My father’s youngest sister, Jeyanthi, relocated to Erode from Thirunelveli when she got married. She had picked up several new recipes from her Erode friends and acquired relatives. My mother had enjoyed her cooking and collected a few recipes from her. This Kathirikkai Curry is one of those precious dishes. Kathirikkai is a staple ingredient in Tamil cooking because different varieties of kathirikkai are available throughout the year. I prefer to use the deep purple variety. This curry turned out to be absolutely fabulous, and it can be served with plain rice, Easy Peas Pulav, Potato Pulav, or chappatis.
Summer is the best time to make brinjal dishes in Tamil Nadu as we get excellent kanmai kathirikkai (eggplant grown in dried water bodies). When I was a young girl in Palayamkottai, my mother used to make vattral as a way of preserving brinjal. I don’t have the facilities for that now in Chennai, so I decided to pickle the brinjal. There are several Tamil recipes for brinjal pickle that are very spicy. I wanted a pickle that was not spicy and could be served with a wide variety of dishes from any part of the world. I created this recipe by borrowing concepts from meat-based pickles, making this a very unusual vegetarian pickle that is also easy to make. The bottles empty in no time in my home 🙂
In 1984, we attended a Marathi wedding. In the wedding feast, a dish of brinjal and mochai (field beans) was served, and I was impressed by the taste and even asked for a second helping. My daughter, who was only 10 years old at that time, still remembers that incident. I tried to recreate the dish, but I could not get the exact flavour and consistency. A few months ago a Facebook friend, Vandarkuzhali Rajasegar, who is also an Assistant Professor in Foods and Nutrition, posted that she had made a dish of brinjal and white channa (whole Bengal gram/white chickpea). I immediately asked her for the recipe. Though she gave me a mere skeleton of the recipe, without amounts, I knew immediately that I had hit upon that 1984 dish. I standardised it using mochai, and I got the exact flavour after all these years 😀
Just like brinjal, drumsticks are one of the most commonly used vegetables in Tamil cooking. Most houses in Tamil Nadu have a drumstick tree and when in season they not only use the drumsticks in almost all the preparations, but also sell or gift them to their neighbours. Home-grown drumsticks are tastier than store bought, but I get mine from the stores as I don’t have a drumstick tree. In Thirunelveli, the vegetarians combine drumsticks and brinjal to make this very tasty fry; the proportion of drumstick used is much less than then brinjal due to the drumstick’s strong flavour.
The vegetarians of Thirunelveli prepare this Ennai Kai Kuzhambu as a speciality dish. The name Ennai Kai is derived from Ennai Kathirikai because the same masala is used. The flavour is very grand and delicious compared to Vendhaya Kuzhambu. It is served only with white rice, though the name may suggest being served with biriyani (biriyani goes better with Khatte Baingan or Sweet and Sour Brinjal Masala). I usually serve this with keerai kootu or Urullaikkizhangu Pittu.
Way back in 1982, I asked my students to plan and prepare a South Indian meal. One of my Tamil Muslim students presented this speciality dish of her family which, despite being Tamil, she referred to by its Hindi name Khatte Baingan (Khatte – sour; Baingan – Brinjal). I was captivated by its flavour and the ease with which she prepared it. It goes amazingly well with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian biriyanis and pulavs.
In Thirunelveli, stuffed eggplant is known as Ennai Kathirikai, which actually means eggplant fried in oil. This dish is considered to be exotic, maybe because the masala is roasted and ground and the brinjal is stuffed with it. It is usually served in vegetarian feasts. The leftover stuffing is fried in the leftover oil and in the tamarind juice used for cooking the eggplant and served along with the stuffed brinjal, and therefore nothing is wasted during the preparation of the dish.