Friday, 3 August 2012

Vazhuthananga Theeyal/ Eggplant in Roasted Coconut Gravy

This is another traditional Kerala dish made with Vazhuthananga (some call it Kathirikka) which is available in markets here as the Lebanese Eggplant (long, thin and purple). Some say that Vazhuthananga is the name for the green variety of eggplant and Kathirikka is the long, thin, purple variety and the round variety is called unda-kathirikka. Others say that they are just different names for the same variety. But I am not sure!

Now, I've read many articles about "Theeyal" describing it as a "burnt dish". I am quite disappointed with that
because, to anyone who is new to Kerala cuisine, naming it as a burnt dish could give them all sorts of different ideas of this exquisite curry. Indian cuisine has a few dishes where the ingredients are burned, but the burnt skin/ surface is carefully removed/ discarded before preparing a dainty dish with a smoky flavour. So let's get  the fact straight - "Theeyal" is not a burnt dish. With the little knowledge I have of the Malayalam language and running my imagination riot, I would say that "theeyal" might be a variation to "theeyil" which means "in fire" - may be because the grated coconut is toasted over fire till dark brown, but definitely not burnt. (If you end up burning your coconut, the advise from our parents and grandparents and their grandparents is to start all over again).

So "Theeyal" is a curry made by toasting grated coconut with some spices and then grinding it into a smooth paste which is then used to make the curry. There are vegetarian and non-vegetarian theeyal varieties. And today it is a vegetarian variety, made with Lebanese Eggplant, as mentioned before. To make things easier, I use desiccated coconut which toasts to a beautiful brown colour in minutes (and I am aware that it is not the traditional way of doing it where fresh grated coconut is used, but please forgive me here).

We love to have Theeyal with rice, chapathi (Indian flat bread) or dosa (Indian pancake) and a dab of yogurt on the side.....

Preparation Time: 20 minutes + cooling time for toasted spices
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

For the curry paste
  • 2 cups desiccated coconut
  • 1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 large dry red chillies
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
Other Ingredients
  • 400g eggplant, roughly chopped
  • 100g eschalots, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 dry red chillies
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves
  • 1 - 1 1/2 tsp tamarind paste (adjust to taste) (I use the store bought ones)
  • Salt to taste
1. Toast desiccated coconut in a pan, over low-flame. As soon as it starts to change colour, add the rest of the ingredients for curry paste. When coconut has become dark brown (take care not to burn it), transfer toasted coconut-spice mixture to a cool plate and let it cool. When cool, grind it into a thick paste with 3/4 - 1 cup of water.

2. In a shallow pan, heat oil. Splutter mustard seeds. Then add eschalots, garlic,dry chillies and curry leaves. Saute' until eschalots have softened, when you add eggplant and continue to saute' for a few more minutes. Add salt and 1 - 2 tbsp of water and mix well. Close pan and cook for a few minutes until eggplants begin to soften but not mushy. Meantime mix tamarind paste with 1 cup of water. (Some like their theeyal very sour and I would recommend them to use 1 to 1 1/2 tbsp of tamarind paste, depending on their taste. But some like their theeyal to have just a hint of sourness in which case 1/2 tbsp of tamarind paste should be enough). Add tamarind water to eggplant and bring to boil. When eggplants are perfectly done, add ground curry paste, mix well and season to taste. Add more water if required. Bring to boil. Remove from flame.

Serve hot as a side-dish with rice.

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