Sunday, February 11, 2018

Vankayai allam koora - a koora (side dish) that brings home the freshness of earth

Just when I was losing faith in the Groundhogs' abilities to predict weather accurately, they returned with a bang on Feb 2nd and declared we were going to have winter for another 6 weeks. How would you contest such accurate prediction :-)? What would we do without these lovable creatures? Though that wasn't the greatest of news, I admire their accuracy, they are way better than most of our weathermen in TV channels. Now that they are done with their one important task of the year (is there anything else they do other than hibernating and popping up once a year?) and met expectations (don't you think the bar is pretty low here!!) and returned underground to continue whatever they were doing, I am left here to stay warm and wait patiently for the onset of warm weather. Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining about winter but I don't mind seeing the mercury go a little higher on the scale. Whether it is Spring yet or not, I am itching to bring Spring into my kitchen. Today's recipe is one such that brings that whiff of Spring and freshness with ginger.
Spring is somehow wired in my brain as the same as clean, fresh and crisp air and flavors. While there are many herbs and spices that make this happen in the kitchen, ginger definitely tops the list. Combined with the sharpness from green chilies, this masala really elevates fresh vegetables. No powdered spices in this koora, just some tender eggplants sauteed with freshly crushed ginger and chilies and seasoned with a few crunchy dals and mustard, simple enough? This koora works perfectly with rotis or rice.

My advice is to use fresh ginger, take them to a mortar & pestle or another device that lets you crush it. The flavors of ground ginger Vs grated ginger Vs crushed ginger is very different and this recipe definitely loves the crushed version. If you were thinking of using that store bought (or even home made a couple of weeks ago and refrigerated) ginger-green chili paste, please do not do it. There is nothing complicated about this recipe so spend a little time on using freshly crushed ginger.
I have written many posts about eggplant recipes and have also talked about my late blooming love for them. If you are in the mood for reading my eggplant musings just hit the search button and look up other eggplant recipes. My family (except for DD) is of the group where they will give anything for a well made eggplant dish and do not complain if this humble vegetable made its way to their plates every day :-). So our eggplant recipe repertoire is pretty vast as you can probably imagine.

This is a heirloom recipe that is found commonly in most East Godavari Telugu homes. Crushed ginger and green chilies make a really fresh tasting dishes. I add curry leaves because they are one of my favorite flavoring agents in the kitchen. You can replace eggplants with potatoes, and then who doesn't love the spuds?
When I prepared this koora for the first time on my own, I went and looked for the smallest green brinjals thinking that they would be the tenderest ones and hence tastiest too. BH remarked that it had to have some seeds and not be really tiny. He is the expert and I accept my mistakes generously. So the next time I brought home slightly bigger ones and the koora was definitely tastier. So here is my tip to all of you newbies. The tiny ones are picked before they can develop any flavor and they also shed jackets (or skin) as they cook which is not a great experience while eating. The medium sized ones (about a big lime) are the best suited for this koora as they give a meaty texture to it. Pick eggplants that look fresh, are green without any black spots or tiny holes on the skin.

If you noticed, I used both terms - brinjal & eggplant, in Indian cooking there is no difference between the two as they belong to the same general family :-). Local languages distinguish each variety by size and color as pedda vankaya (big eggplant), tella vankaya (the green ones with white interfaces used in this recipe), nalla vankaya or gutti vankaya (usually the small, round purple). I hope the pictures in the post help.
NOTE: Pictures are from 2 different days, the lighter colored one does not have turmeric powder (I do forget sometimes :-)) and also has a Tbsp grated coconut added to it. The original recipe does not have coconut and the dish really doesn't need coconut, but some of you regular readers here already know about my weakness with coconut :-)
What do you need to make vankaya koora? 
8-10 small green brinjal/eggplants
1.5 inch fresh ginger
3-4 green chilies (adjust to your spice tolerance)
6-8 tender curry leaves
2 Tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Seasoning: 
1 Tsp oil
1/2 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp chana dal
1/2 Tsp urad dal
1-2 pieces of dry red chilies (optional)
1/8 Tsp asafoetida/hing
How do you make vankaya koora? 
  • Wash the eggplants, remove the stalk end and chop into cubes (really tiny ones are just made into half, medium sized ones chopped into quarters)
  • Immediately immerse chopped eggplants into a fresh bowl of water. 
  • Heat a wide pan and add 2Tbsp of oil. 
  • Strain the water and separate the eggplant pieces. 
  • Add the eggplant into the hot oil and stir once so the pieces get coated with oil. 
  • Reduce the heat to medium, add salt and turmeric powder, mix once.
  • Cover and cook for 5-6 mins on low heat or until the pieces become fork tender.
  • Wash, peel and cut ginger into small pieces.
  • Take ginger pieces, roughly torn curry leaves and green chilies to a mortar & pestle and crush them into a coarse paste. 
  • Once the eggplants are tender, add the ginger-chili paste and give it a good mix. 
  • Cover and continue to cook for 2 mins until the flavors mingle well. 
  • Switch off and transfer to a serving bowl. 
  • Heat the oil for seasoning, add mustard, dals, red chilies (if using) and asafoetida. 
  • Let mustard pop and dals turn light pink. 
  • Switch off and pour the seasoning over the koora. 
  • I prefer to mix the seasoning just before serving as they retain the crunch. 
Notes: 
  • Select tender and bright green eggplants. The ideal size is typically a big lime size. 
  • Crush the ginger- chili fresh, do not use stored paste for this recipe. 
  • We like the ginger flavor, play with the amount of ginger and green chilies you want to use in this recipe as spice tolerances vary.