I ate this dish at a pot luck dinner a few months ago and thought it was the best dish that night. Just when I wanted to call Flora for the recipe, I bumped into her at the wet market. She ranted off the ingredients and I ran home to cook the dish for some special guests visiting from Holland and the States. It was a hit with my guests although I didn't taste it myself.
Brinjals are delicious and I prefer them to eggplants for Asian cooking. Brinjals are narrow and long with a thin skin and soft flesh while eggplants are large, bulbous and have thick skin and firmer flesh. The two most common brinjals here are the 'curry' brinjals with thick, deep purple skin and plenty of seeds and the Taiwan brinjals which have a lighter, thinner purple skin, soft tender flesh and very few seeds. Taiwan brinjals are very good steamed and topped with crispy fried red onions or garlic, the oil the garlic/onions were fried in and light soy sauce, Maggi seasoning sauce being the best for this dish. I love brinjals stewed with salted fish but with all the talk about salted fish having Ridsect sprayed on them (I have seen it myself) to ward away flies, I use canned anchovies and although the dish is not the same, it is delicious.
I bought some baby brinjals recently and cooked Flora's recipe but it turned out that the baby brinjals were too tender for this recipe. I would stick with the regular mature brinjals and use baby brinjals for steaming instead. I was told that this is an Indian-Malay dish and that cuisine is quite alien to me (I do love it once in a while, especially the roti canais and the curries), I'm naming this dish brinjals alba, after the alba seeds used. Of course if you google that you'll get a photo of Jessica Alba, one of the prettiest faces in the world.
The amount of ingredients can be adjusted to your taste and in fact you should experiment with this dish because the recipe here is a rough estimate. This dish goes well with plain rice and maybe a curry or a fried fish. YUM.
Brinjals Alba (for 5 to 6 persons)
1 kg brinjals
8 small red onions (shallots), chopped
8 cloves of garlic, chopped
5 (more/less) dried chilies, washed and soaked in hot water until soft
1 piece thumb-sized ginger, smashed
1 T alba (brown mustard seeds)
3 to 4 sprigs curry leaves, washed & stripped from the stalks
1-2 T (to taste) assam jawa (wet tamarind seeds)
1-2 t caster sugar
salt to taste
3/4 cup light chicken stock
Optional: small handful of dried shrimps, washed and soaked for 5 minutes to soften, then chopped finely. Save the soaking water.
1. Cut the brinjals into 2 or 4 lengthwise and then into 2 crosswise to get thick long slices.
Pound the ginger, onions, garlic and chilies in a mortar into fine paste. If the amount seems too little, make more. There should be about 4 tablespoons for 1/2 kg brinjals.
Put the assam jawa into a small bowl, add about 1/4 cup warm water and massage the seeds until the water is thick. Strain juice through a small sieve and discard the seeds and pulp.
2. Heat up 1 cup of veg oil and fry the brinjals in batches until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Note: I think that the brinjals can be brushed with oil and roasted in the oven too. It'll be healthier that way.
3. In a casserole dish (if serving in it) or frying pan, fry the pounded ingredients (if using dried shrimps, add that too) in 2 T of oil until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the alba seeds and curry leaves, fry for a few seconds and then add the assam juice, sugar and salt to taste. Pour in the stock and water from soaking the dried shrimps, stir well and when sauce is slightly thickened, add the fried brinjals. Season with salt and sugar. Cover and let simmer (low fire) for 5 to 7 minutes. Carefully lift the brinjals from the bottom to the top so that those brinjals at the top will have a chance to soak in the sauce too. Taste and season if necessary. Let cook another 2 minutes before turning off heat. Good to let it sit and re-heat for better flavor.