Thursday, July 4, 2013

Stuffed vankaya koora - baby brinjals stuffed with a decadent masala

Given my family's love for this vegetable, this post should have featured on the blog eons ago, it should have been in the first 10 posts atleast. I deliberated so long as I think have a plan to present recipes in some semblance of order on this blog. I am sure there are a number of stuffed brinjal recipes out there and I myself make stuffed brinjals in atlest 4 different ways. Before anyone thinks of the famous Hyderabadi Baghara Baingan in their heads while reading this post, let me make it clear that this is not what you are thinking :-). This curry is a dry version with soft to bite brinjals. This recipe is a family recipe and makes use of a powder that is always found in my MIL's and my kitchen since we also use it for other purposes. I try to use much less oil than the previous generations of ladies that have made this recipe but devise ways to preserve the texture and taste intact. Look out in the Notes below for some tips on how to cook a brinjal that is perfectly masaledar from head to toe (I mean one end to the other :-)). This is a non-gravy curry and is well suited as an accompaniment for either rice or roti. In our home, amma usually makes a dal or a yogurt based side dish on the days we have this Gutti Vankaya koora. This so far is the only way a brinjal finds itself in DD's plate and stomach.
Brinjals and okra are two of the most sought after vegetables I have found especially in Indian communities living abroad. If you ever watch people in an Indian vegetable store, you can actually infer a lot about their cooking and eating habits in addition to their life styles, it is a great Sherlock Holme's experience in human psychology that helps you hone your observation and deduction skills. There are passionate ladies standing right infront of bins of precious vegetables such as baby brinjals, tender okra and covering up the space entirely so no one else even has a chance to dip into the bin until they have filled their bags to their heart's content. They will give you dagger eyes if you so much as try to fill your bags from the other end of the bin. There are guys continuously getting instructed live on their cell phones stuck to their ears by their wives at home and trying to grab the priced veggies before they are gone. They are slightly lacking in 'vegetable picking' skills and keep asking whether a green colored brinjal is better or a long okra is good for the planned menu and act based on the response from the other end. You will find awkward looking bachelors who come in groups or atleast pairs, all of them having started cooking recently since they left home. They are in the store having chatted with mom on Skype the previous evening or earlier in the morning, hoping to get their share of vegetables that mom mentioned and make some food over the weekend that tastes like home, they have a lost look trying to spot what was described to them on Skype but not finding the exact thing. Then there are disinterested teenagers who have been dragged to the store with their moms and have a look on their faces that says, "what the heck am I doing here" while constantly checking their text/FB messages on a cell phone. And Summer times here is usually exploding with visiting parents that my daughter calls it GP (Grand Parent) season which we look forward to in our home too. The grand parents visiting for the first time have a shocked expression on their faces looking at the prices and having converted it into Indian currency while more experienced returning grand parents stroll through the store aisles much more calmly. I know this is a very stereotyped vision but I find it every time I go to the grocery store here and am amused by it.
Nammamma used to have an 'all purpose powder' called palyada pudi for daily use as the base in many preparations. She had a trick of embellishing the basic powder with a few other ingredients to bring in the right flavor in each dish. This was such a convenient and time efficient way of doing things. I always admired how she used the same powder in a tantalizing badanekaayi ennegaayi (a dish so popular in karnataka that I definitely need a separate post to write about, so more on it later) or a yummy Vangibhath while making sure they both tasted different, I guess that kind of precision comes only with experience.

When I got married, everyday food was quite different from what I was used to before,  it almost always had a pappu (dal sans vegetables), koora (mostly dry vegetable curries) and a pachadi and I noticed Amma had 2 distinct powders that she used in the curries. One was called menthi koora podi - obviously had methi/fenugreek in addition to other ingredients and was used for various brinjal preparations. The other one she called 'ghuma ghuma podi' :-) literally meaning a fragrant powder and had cardamom in it and was used in curries made with cabbage, bottle gourd etc. Brinjal stuffed with the first type powder is a very frequently found dish in her kitchen and I have loved it since the first time I had it. Adding chopped onions to the stuffing is the only difference I have made from Amma's recipe since I like the crunch and taste of onions in the masala. I picked it up from one of BH's cousins when she made this delicious stuffed brinjal for us in her Chennai home. So it has evolved a little bit from the previous recipe but the soul is the same from atleast 3 generations that I am aware of.
Since our intake of curries in the traditional form is limited to either weekends or lazy holiday times, I don't make these powders in bulk nor do I store 2 kinds of powders. Instead I have drawn inspiration from both nammamma and amma and combined a few ingredients to make my own koora pudi which works for most curries. While you can make this powder as you need for the stuffing, I prefer to keep a jar full of the powder and sprinkle it in a few other curries as it imparts a wonderful aroma. If you are making the powder just for the stuffing, go ahead and add the peanuts while roasting the other ingredients and make it into a powder with the rest. Since I keep a stock of koora podi (see below) and peanut podi, I mix them and prepare my stuffing.

