This Kathirikkai Kuzhambu (Brinjal Curry) is the most glorious heirloom that my grandmother just forgot to pass on to any of us. Whenever she made this curry, she always made it alone – none of us were ever allowed in the kitchen. It was her secret and she took it with her to the grave- I suspect witchcraft. But it is the most delicious thing I’ve ever had in my entire life and anyone who’s tasted it will agree. So yeah, magic sounds about right!
Every time I think of her, I can always taste this curry in the back of my mind. It’s like a shimmering silver thread in my pensive that’s tethered to my memory of her, and I’ve never let myself forget it. Ever since I started cooking, I’ve been trying to replicate it, and after about a decade of trials, I think I’ve gotten pretty close to the real deal. To me, it’ll never be as good as she made it, but I’ve made my peace with that.
For those of you without any emotional bond to my grandmother, this is still an insanely delicious curry. It’s even turned a couple of Brinjal haters around! No one who’s tried it has stopped with a single helping. You just can’t resist going back for a little bit more.
The magic ingredient in this curry is the curry powder. Might seem like too many ingredients, but these are quite common in an Indian pantry. Just dry roast the ingredients until fragrant and golden brown. Then grind to a fine powder.
Just be sure to not make too large a batch. The fresher the spices, the more fragrant and flavourful the curry. The quantities given here should last you a couple of batches, and when you need it again, just grind it fresh. It’s neither difficult nor complex, but the freshness of this one ingredient is the essence of this curry.
Once ground, be sure to spread it out on a large plate to let it cool- condensation would spoil the powder. Store in an air-tight container until ready to use.
Besides the curry powder, there are just fairly a few more ingredients you’ll need. If you already have the powder ready, then assembling this curry is simply a matter of time.
Like an apple, Brinjal / Eggplant oxidizes and turns brown when exposed to air. So as you cut it, be sure to plunge the slices in water. Once you’re done chopping, drain completely and toss in turmeric to prevent oxidization.
If you can manage it, try to get the Indian Brinjal – short, round and purple. There are so many other varieties of eggplant, but this works best! Just make sure that the stalk/crown is a beautiful green.
Temper mustard, cumin and curry leaves in copious amounts of oil. This is one dish where I do not let a little oil frighten me. My grandmother’s curry would have an inch of oil floating above it, so much that my mother would (in complete panic) drain some of it out and cook with it for a week! I’ve used far less than she would have – so if you dare, flood it with oil!
To this tempered oil, add chopped onions, ginger, garlic and a bit of salt. Once the onions are soft, add the brinjal and sauté until the skin turns from purple to brown.
Add the chopped tomatoes, cover and cook until soft. Don’t worry if the brinjal isn’t completely cooked yet. Once the tomatoes are soft, add the curry powder, tamarind juice, salt and water.
The final ingredient essential to this curry is time. Let it simmer for atleast an hour on the lowest heat setting. You may pour a few more tablespoons of oil on the top as it cooks to seal the flavour. My grandmother would start making this curry at 4 p.m. for dinner at 8. That’s how long and slow this curry would simmer, filling the house with it’s delicious aroma.
An hour or more later, the curry would have thickened considerably, the brinjal cooked to the skin, all the oil floats on top and your house smells like curry heaven!
Serve it with hot rice, rotis, paratha, naan, idli, dosa – no matter the conduit, the ride’s just as sweet. Personally, my favourite combination is Kathirikkai Kuzhambu (Brinjal Curry) + hot rice + fried egg. It’s my own version of heaven on a plate.
When you make this curry (which I really think you SHOULD!), be sure to SHARE YOUR PHOTOS with me through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. I’d love to see what you cook from here and will share it with pride on my social media feeds.