Sri Lankan Tangy Aubergine Curry (Kathirikai pirattal)

I used to say the best aubergine dishes can be found in Indian cuisine, but after discovering this Sri Lankan curry, I am no longer sure… I know this plate doesn’t look particularly attractive, but believe me, it’s one of the best vegetable dishes I have ever eaten. It’s rich in spices, light,  but slightly creamy, the aubergines are still a bit firm and the tamarind’s presence gives this typical addictive tangy twist I love, particularly in the summer. As for the big fat slices of garlic…. all I can say is I’ll put twice as much of these next time!

This recipe comes from the beautifully edited Sri Lanka. The Cookbook by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa. It’s a rather recent buy, but until now everything I have cooked from this book was absolutely delicious and, contrary to what I used to think, every dish had something different from what I would recognise as Indian cuisine(s), in both flavours and techniques. This being said, the good news is that if you cook Indian from time to time, you will probably have already all the necessary spices in your kitchen, since most Sri Lankan seasoning ingredients are the same (apart from pandan leaves, for example, but these don’t appear everywhere).

This curry tastes best now, when aubergines are in season, and even though the word “curry” might make you think it’s a heavy, calorie-loaded dish, actually it’s quite light and summery because – and it’s a recurrent element in this book – the sauce is rather “thin” (and of course you can reduce, just like I did, the amount of coconut milk) and also thanks to its tanginess I consider perfect for hot weather. As always, I have slightly changed the ingredients’ amounts and the procedure, so make sure you check the original and discover this wonderful cuisine through the recipes presented by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa

TIPS: As I have mentioned, if you cook Indian from time to time, you will probably have all the necessary dry ingredients to prepare this dish.

Tamarind can be found in practically every Asian grocery (I’ve seen it in a Vietnamese shop, an Indian shop and a Thai shop) or bought on internet. Don’t skip it and don’t think it can be easily replaced with lime for example (at worst you can of course put some lime juice at the end, but you will obtain a tangy dish without the tamarind’s distinct flavours).

You can buy tamarind in a block that dissolves in hot water or a ready to use tamarind pulp in a jar. I prefer the dried block because it tastes better and keeps literally for years in the fridge. A piece of the block must be placed in boiling water and, after 15 minutes you have to strain it, squeezing well the solid parts. The tamarind pulp in a jar doesn’t keep forever (I had to throw away half of the jar once) and it’s not as tangy as the “juice” made from the pulp. It’s quicker to use though. I have no idea what is the pulp equivalent in this dish (or any dish I make), so I can only advise adding it gradually and adjusting the taste to your preferences.

If you cannot get fresh curry leaves, skip them. Dried curry leaves are tough (impossible to eat afterwards, while they are supposed to be eaten, unlike bay leaves, for example) and lose the majority of their aroma. Curry leaves freeze very well, especially if vacuum packed or very tightly wrapped in plastic film, but I’ve never seen them frozen in shops… so if you get hold of them, freeze them in small portions tightly wrapped or, even better, vacuum packed. If you live in the US: I’ve seen some people grow curry leaf trees and sell fresh leaves on internet.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves 3-4 as a side-dish):

2 medium Western aubergines our 6-7 small Asian (long ones)

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds (I have used black)

a small handful of picked fresh curry leaves

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

2 small medium-hot green chillies (found in Indian or Sri Lankan shops) or other green medium-hot chilies

3 big shallots or 1 big onion

8 medium garlic cloves

5 cm square of tamarind block dissolved in 200 ml (about 3/4 cup) hot water and strained (see the TIPS above)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon chilli powder (or more/less); I have used 2 teaspoons Kashmiri chilli powder which is not very hot but has a beautiful red colour

salt to taste

100 ml (about 3 1/2 oz) coconut milk (I have used recently 60 ml and it was delicious too)

Cut the aubergines into bite-sized pieces (while cutting put the pieces into a bowl filled with water, so that they don’t change their colour too much).

Cut the chillies lengthwise and then horizontally (in half or more, depending on the length; you should obtain 2, max 3 cm pieces/roughly 1in pieces).

Slice thickly garlic cloves (I have cut each into 4-5 thick slices).

Cut the shallots into thin slices.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan and stir-fry the aubergines at medium heat until they are slightly browned.

Take them off the pan and put aside.

