsp
- Sesame seeds 2tbsp
- Tamarind paste 1tbsp
- Chopped Onion 2 medium
- Sunflower oil 2tbsp
- Chilli powder 1tsp
- Cumin powder 1tsp
- Turmeric powder 1tsp
- Coriander powder 1tsp
- Garlic paste 1tsp
- Ginger paste 1tsp
- Water 250ml
- Green chillies 2
- Salt 1tsp
- Chopped fresh green coriander 2tsp
- Dry (or fresh) red chillies 2
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C fan assisted (200C).
- Wash and then slit the aubergines in half lengthwise whilst leaving the stalks on.
- Coat them with a teaspoon of oil and roast in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Dry roast the peanuts, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and coconut till it is light brown in colour.
- Constantly keep stirring when doing this otherwise it will brown unevenly as evident from the picture at the bottom.
- Fry the onion in the oil till they are translucent and brown.
- Mix all the dry roasted ingredients with fried onions and tamarind paste and grind to a paste.
- Temper the curry leaves, fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds, mustard seeds till they start crackling.
- Add the green chillies and fry for one minute.
- Add all the dry spices along with ginger and garlic paste.
- Add little water if necessary to prevent them from sticking to the pan or burning. Fry for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the paste and fry till it becomes dry and then add one cup of water.
- When it starts to boil, add the aubergines and simmer with the pan covered for 10 minutes.
Garnish with green coriander and serve with rice or naan.