Sri Lankan Aubergine Curry

Cooked in the style of a fish curry

One of the cookbooks that I reach for most often, is Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. I am in awe of the man, so gentle and wise whom a chef friend of mine refers to affectionately as Uncle Rick. There have been many an occasion when in the midst of  “what do I cook for eight people arriving for dinner?” the question has been very calmly answered by paging trough Uncle Rick’s books.

It is not possible for me to follow a recipe precisely, and I’ve long given up on expecting that I will; instead I look to recipes and cookbooks for inspiration. Having made a version of Uncle Rick’s Sri Lankan Crab Curry (bowls licked clean, shells sucked dry, I will have to make it again and sneak a few pictures), I looked over his Sri Lankan Fish Curry and used this as inspiration to make my Aubergine (Brinjal) Curry.

The bitter nuttiness of fenugreek seeds soften both in flavour and texture as they cook down, melding beautifully with the tamarind enhanced tang of the tomato gravy (chutney) and the heat of the masala and chillis are tempered by the sweet coconut milk. Overall, the dish is fiery (I wasn’t sure if all my guests could handle heat and how much of it, so I made it fairly moderate as far as bite is concerned) but silky too. As with all curries and dishes with complex flavours, made the night before allows it time for flavours to develop and deepen. Do make sure you taste again and adjust seasoning as needed, before serving.

Technically not Indian, I’ve categorized it as such as the base of the cooking style is similar to South Indian cookery.


Serves 4

2 large aubergines

1 medium onion, sliced finely

2 small bay leaves

2 t fenugreek seeds

1 t cumin seeds

2 green chillis, sliced down middle

2 tsp black mustard seeds (optional)

2-3 t medium-hot masala

5-6 curry leaves

2 t garam masala

4-5 medium cloves garlic, slivered

1 x 440g can chopped, peeled tomatoes

1/2 cup water, more if needed

3 cm x 3 cm block tamarind, soaked in a little hot water, you want it more liquid than a paste (or 1T tamarind paste)

240ml coconut milk

1 tsp sugar (or jaggery)

salt, to taste

40-50 ml vegetable oil


Slice the aubergine in half lengthways. Then slice in 1/2 cm slices and cut each slice in half again.

I fried half the aubergine first, thinking it would add a different dimension texturally. Not necessary.

Heat a wide bottomed pot on medium and add half the oil.

Fry the onions and bay leaves for 2-3 minutes.

Add the fenugreek, cumin, mustard seeds, curry leaves and chillis and fry, until aromatic. Be careful as the mustard seeds will start to pop.

Add the masala and stir. It will burn in a matter of moments, so keep this in mind.

Add the aubergine and garlic and mix well, turning up the heat. You will have to add remaining oil.

Cook for 4 minutes, stirring. A splash of water may be needed.

Add the garam masala, the tomatoes and the water and mix.

Add sugar and salt and turn down the heat back to medium.

Add the tamarind water or paste and stir well.

Cook for until the gravy reduces and the aubergines are almost done.

Add coconut milk and adjust seasoning. Cook until done.

Garnish with curry leaves or coriander and serve with basmati rice or roti.


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