Tamarind eggplants, and assorted arcania

All right: Ruchir, Tuli and Chhoti, this one's for you. Ruchir and Tuli, because you are inveterate foodies and wanted these recipes and Chhoti, my sister, because she is responsible for most recipes in my life...

The background: I've been in Calcutta for the last few days. I will be precise: not counting a trip to Sydney, I've been here just seven days. And this is a sampling of the food my mother has cooked for me.

Yep, just a sampling, guys. For instance, all the glorious langra mangoes I have consumed have gone unrecorded. I have omitted the visually awkward but otherwise divine payesh, or rice pudding (here it is in all its visually awkward glory, to the left [update: I removed the picture, it looks awful!]). I have inadvertently excluded the best shaami kebabs in the world, the best because some culinary alchemy dreamt up by Satya (who worked here many years ago) allows the pureed meat inside to literally stretch in your mouth, along with the accompanying contrast of chopped red onion. Nor have I included the extraordinary kati rolls from the triangular park in New Alipore. Or the fabulous chinese food from Bar-B-Q on Park Street. Well. I could go on, but now to other business.

Tamarind Eggplant
(To feed four as a first dish)

Caution: I can only extract approximate quantities from my mother, so taste the tamarind sauce as you cook it; it may need a little rebalancing. In particular, if you're Julian Barnes (yes, you), quit complaining! I have added some extra photographs to reduce your dependence on precise measurement.

Two medium egg plants, not fat but long.

Some salt, sugar and turmeric. 

Cut each eggplant lengthways into elongated quarters, and rub in the salt, sugar and turmeric. 

Half tsp mustard seeds
Quarter tsp fenugreek (be careful: fg can destroy the whole thing if over-used)
A small bunch of curry leaves, to be used in two portions
Quarter cup tamarind pulp, slightly diluted with water
2 tbsp white sugar (or a bit less, I suppose, in this sugar-free day and age)
More salt, and

2 tbps of bhaja masala, see Appendix, or in its lamentable absence:

1 tbsp ground coriander
1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tbps ground mustard
some red chili powder


Fry the eggplant lightly using sunflower or any other white oil; set aside on kitchen paper, and keep the oil. This is basically all the attention the eggplant will get so make sure it is 
(a) cooked 
(b) unbroken, and 
(c) not black, but nicely golden. 

Julian, are you with me? Good. 

Put in some more oil (very little), then the mustard and methi seeds, and the curry leaves. Stir for a few seconds with a tiny bit of water, then add the coriander, cumin, ground mustard and chili powder and stir for a bit. Then pour in the tamarind with a bit of water, and add the salt. Then put the sugar but do it in stages and taste as you go, the idea being that the mix should taste both "sweet" and "sour". In the end, the whole thing becomes, in the words of my mother, a thōk-thōke sauce (oh Ye of Little Linguisticality, ignore this).

At this point, like Borges or Cortazar, we enter the garden of forking paths.

Path 1: lovingly redeposit the eggplant in the sauce, BUT make sure they do not break, stir a couple of minutes, done.

Path 2: arrange the eggplant on serving dish and pour the sauce over it.

Identical paths, you say? My mother (displaying Path 2 on the left) doesn't think so. In either case, garnish with the remaining green curry-patta. Final outcome: look right.

Appendix: Bhaja masala, or bhājā moshla, to preserve Bengali phonetic accuracy

4 tbps whole coriander seeds
2 tbps cumin seeds
2 tbps mustard seeds
1 tsp methi seeds
0-2 whole red chilies (optional)

Dry roast in the frying pan. When it does pit-pit, shut off heat and stir some more, then grind warm in a mixer. Last words for Julian: do not over-fry.

Next up: the four-headed prawn and the Bengali tortilla española, but now I need to do some "real work".


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