Brinjal pahi : Time to veg out

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It's New Year's Day, so let's go vegetarian.

It's not as startling a suggestion as you may think. Lots of people do it, including the Hindus and Buddhists and, yes, the Sri Lankans, who may not all be vegetarian, but are brilliant at cooking vegetables.

 

On my recent visit to the island last month, I discovered what curry and rice was in that culture. It is red rice, surrounded by four or five vegetables, cooked in various ways, and just one main dish of eggs, fish or chicken.

I was surprised at the many ways they cooked vegetables: there was, of course, dhal (or lentils) at every meal and a chopped green vegetable salad which they call mallung, dressed with a fragrant onion, garlic and green chilli oil and tossed together with fresh grated coconut. The leaves used were greens that we seldom eat, like collard greens or radish greens.

Over several delightful meals there, I also found that they would cook beetroot, potato, bittergourd, green mango, kale, cabbage, and all manner of gourds and beans in spiced gravies or stir-fries.

And they eat spices not just for flavour but also for health. Cinnamon, for example, is eaten because it is anti-carcinogenic, reduces blood sugar levels, improves blood circulation and is said to boost fertility.

But it was during a cooking lesson with the charming

Ms Mohara Dole, who conducts classes at her suburban home in Colombo, that I discovered this stir-fry dish, using the common brinjal.

Ms Dole draws inspiration from her Malay heritage and the rich traditions of her Sinhalese and Tamil neighbours.

During a typical class, she will show you how to prepare a range of delicious and colourful Sri Lankan dishes. Then, you sit down to eat together.

Anyway, when I ate her brinjal pahi, I fell in love with it and was determined to share the recipe as it is such a delicious and unusual way to cook brinjals, which are plentiful and cheap here. Plus, they are nutritious in many ways.

They are rich in fibre and antioxidants, which makes it an anti-cancer food. They are low in calories, with 100g of the vegetable containing just 25 calories, so they can help with weight loss.

Like most fruit and vegetables, brinjals are great for the heart as, aside from other nutrients, they also contain bioflavonoids, which controls hypertension and relieves stress.

Brinjals also contain phytonutrients that can protect your brain cell membranes. These substances are known to boost memory function and aid in transferring messages from one part of your body to another.

But it was the taste of the dish that got me hooked. Chilli powder and ground mustard seeds gave a winning flavour to the vegetable, which is first deep-fried before cooking it again.

I decided to roast the vegetable to cut down on the oil content in the dish. And it worked perfectly, for it took on the golden-brown colour called for in the dish.

After that, I followed Ms Mohara Dole's recipe with minor alterations. Try this dish and follow the many people who like to start the year clean, by eating vegetables for a day.

RECIPE

Brinjal pahi

(Serves 4 or 5)

INGREDIENTS

2 purple brinjals, about 500g altogether, cut into pieces

1 tsp turmeric powder

1½ tsp salt

2 tbs vegetable oil

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger

4-5 cloves of garlic

1 tsp mustard seeds

4 cardamoms

4-5 cloves

1 onion, sliced

1 sprig of curry leaves, use leaves only

4-5 green banana capsicums (they look like giant chillies), cores removed, cut into pieces

4-5 tomatoes, cut into wedges

1 tbs vinegar

1 tbs sugar, or to taste

METHOD

Cut the brinjals into long pieces, about 5cm in length. Rub the turmeric, ½ tsp salt and 1 tbs of oil onto the brinjals, and roast them in the oven at 180 deg C for about 20 minutes, or till the vegetable turns golden-brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Grind the garlic, ginger and mustard seeds into a paste. Set aside.

Heat the remaining 1 tbs of vegetable oil in a pan. When it gets hot, saute the mustard seed paste till it becomes fragrant. Add the cardamoms and cloves, followed by the sliced onions and curry leaves.

After a minute or two, add the roasted brinjals, then the tomatoes and capsicums.

Season the mixture with vinegar, sugar and the rest of the salt.

Toss well, taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed. Serve with rice - the red variety, if possible.

 
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