Sunday, October 05, 2008

Vegetarian Potluck Dinner!

Aubergine and Tomato Curry 3
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
Where do I begin? This was an idea that all of us had one night, walking back to the department after a celebratory meal in town. The occasion was Anbu's successful thesis defence. Steve and I wound up walking with a group of Indian friends and talking about food (my favourite topic!). It was then that we decided to have (and host!) a vegetarian Indian potluck dinner. As we were all merry and buoyed up by Anbu's success, Steve and I were quick to agree - it would get us started on, what we hope will be a sociable Winter. It was only later that I got nervous - cook curry for Indians... was I nuts??!! I guess I was. 

Steve sent out an invitation to this 'event' to friends via Facebook. Unfortunately Anbu, whose party had inspired us, couldn't make it. But he sent me a recipe for a spicy Aubergine (a.k.a. Brinjal, Eggplant) and Tomato curry (above).  I decided to make that and having received a bunch of Cavalo Nero for the THIRD straight week, I substituted it into a recipe for cabbage and carrot and coconut.  I decided to make coconut ice cream, too, since I didn't really know who would be bringing what, as well as some fragrant rice and a pot of dal.

Vegetable Rice by Saroj
Vegetable Rice by Saroj
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
Steve and I shopped and cooked for most of the day before our guests arrived. In the evening, Saroj (who seems to be the 'elder brother' of the group!) arrived first with his contribution of a vegetable rice dish ('pilau rice') and a large tub of rice pudding for dessert.  The others dribbled in a bit later.  Once we were all together, we got busy warming and assembling our dishes and taking photographs. 

One by one the dishes made their way to the dining area until we had a veritable 'groaning board' of different dishes on the table; the melange of colours delighted the eye while the aromas wafting up from the table sharpened our already-keen appetites. It looked like a Thanksgiving day spread. As it happens, this day was the first day of Navratri a 9 night/10 day Hindu Festival celebrating the female divinity. Our gathering could hardly have been set for a more auspicious date.

We gathered around our table and passed dishes around, talking and laughing together like old friends. The dishes were remarkably different in style and flavour and complemented each other (while the diners complimented each other's efforts!). What looked like much too much food for six turned out to have been rather well-judged.

Swetha, Saroj and Samir - our accomplices and guests
Swetha, Saroj and Samir
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg
Sriram - one of our accomplices!
Originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg

After the meal, our guests surprised us by taking over the kitchen and doing the dishes! (Thanks, guys!) They left us the left-over food, too, so we will be having a reprise tomorrow evening. A request for a 'pause' before dessert was agreed to by all after which we devoured the desserts; Saroj's rice pudding was fragrant and delicious and my coconut ice cream, a nice addition to the pudding.

All and all we had an excellent time and, judging by the smiles and laughter, so did our guests.

Enjoy food and friends!


Anbu Paramasivam's Aubergine and Tomato Curry


1 large aubergine (or 4-5 smaller aubergines, in large chunks)
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 tbsp vegetable oil
2 green chillis, de-seeded and chopped
20 curry leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 - 1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp fennel powder
4-5 fresh tomatoes, chopped (or 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes)
water of tamarind pulp (see below)


For the Tamarind water:

2 tbsp dried tamarind
3 tbsp hot water

Soak the tamarind in hot water for 10 min.
Mash the pulp till the water turns brown.
Discard the pulp and add the water to the recipe, as above

Mix 1 tsp tamarind paste with 2- 3 tbsp hot water and add this to the recipe...)


1. In a heavy cast iron frying pan heat 1 tbsp of the oil then add the mustard and cumin seeds and fry for 10 seconds. Once they are popping, cover quickly and remove from the heat for a moment. Return to the heat and add the onions, chillis and curry leaves.

2. Stir and fry until the onions have softened then add the turmeric, chilli powder (depends how hot you like it) garam masala and ground fennel.

3. When the spices become fragrant and have lost their 'raw' quality, add the chopped tomatoes and tamarind water.

4. Add the tomato purée and bring up to the boil and stir to combine the flavours.

5. Add the diced aubergine and salt. Cover and simmer until the aubergine pieces soften and absorb the flavour of the spices, about 20 minutes.

Check the seasoning, adding more garam masala, salt or pepper if required.

Garnish with chopped fresh coriander leaves and serve.

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