After an un-inspiring week of idli sambar, dosa sambar and rice sambar potato thokku at home and then a nice languid trip to Pondicherry, beautiful vanilla crepes, gratins and curries later I am still blank and clueless. The vegetable basket in the fridge is near empty. I’ve not stood staring at stuff in a grocery store in weeks. The stash of fresh rosemary and dill I lovingly bought are dried, wilted and frozen for eternity in my freezer. The last my oven saw any activity were some nice crispy Parmesan biscuits weeks back. The oven has been having a holiday ever since. But I’ve been hoarding bowls, plates and cups like a mad woman. I can’t think beyond tiffin sambar for idli, potato fry and sambar. I’ve got into the dangerous home cook rut. It is scary. I turned to my cookbooks for help, for inspiration, for solace. I found this Kathirikkai gravy in the “Chettinad cookbook”. I found joy. I found one more side dish for dosai. I found a sustainable alternative to sambar.
I made this curry in 15 minutes flat when Hasini and Yuvi were clamouring for their breakfast on a Saturday morning. It was very late in the morning (too late to mention). We had taken our time with the weekly “yennai and thalai-kulial” (oil massage and hair-wash). I had Pogo on to distract them while I got the gravy underway, but the commercial breaks are so much longer and the kids come running again. I heave the dosa kal (tawa) on to the stove while the Kathirikkai gravy simmers beside it, the aroma already wafting up from the kadai. While the dosa kal heats up, I try to engage little Yuvi in some conversation “Cone dosai” or “Round dosai” or “Kutti dosai”.
Yuvi: “Yedha kuda ippo” (Give something now)
I pour some dosa batter on the tawa and furiously spread it out in fast concentric circles to make a crisp dosa, drizzle some oil and then check the gravy, nearly done. I ladle hot chettinad kathirikkai gravy beside each dosa and bring it out to my cartoon watching, by now furious patrons. Hasini declared “I don’t want kathirikkai”. I cajole, threaten, lie and coax her to taste the gravy. She does. She asks for a second helping.
Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 15-20 mins
Kathirikkai/Eggplants/purple brinjals – ¼ kilo cut into cubes
Onion – 1 large chopped fine
Tomato – 1 large chopped fine
Red chilli powder – 2 tsp
Turmeric powder – ½ tsp
Coriander powder – 2 tsp
Salt to taste
Water – 1 cup
Oil – 1 tbsp
Cinnamon – 1 inch piece
Bay leaf – 1
Ingredients – Masala Paste
Poppy seeds – 2 tsp toasted
Fennel seeds/Sombu/Saunf – ½ tsp
Cumin seeds – ½ tsp
Cashewnuts – 4
Grated coconut – ¼ cup
Heat a pan and add 1 tbsp oil to it. When hot, add the cinnamon stick and bay leaf and stir around and wait for the fragrance.
Then add the chopped onions and sauté till they turn translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes and fry until they turn soft.
Add the chopped brinjals and fry for a couple of minutes.
Grind the ingredients for the masala paste to a fine paste. Add water to help along. Pour this paste into the pan. Also add in the spice powders – red chilli powder, coriander powder, salt and turmeric powder and mix well. Pour in about ½ to ¾ cup of water and mix well.
Bring to a boil. Simmer, cover and cook for about 7-10 minutes or till the brinjals are cooked but not mushy and the oil has separated. You may have to uncover and stir things around gently in between to avoid the gravy sticking to the bottom of the pan. Gravies that have coconut or nut pastes tend to stick to the pan, so be mindful of that.
Once done, switch off and garnish with coriander leaves. You could make the gravy as thick or runny as you desire. Serve as a side dish for Dosa, Idli, or Idiyappam.