Normally, when I buy courgettes, peppers and aubergines (and tomatoes!) on the same market day, I instantly think of ratatouille (French vegetable stew), but last Saturday, even though I bought all those, I terribly craved Indian food, so I made a… ratatouille curry instead! From what I’ve observed South Indian dishes have sharper flavours, require fewer ingredients and are sometimes both fiery and tangy. I believe I’ve recreated these characteristics here, but since it was an improvised dish, I prefer to call it cautiously “South Indian-Style”. As a lazy carnivore, I opted for a one-pot meat dish simply adding pieces of chicken breast. You can skip them or replace with other proteins.
If Indian flavours aren’t your cup of tea, you might want to make the French ratatouille:
TIPS: Most of you can easily buy all the ingredients for this curry (at least online) apart from curry leaves which are not crucial, but they add very original unusual flavours. They can sometimes be bought dried, but they lose lots of their aroma preserved this way. If you don’t have a Sri Lankan or Indian grocery shop nearby, I advise looking for them online (I’ve bought twice fresh curry leaves online). Another way to get them is to… grow them! I know there are curry tree growers in the USA and I do grow them at home! My curry leaf tree isn’t big enough for all my curries but it’s nice to use my own leaves too from time to time. Wherever you source them, you can freeze them tightly wrapped or vacuum packed (in spite of what the Indian vendors will tell you!).
Tamarind paste or juice is used to add tanginess, but it also has a distinct taste and aroma. You can buy tamarind paste also in Thai (or “general” Asian) grocery shops. There are three forms of tamarind I saw sold: fresh tamarind which is sweet and shouldn’t be used here; tamarind paste, which has a jam consistency and which is ready to use; tamarind block, my favourite, which is sold in a form of dried fruits block and which is dissolved in hot water and strained before being used (it takes usually about 10 minutes). The latter form keeps literally forever in the fridge, so it’s a safe buy, even if you cook it twice a year (tamarind “jam” or paste spoils quicker). Once dissolved in water the created “juice” keeps for a couple of days in the fridge. The tanginess depends sometimes on the brand of the block (or paste), so adjust the amounts accordingly (also adapt to your taste, of course!).
Preparation: about 1 hour
Ingredients (serves two):
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 medium onion or 2 big shallots, sliced
2 big garlic cloves, chopped
2 cm peeled and finely chopped or grated fresh ginger
15 fresh or frozen curry leaves
3 small fresh green chilli peppers (choose the variety according to your heat resistance), sliced
1 flat tablespoon medium hot powdered chilli (I’ve used Kashmiri chilli powder)
1/2 flat teaspoon turmeric
1 big tomato, chopped, or the equivalent in canned tomatoes (canned tomato sauce can be used too)
3 small courgettes (I’ve used yellow ones), sliced
1 small aubergine, cut into bite-sized cubes
1 medium bell pepper or any other sweet pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 big chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
100 ml coconut milk+water (as much as needed to obtain the consistency you like)
2-4 teaspoons tamarind paste or 4-6 tablespoons tamarind “juice” made from a 2 cm pieced of block of tamarind and 100 ml hot water (see the TIPS above)
(fresh coriander leaves)
First prepare the aubergine : heat 1 teaspoon oil in a pan and stir-fry the aubergine pieces until slightly golden.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil, stir-fry onions at medium heat until slightly browned and soft.
Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and stir fry at medium heat until the seeds start popping.
Add the the green chilli, the garlic and the ginger, stir-fry for a minute.
Add the chopped tomato, the turmeric and the chilli powder and stir-fry until the tomato falls into pieces and becomes a paste.
Add the coconut milk, the water, the peppers and when they start to soften, add the courgettes, the aubergine and the chicken pieces.
Simmer until the chicken is done. Season with salt and tamarind “juice or paste” to taste.
You can serve sprinkled with fresh coriander.