Red eggplants? Whaaa?! Indeed they exist and they’re super tasty too! A few months ago a friend told me about a variety of small red eggplants that had a faint fruity and spicy flavor, that he grows on the Vesuvius, but I’d never seen them (also I didn’t quite believe him!) until a few weeks ago at my local supermarket in Milan! I didn’t know what to do with them but I just knew I had to get them, am I right?! I spent a few days researching and concluded that they’re not used for any dish in particular so I went for a curry that I’d wanted to make for a while anyway. I thought using bright orange/red eggplants would make for a much more vibrant and prettier curry in any case. This variety is much more firm to the bite compared to the normal black ones and also does not oxidize after it’s sliced! Amazeballs.
These beautiful red eggplants originally come from Africa (hence the scientific name Solanum aethiopicum) but are now also grown in Italy, mostly in the Basilicata region, which is sooo cool! They’re also certified by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.
A couple of notes on some curry ingredients:
-mustard seeds: we don’t normally use them in Italy but they can be found in any ethnic food store. They come in different colors – from white-yellow with a milder taste, to black, like the ones I used, which are more tangy. I tried them at a Bangladeshi restaurant in west Wales 3 years ago, I ordered a fish soup and loved this flavor! So now that I got a whole bag of them I will definitely make more curry dishes. From the ground seeds you can also make the mustard spread we all know by adding water, vinegar, oil, salt and sugar. Of course you must follow a recipe, though! Maybe I will try to make it some day and will report back.
-curry leaves: first things first though: do you know what curry is and what it refers to? We misuse it (including myself) referring to stews of vegetables/meat/fish that feature a mix of spices which we also call curry. But actually everything originates from the curry tree, a plant that is a cousin to our citrus family, that grows in southern India and Sri Lanka. Its leaves, or kari, have always been used in Ayurveda medicine and traditional cuisines of the whole south east Asia, usually fresh or also dried. It’s thanks to these small leaves that such dishes take on such an amazing flavor, and, because they’re not easy to find in the rest of the world, our mixes of spices only want to try and recreate those flavors. So now the word curry stands for three things, but at least we know the reason behind it!
I’ve written way too much today, now on to the recipe!
SWEET SPICED RED EGGPLANT CURRY // vegan
by Marta Giaccone
prep time: 10 mins, cook time: 45 mins, total time: 55 mins + 30 mins soaking
250 gr / 1 + ¼ cups basmati rice
2 + ½ cups water
600 gr red eggplants
6 shallots (or 2 medium onions), finely sliced
400 ml (1 can) coconut milk
a piece of fresh ginger, to taste
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 tbsp ground turmeric
handful curry leaves
handful fresh coriander
2 tsp curry/garam masala mix
juice of 1 lemon
- Rinse rice with water to remove any excess starch.
- Optional: soak rice with plenty of water for about 30 mins.
- Drain water and add the rice to a pot. Add 2 cups water, salt to taste and a tsp of oil. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat.
- When it starts boiling, cover and bring heat to low. Cook, without stirring, for about 15 minutes (check packaging instructions). Take the lid off. There shouldn’t be any any excess water but if there is, allow it to boil off. Turn off heat and fluff with a fork.
- In a wok or similar pan cook shallots in 2 tbsp of oil, on low heat and covered, until translucent. Add a pinch of salt.
- Wash and cut red eggplants in small wedges (I cut each one in 6), add to pan and cook for about 8 minutes or until tender. Remove from pan.
- Add 1 more tbsp of oil to the pan along with mustard and cumin seeds and fry them on medium heat until they begin to pop (be careful not to burn them or they will make everything taste really bitter).
- Add curry leaves and cook until crispy and translucent.
- Grate ginger and add to the pan along with curry/garam masala mix, ground coriander and turmeric. Mix, then add coconut milk. Stir and bring to a simmer.
- Return eggplant to the pan and cook on medium heat until they are tender but not mushy, and the liquid has reached a desired consistency. Add lemon juice and stir. Add fresh coriander and serve.