Add one more tablespoon oil into the same pan and stir-fry mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the curry leaves, the cumin and fenugreek seeds.

After 1 minute add the green chilli, the shallots and stir-fry them at medium heat until the shallots are soft and start browning.

Now add the garlic and stir-fry for one more minute.

Take the pan off the heat, add the powdered spices and mix well.

Pour the tamarind water and the coconut milk and let all simmer until 1/3 of the liquid evaporates (or until the sauce is thick enough for you; I preferred it rather thick/dry).

Finally, add the aubergines, season the curry with salt and give it a good stir.

Warm up for about five minutes.

 

My Favourite Savoury Summer Preserves

Pickled Sweet Pepprs

I don’t eat jams and other sweet preserves, so my even though for most people preserving means mainly making jams, my pantry has become almost 100% savoury with most of the jars filled with chilli pepper-based jellies, sauces, pickles and other more or less fiery products. Preserving season has practically started here (I’ve just made my first jars of chilli jelly!), so I thought I’d share with you my favourite preserves, those I cannot imagine skipping even for a single year. 

Some of them can only be kept in the fridge, some can be put into jars and kept for at least a year in your pantry. If you are afraid of long-term preserving (though I must assure you I’ve literally lived all my life on home preserves and never ever got even a slight stomach ache!), all the below long-term recipes can also be made as “fridge” preserves and kept for several months. If the hot water bath process (which I find necessary in long-term savoury preserves) seems too fussy and too long, I assure you, it lasts only 10-15 minutes, depending on the jar’s size, and is really easy. 

I hope you will find some of the below ideas useful or inspiring. Happy preserving!

TIPS: If you cannot handle very hot chilli varieties, choose the mildest ones. I keep on getting furious because from time to time I buy at the same shop chillies labelled as hot while they are not even medium-hot, so I know such things exist…

If you live in Europe and your country doesn’t produce chillies, I strongly suggest looking for Turkish grocery shops and Turkish stalls at farmers markets. They usually have several varieties of chillies (also some which are barely hot) and they will be fresher than those imported from other continents.

Short-term or Fridge-Only Preserves

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Peperoncini sott'olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

 

Salt Brine Pickled CHilli

Salt Brine Pickled Chilli

Long-term/ Pantry Preserves

 

Pickled Dill Cucumbers

Moomins’ Pickled Cucumber Salad

Indian-Style Tomato Chutney

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Chilli Jelly

Chilli Jelly

Habanero and Oil Paste

Habanero and Oil Paste (Only for Brave Chilli Lovers!)

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Pickled Sweet Peppers

Quick Chilli Pickle in Reused Olive Brine

When I met MJ and started reading the wonderful MJ’s Kitchen I discovered a whole new world of exotic dishes, ingredients and techniques. We share a huge love for chilli (or chile, as MJ would say) in all its forms, but her ways of cooking and using it are usually completely new to me. MJ might be surprised but I always think about her whenever I open a jar of olives. In fact, until I met MJ I would simply discard the olive brine from an empty jar, (unless my husband hasn’t drunk it!), but I’ve seen MJ use olive brine in so many creative ways, it started to make me think it’s totally wrong to throw it away.

One day I thought I’d recycle this brine and try making quick chilli pickles. The result was so good, I now always make sure I have two or three chillies in the fridge whenever I open a jar of olives. Such quickly pickled chilli slices are still crunchy, only lightly altered in taste and texture and they make an excellent snack or an addition to salads and sandwiches. If, like my husband, you like drinking olive brine, you can still drink it after you’ve finished this “secondary” pickle, but beware, the brine will be even hotter than the chilli. Now olive brine makes me think even more about MJ because I know as soon as I finish the olives, I’ll throw some chillies into the same jar and have a delicious hot snack I’m sure she would enjoy. Thank you so much, dear MJ, for your constant inspiration!

If you have just opened a jar of vinegar-pickled vegetables (cucumbers for example), once you have finished it, you can try the same method to make quick secondary cucumber pickles with leftover vinegar pickling brine:

Cucumber Pickled in Reused Vinegar Brine

TIPS: This quick recycled brine pickling idea is intended for olives pickled in salt brine (salt and water), not preserved in oil or with addition of oil (you might try it too, but I don’t guarantee the results).

