I adore Indian food, but since traditional recipes and most restaurants use so much oil I've had to learn to cook it at home in self-defense. I like Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks, but am really enjoying "660 Curries" by Raghavan Iyer. It's an enormous cookbook (luckily in paperback) with loads of intriguing recipes from all regions of India, many of them vegetarian. There's lots of information given on spices and techniques for recipes both traditional and more "modern." Indian cooking relies heavily on spices in different combinations, there's no one "curry" flavor, unlike what you'd see in an American spice rack. I bought a little electric spice grinder so I could make the blends called for in many of the recipes, and luckily the next town over has several wonderful Indian groceries for buying whole spices.
Last night I tried the recipe on page 493, "Stewed Eggplant with a Coconut-Chile Spice Blend. It called for using a Kolhapuri spice blend of toasted and ground chilis, coconut, sesame, coriander, cumin, pepper, mustard, and paprika. The smell of the finished blend was out of this world. Several recipes in the boook call for this blend, I think next I'll try it in the Onion-Marinated Lamb with Coconut.
I started the eggplant recipe as written, except I reduced the oil from 2 Tbs. to 1 tsp and I used a few spoonfuls of canned tomatoes instead of fresh. When I tasted the eggplant after it had cooked for a while, I was rocked back by the intensity of the chili heat. I like spicy foods, but this was really numbing. I added the rest of the can of chopped tomatoes and let that cook down, and also added more water to make more sauce. At the end I added a cup of frozen peas for some sweetness to offset the heat. It balanced the whole thing out, and the end result was delicious. We ate it topped with plain yogurt; with roast chicken and brown rice.
Next time, I'll use half the amount of spice blend, I think. Here's my adaptation.
Eggplant, Tomato and Peas with Coconut-Chile
1 lb eggplant, cubed (I used the long lavender Japanese eggplants, which have feewer seeds than Italian. I used about 5
1 tsp. oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small can diced tomatoes
1 to 11/2 tsp(original recipe called for 2 tsp) Kolhapuri Masala (recipe follows)
1/2 to 1 cup water
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 cup frozen green peas
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the eggplant and garlic, and let cook for 10 minutes, until they begin to brown.
2. Add the masala, and stir to coat the eggplant with the spices. Add the tomatoes and their juice, 1/4 cup water, sugar, salt and turmeric. Cook on low heat for 30-40 minutes, adding more water as necessary to make a thick sauce.
3. See if eggplant is done. If not, let cook more, adding water if necessary. When done, stir in peas, let cook a minute, then add cilantro. Serve with yogurt or raita.
Kolhapuri Masala--Red-Hot Chile and Coconut Blend
1 cup dried red thai chiles, stems removed
1/2 cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut
2 Tbs. sesame seeds
1 Tbs. whole coriander seeds
1 Tbs. cumin seeds
1 Tbs. black peppercorns
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons sweet paprika
1. Combine all the ingredients except for paprika in a small bowl, and stir to combine with spices with the oil.
2. Preheat a medium skillet over medium heat. Pour the spices into the skillet, and stir constantly as they roast. You'll smell them soon, and the mustard seeds will "pop." The colors will darken, but don;t let them burn! Immediately pour the roasted spices onto a plate to quickly cool (this will stop the mixture from burning or getting too damp when ground.)
3. When the spices are cool, grind half at a time in a grinder. Stir in the paprika at the end.
4. Store in a small glass jar, and it'll last for 2 months.