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Home is Eggplant Curry

There are certain flavors that send me straight back to my childhood so distinctly that it is as though I’ve accidentally tripped through a wormhole. I most often find it in my mom’s eggplant curry, eaten with my hands. The smell of tamarind, curry leaves, cumin, and paprika, and the texture of the eggplant between my fingers provide a sense of comfort and familiarity no matter where I am.

Unfortunately, I’m no expert in making Sri Lankan food. I’m rather ashamed to make such an admission, but I’m trying my best to rectify this fault. The problem always lay in my dependence on exact recipes; I like rules, and precise measurements. Venturing away from a recipe made me feel like I was risking everything, and in Sri Lankan recipes are anything but exact. When cooking, my mom doesn’t follow strict measurements; she cooks by eye and by taste. Cooking is learned by trial and error, by practicing until you just know when something is right. This so intimidated me that I didn’t dare even try, but last year, I had reason to overcome those fears.

Living in Spain had me periodically yearning for something familiar. The food there, while delicious and incredibly interesting, was not what I was used to. About four months in, I needed curry, like Voldemort needed the elder wand (though I’d like to think that my obsession was not nearly so sinister). Driven by this desire for home, I threw my inhibitions to the wind and finally attempted to make curry on my own.

My mom was excited to hear of my quest and happily sent me her recipe. She learned to cook at home from a very young age in Sri Lanka, at the elbows of her mother and older sisters. She told me that this curry is one of those staple dishes that everyone there learns to make, and each person has their own version.

Recipe in hand, I made a first attempt, and the curry came so close to my mom’s that when I tasted it, I felt like I had been granted a free trip back home. That little piece of familiarity and comfort (which I made for myself at least twice a month) helped me to continue to enjoy living in an unfamiliar country. Now, this curry is a connection to my mother and my heritage, and each time I cook, I make it more my own.

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Practice definitely makes perfect when it comes to curry. After the initial plunge, improvisation is quickly learned, and there is a freedom in not being limited by the exact measurements of a traditional recipe. The measurements given below are approximate, and you will find that you need to experiment and tweak things a little to suite your own tastes.

You can serve this curry with rice or a flat bread of your choice. I recommend eating this dish with your hands. Trust me. It’s so much more satisfying.

Enjoy!

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 Yaso’s Eggplant Curry

Ingredients

 Method

  1. Cut eggplants into thin rectangular slices or cubes. Lay the eggplant slices out in a single layer on a baking tray. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and roast in a 425 degree oven until soft and browned, about 15-20 minutes. Watch your eggplant carefully, as it goes from being done to burnt very quickly.
  2. Heat 1 TBS oil in a pan over medium heat and sauté fenugreek seeds and garlic until light brown. If available, add a few curry leaves to the pan and sauté.
  3. Add the onion, and fry until really soft. Add more oil as necessary to keep things from burning, but be sparing.
  4. Add chili powder, paprika, cumin, fennel, balsamic vinegar or tamarind juices, and a few tablespoons of water. Continue to fry for 2 to 4 more minutes, stirring continually. Add chopped tomato or tomato puree and continue cooking.
  5. To avoid burning the spices, add a little more water and keep frying. If you baked your eggplant, you may want to add a little bit of oil to your spices at this point.
  6. Add the cooked eggplant to the spices and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the eggplant is well coated in curry. If you need more moisture, add a few tablespoons of water.
  7. Serve with rice or the flat bread of your choice. Garnish with cilantro.

These measurements made enough for me with some leftover for lunch the next day. Double, triple, or quadruple as necessary! For a more indulgent version, deep-fry your eggplant instead of roasting it.

*Tamarind can be purchased at most Asian grocery stores. To extract the juices, cut off a cherry sized chunk per serving, and place in a small bowl. Pour in enough hot water to cover the tamarind and let sit for five minutes. Squeeze the pulp with your fingers to release the juices. Discard all the solids. Add your tamarind juice to the curry gradually, tasting as you go.

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Meneka Thiru

Meneka Thiru, Contributor

Meneka was born and raised in Anchorage, and wherever she travels, Alaska is always home. Being of Sri Lankan heritage and growing up in the Indian community, she finds comfort in eating curry with her hands and has seen how food can be a piece of home that brings families together. Getting a degree in International Studies and Spanish Language and studying abroad has led to a bad case of wanderlust and a penchant for recklessly adventurous eating. Meneka lived in Spain for a year before returning to Anchorage, where she now lives and works.