I first learnt about different ways of spicing up rice through my mother-in-law. I don't mean that she showed me how to make these dishes since we don't live nearby, but she did once lend me a cookbook during my early marriage years and encouraged me to try out different things, though I hadn't really asked her advice. She's always loved sharing cooking tips and recipes with people around her, an admirable trait I feel, because I've noticed in the past how good cooks rarely share their ingredients.
Vangibaath, or spicy aubergine rice, is a particular favorite of hers, I think. For this, however, she uses the MTR vangibaath spice powder. I dislike the smell of most store-bought masalas and make this my own way.
The purple brinjal is not a particular favorite of mine, when veggie shopping. This is because, often, however carefully one inspects each brinjal, one does end up with a few that have a rotten core. The insects leave a tiny near-invisible hole on the outside. Rot in the green brinjal is more easy to distinguish. But still, I buy both versions since I'm now more adept at choosing the good ones.
Aubergines have an interesting history. Did you know that once upon a time they were known unflatteringly as mad apples or bad eggs (hence the common name of eggplant)? This was perhaps because it is related to plants of the deadly nightshade family such as the datura. The plant is said to have its origins in India. For more on its interesting colorful history, click here
I've tried growing this on my own but my first attempt has been unsuccessful. The harsh summer sun didn't allow it to thrive after it gave me one tiny fruit. It is grown in bulk at my in-laws and I wish to do the same here but am waiting for the rains to pass as the clay-like soil here doesn't allow water to drain well.
For this particular recipe, I used small purple brinjals. Here's how it went:
Preparing the rice: Depending on the time constraints, I either use low GI rice or brown basmati rice. Brown rice requires to be soaked for some hours (I usually soak it overnight if I know I'm going to use it the next day). Cook the rice beforehand and keep it aside.
Preparing the veggies: I use about half a dozen or so small brinjals for a serving of four people. I cut them in half and slice them into half moons, each slice about half a centimeter thin. Cut it too thin and the flesh melts away while cooking; cut it too thick and it will require longer to cook. Store this in a pot of cool water until use. I also cut up one large onion into long thin slivers.
Preparing the spices: I vary the spices a little each time to create a little variety. I fry about four to five red chillies, a teaspoon of coriander seeds and half a teaspoon of methi seeds. Sometimes I replace methi seeds with sesame (til) seeds. I love the til seeds version. I grind this with one cup of grated coconut. While grinding it, it is important not add any water whatsoever. Make sure the blender jar/ processor is completely dry and the grind the spices first to a powder. After that add the finely grated coconut and grind to a powdery consistency. Keep this aside.
Putting it all together: In a wide flat-bottom pan, heat a tablespoon of oil. To this, add about one tablespoon of peanuts. Fry this well and keep aside. If you have roasted unsalted peanuts, use that instead of frying.
In the same oil, add half a teaspoon of mustard seeds, allowing it to splutter. Then add half a teaspoon of urad dal and chana dal, frying till golden. Add a fistful of curry leaves and sprinkle a pinch of asafetida (hing). Then add the onion slivers and fry in slow heat, till the edges are crisp.
Put in the sliced aubergines. Add a little more oil if necessary and allow the vegetable to cook slowly, stirring occasionally. As the flesh becomes more and more translucent, you can tell that it is cooked. It might take 15 to 20 minutes on simmering flame. The flat bottom of the pan ensures that the cooking is even. Be sure to stir it often.
Once the aubergines are cooked, add the masala and stir well for several minutes. Add the rice and requisite salt. Once it is all mixed well, add the roasted peanuts. Allow the dish to sit for a while, maybe half an hour or so. Serve with a side of raita of choice.