The photo you see above was made at the moment I started pickling. The red chilli colour won’t change but the green chilli slices will soon turn olive green, so don’t worry, it’s normal.

Some olives are sold in plastic pouches. Once you have finished the olives, transfer the brine into a glass jar and then  pickle the chillies (don’t reuse the plastic pouch for that). Olives might be sold also in metal cans, but I’ve never tried pickling in the leftover brine from such olives. I’m worried it might take a metallic taste… If you ever intend to do it, make sure you don’t reuse the same can (anyway, I’m sure most of you know, metal cans should be emptied as soon as they are open, so you should transfer the olives with their brine into a ceramic or glass container as soon as you open them).

Obviously, if you don’t like fiery food and cannot handle chillies, you can pickle sweet peppers in the same way.

If your pickled chilli has developed a mould on top, throw it away and don’t be put off by this first experience. I have made these reused brine pickles at least dozen of times, always in the same way and once they developed mould, I have no idea why (it might have been some dirt on the chillies or a fork which had touched some other food product and then used to retrieve olives from this brine…).

Preparation: 2-3 days

Ingredients:

a jar with brine from pickled olives (you can reuse the same jar)

raw chillies, washed, dried and sliced

Place the chilli slices into the brine, making sure the liquid covers all of them (they will float a bit of course, but don’t pack too much chilli, otherwise some of the pieces won’t pickle at all) and cover with a tight lid.

Place the jar into the warmest part of the fridge (vegetable drawer is a good place or the fridge doors) and wait 2 or 3 days (taste the chilli to see if it’s already changed the taste). You can shake the jar once or twice a day. Don’t keep these pickles for more than a week and transfer them to a colder place in the fridge once you think they are done. (After a certain time they might start developing mould).

Steamed Aubergine with a Korean Sesame and Chilli Sauce

I have good news for all those who avoid aubergines due to their scary fat absorbing capacity: they are absolutely delicious steamed! Though any aubergine can be used, I find mini and so-called “Asian” varieties particularly fit for this method, so I am always thrilled to see them finally in my grocery shop or on farmers markets. Steamed aubergine is not new to me, but this summer I tried it seasoned Korean way and loved it. Easy, quick and addictive, this is a perfect cooling summer side dish!

I found this easy recipe in Our Korean Kitchen by Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo, a collection of fantastic and easy Korean home recipes, which was a wonderful present from a particularly kind friend of mine. As always I have slightly changed the amounts of ingredients and have also added some rice vinegar to make this dish even more summery (I always crave vinegared side-dishes when it’s hot), so make sure you check the original recipe in this beautifully illustrated book.

If one day you’ve had enough of the Korean flavours, you might try steamed aubergines with a Sichuanese chilli sauce:

Steamed Aubergine with Chilli Sauce

TIPS: You can serve these aubergines both cold and tepid, but I don’t advice serving them hot. (You can also prepare them in advance, but maybe several hours before…. they tend to lose taste and texture if kept for example 24 hours).

You will find the ingredients of this sauce in any Asian shop (or maybe even a “normal” supermarket). If you cannot buy Korean powdered chilli pepper, use any powdered chilli you have (adjust the heat level to your palate). In this case, the best solution, in my opinion, is to grind whole dried chilli peppers to a rough texture (not a complete powder), but even completely powdered chilli will be ok here.

Preparation: about 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a side-dish):

4-5 small aubergines (by small I mean the small thin-skinned variety) or 1 medium Western aubergine

toasted sesame seeds

Sauce:

1 tablespoon light soy sauce (or more, if using low-sodium soy sauce)

2 long stems of spring onion, chopped

1-2 big crushed garlic clove(s)

1 heaped teaspoon Korean chilli flakes/powder or any other chilli flakes/powder

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Preheat water in a steamer, a rice -cooker with a steaming plate or in a pan (if you use a steaming basket).

Cut the small aubergines in two lengthwise, and then in two widthwise (removing the leaves and the stem of course). If you use a Western bigger variety, cut it in four lengthwise and then cut each piece in two.

Steam at high heat for about ten-fifteen minutes.

Serve cold or tepid with the sauce on top, sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Takeaway Strawberry and Yogurt Mousse, or Strawberry & Yogurt Mousse in a Jar

Throughout the years I have posted many versions of this refreshing yogurt mousse, my favourite guilt-free dessert. Apart from yogurt, it usually includes fruits, gelatine and sometimes a thin layer of chocolate ganache. I prepare one batch a week and since I’m the only one who likes yogurt in my house, this way I can enjoy individual portions for several days ahead.

