this recipe was borne out of necessity, if you consider that i have no choice but to deal with my cravings for a particular food when they come up, or i’ll think of nothing else meanwhile. i was craving the flavours in my dad’s deviled tofu, but not necessarily the puffed tofu, which while delicious, is a little processed and is something i indulge in sparingly. then the idea to try it with my aunt’s silky, fried eggplant occurred to me and i’ve never looked back. that eggplant alone is so addictive that i have a hard time not eating all of it off the cooling rack before it even hits the actual sauce it’s destined for. in this recipe too, it absorbs the spices perfectly, plus eggplants hang out with tomatoes and onions in about a million recipes–they just go well together.
it’s a given that i would test a recipe like this several times, even though it’s a blend of two previously tested recipes. never mind, those repetitions; i’ve made this at least seven times since trying it just two months ago. it’s so good i had to share it at a dinner party, and it went over really well. i served it that night with my mom’s “tempered rice” (read: rice fried in butter–recipe to come!), and in the pictures below with wild rice. but sopping up the spicy sauce with bread or naan is as brilliant an idea as any.
in addition to the tweaks i made to the spices when i tested this recipe, making it for that dinner party was enlightening. imagine my surprise when i doubled my recipe and it yielded, oh, almost nothing more than the original volume. and my guests were coming in an hour. i had to fry and cook almost another whole batch of eggplant to get to a serving for 8. the eggplant cooks down so much, plus it’s so luscious that you definitely want to make enough so that you don’t have to hold back when heaping a serving on your plate. i have included instructions on how to feed a crowd with this, because it’s definitely worthy of your friend. your very favourite ones.
*note on doubling or even tripling this recipe: the eggplant soaks up so much of the sauce that doubling the quantities will feed 6. to serve 8, you’ll need to triple it. however, while you are fine to double and triple the amount of eggplant and tomato called for, you should only moderately increase (by half) the onions, cayenne and salt, and there’s no need to increase turmeric or cinnamon.
4 japanese eggplants
1/4 c white vinegar
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
vegetable or peanut oil (for frying)
1 tbs vegetable or peanut oil
10 curry leaves
1 3-inch piece of rampe (pandan or screw pine leaves)
2 cardamom pods
1 piece of cinnamon
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or slightly more for a very spicy dish
1 tsp paprika
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 small onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rings
2 roma tomatoes, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 c water
fry the eggplant:
slice eggplants; first, cut each eggplant crosswise into 3-inch pieces. then cut those pieces in half lengthwise. finally cut all pieces, lengthwise, into 1/3-inch thick pieces. in a large bowl, mix vinegar, 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1/2 tsp salt together. add eggplant and toss to coat well in the marinade.
in a wide, heavy pan, pour about 1/2-inch of oil. heat over high heat, then add eggplant carefully, and fry in batches (do not overcrowd oil) until eggplant is golden (about 4-5 minutes/batch). transfer to a plate lined with paper towels or to a lined cooling rack. set pan aside to allow oil to cool. then store oil in a jar to use the next time you make this dish, if you wish.
heat another pan over medium-high heat. add 1 tbs of oil, allow it to get hot. when the oil is hot, add curry leaves, rampe, cardamom and cinnamon and stir-fry for 30 seconds. then add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds. add the cayenne, paprika, sugar, salt and pepper, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. then add the the tomatoes, stir and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. add the onions and water, stir and allow to cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally (do not overcook the onions). add the eggplant, stir and cook for 2 minutes. remove cardamom, cinnamon and rampe (the curry leaves are edible and good for you!), and serve hot.