One of the staple dishes I always insisted Amma made for my birthday was this–Eggplant in Chili Garlic Sauce. It is a decidedly Indo-Chinese dish, bearing much resemblance to the Manchurian that we are so fond of. It is spicy and garlicky, both great things in my world. Paired with a simple vegetable fried rice or even plain, steamed rice, it makes for a hearty meal.The batter-fried cubes of eggplant are crisp on the outside and mushy and soft on the inside; when dunked in the thick, spicy sauce, they absorb all the intense flavors and clear the sinuses (something I’ve been trying to do ever since the ENT threatened to operate on me) and warms the heart. It’s the kind of dish you can sit on the floor in a corner with a bowl and eat alone.

I made this recipe for an event on one of the food groups I follow–the idea was to make or serve something in a vessel that has special meaning for us. I chose to serve the dish in this Chinese bowl that my grandfather brought back from one of his travels abroad. I always adored it when I was a kid, and played with it on the sly while the rest of the house was asleep. By the time I grew up, there were only two of these left, and my grandmother gifted them to me when I got married. To this day, six years from then, I never use the bowls, afraid that I will break them and lose a part of my childhood. It’s amazing how these little things keep us grounded and attached to a happier, carefree, more secure time.

If you have to make this ahead of time, do not immerse the fried eggplant in the sauce until just ready to serve.

Ingredients for the batter-fried eggplant :

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup cold water (more or less, as required)
  • vegetable oil for frying

Ingredients for the chili garlic sauce

  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 green chilies, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp. coriander stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. dark soy sauce
  • 2 cups of water
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Fresh coriander or spring onion greens for garnish

Method:

  1. Wash, pat dry, and cube the eggplant.
  2. Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer or wok. While that heats, make the batter by mixing all the other ingredients in cold water (this ensures you get a crisp exterior). The batter should not be too thick; it should just coat the cubes with a thin film.
  3. Dunk the eggplant in the batter and using a spoon, lower into the hot oil. Deep fry the eggplant until pale golden. Drain on a kitchen towel until ready to serve.
  4. Some of the batter will still be left after you have fried all the eggplant; we’ll use this to thicken the sauce.
  5. To make the sauce, heat the oil in a wok. Add the chopped garlic, chilies, and coriander stalks. Stir fry until fragrant.
  6. Add the soy sauces, sugar, and vinegar and stir once until caramelized slightly. Add water and season. Remember there is salt in the batter also.
  7. Bring the sauce to a boil and add the leftover batter until thickened to your liking. Turn down the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes.
  8. When ready to serve, place the fried eggplant in a serving bowl and ladle the sauce over. Sprinkle chopped coriander or spring onion greens on top and serve piping hot with a simple fried rice.

In other news, I launched the Bring Home My Jhola series of customized cooking/baking classes and have already taken the first two classes. Check out the pictures on the Facebook page!