Today I’d like to propose you to make these portions in individual glass jars, the idea I wish I had many years ago… and don’t worry, it’s not my take on the recently fashionable ubiquitous food presentation in jars, but simply a matter of convenience. Actually, jars with lids make excellent takeaway containers and thus allow me to have a delicious refreshing afternoon sweet treat at the office. I have also taken them on car trips and can only imagine how practical they would be on a picnic…

The below recipe is just one of the many variations of this yogurt dessert. If you don’t like it or don’t have all the ingredients, you might like one of these:

Light Yogurt Mousse with Passion Fruit

Unsweetened Strawberry and Blueberry Mousse

Greek Yogurt and Chocolate Mousse with Cherries

Black Currant and Yogurt Mousse

Greek Yogurt Mousse with Canned Peaches

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse with Strawberry Coulis

TIPS: The amounts of gelatin depend sometimes on the brand. Leaves are sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller,  powdered gelatin sometimes contains other products and doesn’t set as well as pure gelatin in powder… In short, the aim here is to use the amount of gelatin which sets 500 ml/2 cups/about 17 oz liquid. (The whole mousse mixture has more than 500 ml, so the mousse will be firm but not hard as a standard jelly).

You can replace blueberries with strawberry pieces or other fruits, or you can simply skip them!

If you prefer a sweeter ganache, you can add sugar. I never do because even bitter chocolate is sweet enough for me (of course the instant coffee can be replaced with several teaspoons of strong espresso or skipped; I practically always add a pinch of coffee to my chocolate desserts because it enhances the bitter chocolate flavours). The chocolate ganache can be prepared with milk chocolate too.

The mousses keep well in the fridge for several days (up to five days if the fruits are fresh). If you want to serve them for a dinner, you can prepare the mousses a day before and cover with ganache just before the guests arrive. They will be ready after 30 minutes in the fridge.

If your lids are slightly rusty underneath, make a protection layer with cling film or baking paper and then put on the lids. (I sometimes do it because I don’t like the idea of rust leaking into my desserts… though maybe I exaggerate).

Obviously, if you transport this dessert in a jar and plan to eat later, put it into an insulated bag and make sure it doesn’t fall.

If you keep these in the fridge for two days or more, cover them. (Put the lids on the jars if you prepare them in jars). 

Preparation: 10 minutes+ 2 – 3 hours in the fridge

Ingredients (4 portions, or jam jars):

250 g (about 1 cup) unsweetened natural yogurt (you can use also Greek yogurt, which will make this mousse creamier) 

300 g (about 11oz) strawberries (hulled)

4 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar or sweetener (or no sugar if you prefer your mousse to be very tangy)

the amount of gelatin necessary to set 500 ml liquid, see TIPS above (you can use leaves too)

Chocolate ganache:

70 g (about 2.5 oz) good quality chocolate (I have used 72% cocoa chocolate), roughly chopped 

70 ml (about 2.4 fl  oz) natural liquid cream, min. 25% fat (do not use crème fraîche or any thickened cream)

(1/2 teaspoon instant coffee or several teaspoons of strong espresso) 

(3 handfuls of blueberries or other fruits)

Mix the strawberries in a food processor or a blender. Add the sugar and the yogurt (remove the liquid floating on the surface). Mix once more.

Taste and add more sugar if needed.

Dissolve the gelatin in 4 tablespoons warm water (if using leaves, soften them in cold water, squeeze and dissolve also in 4 tablespoons warm water).

In a food processor mix well the dissolved gelatin with the strawberry mixture.

Divide the mousse into serving dishes, (throw some blueberries inside each dish/jar, if using).

Put the mousse into the fridge for 2 -3 hours until it sets.

When the mousses are well set, prepare the chocolate ganache.

Bring the cream to a boil. Put aside.

Throw the chopped chocolate and the instant coffee into the pan and, quickly stirring, dissolve in the hot cream (do not boil the mixture of chocolate and cream!).

Distribute the warm (not hot) chocolate ganache equally among the mousse portions and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes more.

Serve very cold. You can add blueberries or pieces of strawberries on top just before serving.