Which shop should I enter, I wonder, as I walk down Little India's streets in search of the ingredients I needed for a new recipe. I spot a stall where a little granny, in her bright pink sari, hovers over a large basket of dark purple eggplant, just delivered by the Chinese lorry driver. The granny furiously picks through the heap, and soon enough a crowd of market-goers, including me, were joining in. A young lady catches me with an eggplant in hand and teaches me to discard the ones with tiny holes. This is the place, I thought, and entered the adjoining spice shop with my basket of veggies and my grocery list. There were rows and rows of herbs and spices, black lentils, yellow lentils, flours from wheat to chickpeas, and mounds of fresh curry leaves and cilantro. I was overwhelmed. I didn't know where to begin, so I showed the shopkeeper my list and asked him to help me. With a little smile, he went from shelf to shelf, dropping into my basket the cumin seeds, chili powder, garam masala, mustard seeds and chickpea flour I needed. After paying for all this, the shopkeeper reminds me to pass by the huge trough filled with curry leaves and cilantro, and take as much as I needed, no charge to his customers.
In the spirit of the Commonwealth Games going on in Delhi, the October issue of Food and Travel (UK) magazine featured a luscious feast. This is one of the many tempting recipes I have adapted, tucking into my spice basket from Little India.
Aubergines (Eggplant) in Yoghurt
serves 4-6 people
300g eggplant, washed and dried
125g besan or gram flour
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp chili powder
oil for frying
300g plain yoghurt
1/4 tsp paprika or cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
2 sprigs of curry leaves, stems removed
(or you can use mint leaves)
lemon or lime
Slice the eggplant 1.5cm thick, place in a colander and generously sprinkle some salt to draw out the bitterness.
In the meantime, mix the flour, garlic, chili powder and 1/4 tsp salt in a bowl. Add enough cold water to make a thin tempura-like batter.
Dry the eggplant slices on kitchen towels and heat oil in a frying pan. Dip each slice into the batter and fry as many pieces in a single layer in the pan. When golden brown on each side, transfer to a platter lined with kitchen towels to drain excess oil. Add more oil as necessary while frying the rest of the eggplant.
In another bowl, whisk the yoghurt, paprika and cumin powder. Season to taste. Layer the cooked eggplant in a flat serving platter and trickle the spiced yoghurt over them.
Heat up about a tablespoon of oil in another frying pan and quickly fry the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Immediately pour this over your eggplant dish. Squeeze some lemon or lime juice and serve.