A STAPLE dish in many Ceylonese households is the brinjal coconut milk curry (kathrikkai paal curry), eaten with rice or puttu (steamed ground rice and coconut cylinders).
Growing up, I never really liked the dish, not because of how it tasted but how it looked – soft and mushy, with seeds of the vegetable all mixed in. Being powerless on what would go on my dinner plate however, I adjusted as best I could. I’d swallow the vegetable with gulps of water – this really made matters worse as the copious amounts of water filled me up and made me feel queasy even before I was halfway through my meal.
I learnt to put away my prejudices eventually. I noticed how much the dish was savoured by the rest of my family during our family gatherings. The “oooohs and aaahs” and licking of fingers didn’t go unnoticed and I eventually tried it and now, love it too.
The paal curry is such a popular dish that nine out of ten times, you’d find it on the menu at any festivity (regardless of whether the food was home cooked or catered). There are slight variations on how the dish is made, but these mostly revolve around personal preferences – I add turmeric to the brinjal which I am told by my aunt is not authentic to the dish. Also, some cooks add plantains with the brinjal – this apparently is a common combination in Sri Lanka where plantains are easily accessible.
This recipe is a combination of the recipes from my sister and my aunt.
S. Indramalar writes for the Don’t Call Me Chef column in Star2.
- 1 tbsp gingerly oil or more
- 4-6 shallots diced
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek
- 2 green chillies sliced
- 3 round brinjals skin removed and roughly cut into 2 cm cubes
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1-2 cups water
- 1/4 cup coconut milk
- salt to taste
- 1/2 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- 3 dried red chillies roughly cut
- Heat the gingerly oil in a pan and add the shallots, fenugreek and green chillies and cook till fragrant. Add the brinjal, cumin and turmeric and stir to mix all the ingredients together. Lower the heat and add the water (just enough to cover the brinjal). Cover the pan and allow the brinjal to cook until soft, about 10 minutes, checking from time to time to ensure the water doesn’t dry out before the brinjal is soft. (Add more water if necessary.)
- Once the brinjal is very soft – soft enough to be mashed – add the coconut milk and salt and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Using the back of a wooden spoon, mash the brinjal slightly, allowing some to retain their shape. Remove from heat and transfer to a serving dish.
- In another small pan, heat the ghee. Add the mustard seeds and once they start to splutter, add the curry leaves and dried chillies and temper for a minute or two. Pour the oil and ingredients onto the brinjal.