How do you make koora podi? 
1 cup chana dal
3/4 cup coriander
1/4 cup urad dal
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp fenugreek seeds/methi
1/2 Tsp black pepper
1 Tsp cumin/jeera
12-14 Red chilies (adjust to taste based on the variety of chilies used)
2 pieces of 1 inch long cinnamon/dalchini
2 cloves
1 cardamom/elaichi
1 Tblsp oil
1/4 cup grated dry coconut

How do you make the Koora podi?
  • Heat the Tblsp of oil in a wide pan on medium heat, add all the ingredients listed above except for the dry coconut and fry with constant stirring until the dal gets roasted and mustard pops, takes about 7-9 minutes. 
  • Add the grated dry coconut and continue to fry for another minute. 
  • Switch off and let cool. 
  • Powder the ingredients in a mixer into a fine powder and store in an air tight container until ready to use. 
What do you need to make stuffed brinjals? 
6 small purple brinjals 
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
4 Tblsp koora podi
2 Tblsp peanut podi
1 Tsp salt
1/8 Tsp Turmeric powder
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
1/4 Tsp sugar
1 Tblsp chopped cilantro
4 Tblsp oil - divided use
How do you make stuffed brinjals? 
  • Wash, pat dry the brinjals and make two perpendicular slits from its bottom (non stem end) all the way to the tip of the stem ensuring you do not cut the brinjal open into pieces. 
  • Put the cut brinjals immediately into a vessel filled with water to avoid oxidation. 
  • Mix the remaining ingredients except for oil in a bowl and set aside for 2-3 minutes until the juice from the onions wets the masala powders and brings them together. 
  • Taste and adjust the powder at this stage. 
  • Hold the stem end of a cut brinjal in your left hand (if you are left handed, reverse this instruction) and stuff the brinjal GENEROUSLY with the masala making sure it reaches all the way till the very bottom of the stem end. - This is important for a great tasting stuffed brinjal else you will be biting into a very tasteless, bland brinjal as you come closer to the tip. 
  • Press the stuffed brinjal gently in your fist so the powder doesn't fall off. Repeat for all brinjals. 
  • Heat 2 Tblsp oil in a wide pan and arrange the stuffed brinjals (step up) in a single layer in the pan. 
  • Reduce heat to low, cover and cook without disturbing for 6 minutes. 
  • Take the lid off, gently move the brinjals around so all the sides get a chance to cook evenly, drizzle oil it the pan looks very dry, continue to cover and cook. 
  • Repeat the process for the next 25-30 minutes or until the brinjals are cooked on all sides, look soft but holding their shape. 
  • Add the remaining prepared masala on top, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes until the masala loses its raw smell of onions. 
  • Switch off, keep it covered for another 5 minutes before serving. 
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro if you like.
  • If you are making the powder for the sole purpose of stuffing the brinjals, add 1/4 cup of raw peanuts to the above and follow the rest of the procedure. 
  • Choose healthy (no dents or black spots), fresh looking purple brinjals. smaller ones cook faster while bigger ones take time, so make sure you select all brinjals to be even sized for proper cooking. 
  • Be really generous with the stuffing and stuff it all the way to the tip but do not break the brinjal open. This is the trick to a delicious in every bite stuffed brinjal.
  • Prepare enough masala to stuff the brinjals and also keep some to top the curry later.
  • Covering the vessel during cooking results in tender brinjals without taking up a lot of oil as the steam helps the vegetables cook. 
  • Ensure the heat is kept at low-medium throughout the process as burnt brinjal or the masala spoils this curry entirely. 
  • I find it easy to cook this dish in a wide pan with handle so I can move the brinjals around without breaking them into pieces. 


prathibha Garre said...

thats a delicious brinjal curry..i too make this..need 2 post my version yet...

kitchen queen said...

delicious and awesome stuffed brinjals.

Anonymous said...

Regarding cooking them evenly, I find it best to lay them out in a wide pan and bake in the oven (covered with aluminum foil). That way, you not only get even cooking but also impressively perfect shape, as there is no need to turn them during the cooking.

NamsVeni Pothas said...

wow. the KING....brinjal that too stuffed. mouth watering. our GD's favorite.

Nagashree said...

Thanks All.

Prathibha - look forward to seeing your version too.

Anonymous - thank you for the baking tip, will try it next time.

Kaveri Venkatesh said...

MMmm.....these cute brinjals look so tempting...Love it

Shanthi said...

Wow ... Its perfect & awesome:)

Chitz said...

Looks soo inviting.. Perfect & tasty !!

Anu Yagati said...

Tried the recipe exactly as per the directions and the vankaya koora turned out excellent! I liked the onion as the binding agent for the masala, gives more taste and uses less oil. Thank you for posting this!