This recipe is from our friend Gautam, who dabbles in gardening, cooking, baking, grilling, photography, and on the side, is a neurosurgeon! He grows a bunch of varieties of green chilies including some of the hottest varieties, and like any Indian worth his salt, pickles them. I love this pickle and followed his recipe to make my own from my garden produce, as I was running out of his stock! Eyeballed most of the ingredients.
This is one of the best versions of eggplant/brinjal/aubergine made with a special spice mix. Like most children, I wasn’t too fond of eggplant growing up, due to the texture. But my patti got me to eat this in her own special way. After she made this curry, and transferred it to a serving dish, there would be invariably some sticking to the kadai (or maybe she left it on purpose). Anyway, she would add some hot rice to the baanali (that’s what we called the vaanali in our family), add a couple of spoons of ghee, and mix it all together, make balls of the rice shining with the eggplant and the ghee, and go around distributing it. Oh man, that was the best! To this day, I do it every time I make eggplant curry this way, but somehow my memories taste better!
Vathal or vendhaya kuzhambu is the ultimate Tambrahm rustic dish, made when you don’t have fresh produce on hand, especially during the monsoons when the sundried vegetables from the previous year come in handy. Vathal means dried stuff basically any vegetable or certain berries like turkey berry (sundakai in Tamil), black night shade (manathakkali in Tamil) in their sundried form are added to a thick tamarind extract, with basic kuzhambu powder (spice mix) and boiled to a thick jam-like gravy, and eaten with rice. The flavor comes from the tadka/thalippu/tempering in sesame oil and the tart tamarind extract, the tartness balanced by the vathal or vegetable of your choice. Fresh vegetables such as drumstick, red pumpkin, onions/shallots are also used and are typically my favorites. If you have no vegetable or vathal on hand, one version of this uses papads. Fry the papads broken in pieces in the initial tempering, and proceed as usual.
This recipe is from Allison, who has been dating my son for about 31/2 years now. Allison is vegan, and a big fan of cooking and eating Indian food. She can polish off a big bag of bhel mix all by herself. This was one of the first recipes she made with/for my son, and has also made for us one Thanksgiving.
A complex dish with an unusual combination of spices, souring agents, and the star vegetable that’s actually a condiment! I have made bhaghare baingan which is very similar, but made with eggplant/brinjal. This year, I am getting a bounty of slim, long green chilies in my garden and was searching online for suitable new recipes, and ran into this. I have never actually had this dish in a restaurant but decided to make it, since we love bhagare baingan.
While looking for recipes, I did some research on the origins of the dish, and came across the fascinating story of how green chilies made their way into India. Hard to believe, but they are not native to India, considering how much every cuisine of India uses them, and how seamlessly integrated they seem, as to make one think they are native to India. Nope, just like tomatoes, they were brought to India by the Portuguese, specifically the famous Vasco da Gama who brought the saplings wrapped in moss as a gift — he picked them up from Spain, Brazil and Africa! In return, he took home the precious black gold, aka pepper!
Read all about how they made their way into Akbar’s and all the kitchens of India in this story:
By the way, I learned that Akbar was a staunch vegetarian! Wonders never cease, and Akbar continues to amaze me. This dish, with the influence of Karnataka, Telengana, and Marathwada cuisines, apparently appealed to Akbar’s “unifying Hindustan” sensitibilites. I love food stories! On to the recipe now.