Tuesday, July 26, 2011

South Indian style eggplant curry

YouTube is a great source of information for cooks wishing to learn techniques from other culinary traditions. After Camellia Panjabi's eminently user-friendly curry primer, I learned a great majority of the Indian/South Asian techniques I know by watching Indian and Indian-American home cooks and professionals demonstrate their methods on video. Among other things, I learned how to make naan bread, homemade paneer, flaky paratha, and (my favorite) Idlis, all on YouTube. Some of the videos are poorly edited, cheesy, or just plain weird, while others are quite polished. But as long as you get a good visual sense for each step involved and the textures you're supposed to aim for at each stage of the process, as well as any special hand or tool techniques involved, a video is still more valuable, in my opinion, than any cookbook. For one, videos tend to demystify cooking techniques while cookbooks tend to do the opposite (an unintentional byproduct of the linguistic encoding, in precise terms, of techniques that are traditionally transmitted in the kitchen, mother to daughter, cook to cook, etc., where language only has an ancillary function). This is especially true with any recipe involving a yeast dough, where it is critical to observe textural factors such as wetness, gluten-level-stickyness, oiliness, etc.

Anyhow, YouTube cooking manifesto aside, I wanted to share a recipe from one of my favorite online Indian chefs, Sanjay Thumma. First, read this nice feature on Thumma that appeared in The Hindu two years ago, and which explains why YouTube is particularly useful for Indian cooking. Then, check out his video recipe for eggplant tomato curry. I looked specifically to Thumma when my garden started producing more eggplants and tomatoes than I knew what to do with, and was pleased with what I found. The inclusion of freshly roasted and crushed peanuts and sesame seeds in this particular recipe is what sold me.

The recipe involves deep frying the eggplant separately, then making a spicy tomato curry, roasting and crushing peanuts and sesame seeds, and finally tossing the fried eggplant in the tomato curry along with chopped cilantro and the crushed peanut mixture. The final product is a heavenly combination of contrapuntal textures and flavors. Still being out of the reshampatti chile powder I would normally use, I improvised and used freshly ground pequin chiles, which added an additional smoky note that made this dish (I am not exaggerating) the absolute best eggplant preparation I have ever had.

Here are a some photos of the process, although again, if you watch the video you will learn way more than you will from this blog:

Draining the fried eggplant.
Fried until golden brown.
The four main elements: fried eggplant, tomato curry, crushed peanuts, fresh chopped cilantro.
The dish will not take more than a half-hour to make if you roast the peanuts while the tomato curry simmers. If you can manage two burners at once, fry the eggplant while also making the tomato curry to save time.

Ok, not the prettiest once all the ingredients are tossed together. But you could save a few Tbs of crushed peanuts and chopped cilantro for garnish and this dish would have much more visual appeal.

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