Thursday, February 28, 2013

IHCC: Meat-Free But Flavorful!

Meat-free with Madhur Jaffrey. The big difficulty here is making a choice. Looking for something untried and interesting I found Sri Lankan Eggplant Curry (Vambotu Curry) in  World Vegetarian (p189).

You start by slicing the eggplant in 1/2" slices, rubbing it with oil, salt-and-peppering it, then popping it under the broiler for 4 minutes on the first side and 3 on the second. This gives slices that are a nice reddish color. These are quartered then tossed with salt, ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, ground fennel, cayenne, and lime juice.

To finish, you heat up some oil in a frying pan, add a bit of cinnamon stick, then some curry leaves, and finally some sliced onion. When the onion has browned a bit, you add the spiced eggplant and stir for a  few minutes. Then stir some in coconut milk and ground brown mustard seeds. Cook this for a few more minutes, correct any spices, and serve. This is actually quite a quick meal, and nothing is too difficult. But ...
  • It was surprisingly bitter. We had trouble locating the source of this, but it seemed like while most of the eggplant in the dish was fine, some bits were nasty. I had bought two eggplants to make up the weight, thinking to use one and a half for this recipe and the rest for something later in the week. One of them, although it looked lovely on the outside, had a brown bit down through the middle from the stem-end. I discarded this, plus a bit extra, and sliced the rest. My guess is that even though I had discarded the part that looked bad and the rest looked fine, a nasty taste pervaded the entire eggplant. A dose of mango chutney mitigated this somewhat.
  • The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon cayenne. In the recipe prologue, Jaffrey says that the original recipe called for 2 teaspoons. Since we tend to like things hot, I used that amount. First bite, seconds of nothing, then wham! Good stuff! But only if you like it hot. 
  • I poured the 1 tablespoon of oil for coating the eggplant slices into a little dish and used my fingers to anoint the slices. There was lots left here, so I used that plus just a dab more to finish the dish.
  • Two of us ate all of this dish, advertised as serving 3-4. Three maybe, four not, unless it were part of a larger meal.

After getting a taste of the heat, I quickly made of my favorite raita, Yoghurt with Cucumber and Mint from Indian Cooking (p162), as a go-with. It's better if it gets to sit around and ripen a bit, but good enough when it's tossed together just before serving.

This curry made one of those brown Indian meals. (I find it a challenge to avoid monochrome plates of Indian food.) Not the most attractive meal served over plain basmati rice. We were both surprised and disappointed by the bitter taste, but I will try this again when eggplants are in season.

This post is shared with this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs.


  1. That's a lot of cayenne! Sorry this disappointed. I like your think-on-your-feet style making the riata to overcome the heat and using the chutney to lessen the bitter flavor.

  2. It's so useful that you have documented your not so great experience with this recipe. If I try it I'll do it cautiously and make sure to use a perfect eggplnat/

  3. Sorry to hear that the eggplant was bitter! But I love that you have used the original amount of cayenne, I would too!

  4. Sorry to hear that this dish disappointed. I agree with Michelle, 2 teaspoons of cayenne would choke the heck out of me, and I love things spicy. That is a lot of heat!

    Thanks for giving it a go and linking up with us.

  5. It sounds like a great dish. Too bad about the bitterness. Did your eggplant have lots of seeds? I find that the bulk of the bitterness is in the seeds and it sometimes seems to pervade into the flesh in the "seedier" eggplants.

  6. Deb, it wasn't an especially seedy eggplant. After I got past the brown bit, it was lovely and clear. Very much a puzzle, but I will try this again in the summer.