Poppy seeds are a relatively new addition to my pantry and I keep a lookout for ways to expand my repertoire with them. I usually turn to Bengali cuisine for inspiration with this spice – aloo posto is a constant favorite. In a net search for poppy seed recipes, Sailu’s recipe for baby eggplant in an Andhra-style poppy seed gravy caught my attention: the sweet notes of jaggery and the tang of tamarind sounded like delightful additions to the base of poppy seed paste.
The original recipe called for slicing the eggplant. I had cute-looking baby eggplants on hand which I couldn’t bring myself to slice through…so I made them into quarters with the joint remaining at the stem. I also adapted the proportions to make the gravy thicker in consistency and lighter in calories.
On to the recipe!
- Purple baby eggplants – 250 grams
- Poppy seeds – 2 tablespoons*
- Tamarind – 1 small lemon-sized ball
- Jaggery powder – 1 tablespoon**
- Red chilly powder – 1 teaspoon
- Coriander powder – 1 teaspoon
- Cumin powder – 1/2 teaspoon
- Turmeric powder – a pinch
- Salt – 1/2 teaspoon
- Garlic – 3 cloves
- Ginger – 1/2 inch stick
- Methi kuria (coarsely ground fenugreek powder) – 1/2 teaspoon
- Mustard seeds – 1 teaspoon
- Oil – approx. 1 tablespoon
- Coriander leaves – for garnish
*To increase the gravy:eggplant ratio, increase the amount of poppy seeds to 3 tablespoons, hike the quantity of dry spice powders accordingly and add an extra cup of water to the sauce.
**The first time I made this dish, I had reduced the amount of jaggery to half a teaspoon. To my surprise (I’m not big on overpoweringly sweet flavour in main course dishes) it felt like the dish needed more jaggery. A couple of trials later, one tablespoon feels just right for this gravy.
1. Prep the ingredients
Make two slits vertically in the baby eggplants, leaving the joint at the stem.
Dip the slit eggplants in salted water. Let them stand for half an hour so that the bitterness goes away.
Shake the water out of each eggplant. Dab with a tissue paper to dry.
Soak a lemon-sized ball of tamarind in two tablespoons of water for 20 minutes. Extract tamarind pulp and juice and throw away the pits and roughage.
Crush ginger and garlic to paste.
Dry roast poppy seeds on a skillet or tava till they turn color and give off a nutty aroma (about 3 minutes).
Let roasted poppy seeds cool to room temperature. Grind roasted poppy seeds with a few drops of water to thick paste.
As you can guess, most of this prep stuff can be done in parallel. Put slit eggplants and tamarind to soak at the same time, meanwhile put poppy seeds on the tava to roast.
2. Pre-Cook The Eggplants
Heat a teaspoon of oil in a small non-stick pan with a flat base, spread the oil evenly on the base. When the pan is hot, place the eggplants in (be careful, the oil will splutter on contact).
Cook the eggplants covered, turning every few minutes.
It will take about 10-15 minutes for eggplants to cooked evenly on all sides. Stop when eggplants are cooked nearly well enough to eat.
3. Make The Sauce
While the eggplants roast, prepare the sauce. In a non-stick kadhai, heat two teaspoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add mustard seeds. Let mustard seeds splutter for 15 seconds, then add methi kuria. Add fresh ginger-garlic paste as soon as methi kuria turns brown.
Sauté ginger-garlic paste for 2 minutes, add salt, coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric and chilly powders. Stir and blend, making sure masalas do not burn.
Add a cup of water to the kadhai and bring it to a boil. Lower heat, add roasted poppy seed paste, tamarind extract and jaggery. Cook uncovered on medium flame for 3 minutes, then simmer covered on low heat for 4-5 minutes. Check on the sauce and give it a stir every minute.
4. Put it all together
Place the cooked baby eggplants into the gravy. Turn around so that the gravy coats the eggplant evenly. Cover with lid.
Every 2-3 minutes open the lid, move the eggplants in the pan – very carefully – the eggplants would be soft by this time and you want its shape to remain intact, cover again.
After 12-15 minutes, the gravy should have reached the desired thickness and the eggplant would have absorbed the masala. Let it stand for another 5 minutes covered.
Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. I had baby eggplant in poppy seed sauce with chapatis, dal and onion-moong raita.
Serve with chapatis and dal.
Poppy seed grinding tip
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you would have heard my constant lament about poppy seeds’ refusal to get ground to fine powder/paste. I have tried soaking them up to 3 hours before grinding, all in vain.
While making this dish, I found that dry-roasting poppy seeds not only enhances its taste but also makes them more amenable to grinding. Try dry-roasting them the next time!