I really cannot decide whether to call this “Sri Lankan Eggplant”, “‘Sri Lankan’ Eggplant,” or something else entirely . . . like “Greasy Salty-Sour Eggplant.” Honestly, I don’t know which is most appropriately descriptive. I do know that:
a – Eggplant cooked this way requires an obscene amount of oil, which means I rarely make it, because I really would like for my husband and me to make it to 40 without greasy-eggplant-clogged arteries. Thus, “greasy” really does deserve a place in the recipe name.
b – This recipe is based on my best recollection of a preparation created quite a few years ago, quite late at night, by a 2nd generation Sri Lankan housemate of mine using ingredients I think I remember accurately. Actually, most of the recipe after the first step (frying everything — see below) is a blur.
c – When I was setting up ingredients to make this recipe, by husband came into the kitchen and said, “It looks like you are going to cook some real South Indian stuff in here!” Then he may have done something involving his best interpretation of speaking in Tamil, a language he doesn’t actually speak — something which, yes, would potentially be even more offensive that my probably mis-named recipe.
So the verdict is out on the name, but I would welcome input from anyone with more knowledge in the realm of Sri Lankan cooking — which I think would be anyone reading this.
2 medium-sized eggplants (about 1 pound in all)
all the oil in your house (or at least 1/2 cup of oil)
1 tsp mustard seeds
7-10 curry leaves
1-5 green chillies (optional)
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp ginger paste
1 Tbsp sugar
1 small tomato, chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced finely
1 Tbsp tamarind concentrate (or to taste)
1 handful cilantro leaves
1 – Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes. I like using small eggplants, because this dish works best when there’s a little skin left on each piece of eggplant — only possible if you use somewhat small eggplants.
2 – Heat the oil in a wok or kadhai. In small batches, fry the eggplant until crispy and soft (but not browned or burnt!), then drain on paper towel. (Did I mention that this recipe uses a lot of oil? Well, this is actually just stage one of the oil party.) This step is time-consuming, and you can’t really walk away because it’s just too easy to burn eggplant. I realize you will feel tempted to throw all the eggplant into the vat of oil and hope for the best, but this will just end badly: the eggplant will immediately soak up every last drop of oil, and then stick to the pan and burn. You will be shocked that this could happen so fast, and you will have to do some deft stir-frying moves to keep from losing the whole cause. Trust me, and keep the batches small.
3 – Allow the pan to cool, and clean up the little bits of eggplant that are left in there, if necessary. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in the bottom of the pan.
4 – Add mustard seeds to the oil, until the pop and sputter. Add the curry leaves and green chillies. (I didn’t make this particular version with green chillies because it was for kids, but really it’s nice to make this one spicy-hot.) Then add the onion and ginger paste, along with a little salt. Allow these to cook until the onion is soft.
5 – Next add the cumin powder, coriander powder, and turmeric. Stir to mix in, then add the chopped tomato. Cook on medium-low until the tomatoes get nice and soft.
6 – Add the fried eggplant pieces, 1/4 cup of water, and mix everything together well.
7 – Push everything to the side of the pan, and create a little place to mix together the tamarind paste, sugar, and a little water. Blend these well — the heat of the pan will help — then fold back into the eggplant. Add a little more water if necessary.
8 – Cover and cook on low until the flavors are well mixed — about 10 minutes. Feel free to add more water — or oil!! — if things are getting too dry or sticking too much.