Yennegai or Eggplant in a spicy peanut-ty sauce

This recipe takes me back to my early teens in Bangalore. Yennegai and its common companion “jolada rotti” are dishes from the northern part of Karnataka, the state I come from. “Jola” is the Kannada word for sorghum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorghum) which is  a gluten-free grain and jolada rotti is flatbread made out of finely ground sorghum flour. In Hindi, it is known as “Jowar” so you might want to look for jowar/sorghum flour in your local Indian grocer if you ever want to make bread out of it. As you can see in the map below, my former city of Bangalore is in the bottom-right of the state so almost the entire state is north of it. However, there is a green blob in the mid-top-left that says “Uttara Kannada” and “Uttara” means north so let’s say that this dish if from there upwards.

Left: The state of Karanataka with Bangalore being an orange blob in the bottom right Right: A sorghum/jola plant Websites: http://www.besttofind.com and http://www.wikipedia.com

In Bangalore, there is a very famous hotel called Kamath Yatrinivas which boasts a roof-top restaurant dedicated solely to North Karnataka food. I was only taken there once or twice as a teenager because a decade ago, it was an all you can eat for INR 25 (25pence, 33 euro cent, 50 US cents) and you didn’t want to take a fussy child and waste your money. What I found the most fascinating that the dining area was actually quite small because the rest of the roof-top was covered with women hand-making “jolada rotti” on little kerosene stoves. So when you ordered a plate, the rotis would be hot and fresh of the stove. They were served with yennegai, raita (yoghurt and cucumber dip) and a generous blob of home-made butter. I’ve always had a fondness for butter (I can see my partner screw his nose up because he absolutely doesn’t) and would go back for seconds on my trips to Kamath Yatrinivas.

The recipe for this dish came from a dear friend who is an amazing cook. I’ve never seen her or heard of her using store-bought packet mixes/spice mixes. Everyday, she cooks everything from scratch, despite being a mum of two and working full-time. Whenever I go over, she goes completely overboard in cooking for me. The spice combinations she puts together are pretty amazing and this is one of them. Hope you like it too.

Yennegai with corn bread

Ingredients:

To blend into a thick paste (No water required)

2 tsp coriander seeds

2tsp cumin seeds

1tsp peppercorns

1”(2.5 cm) stick of cinnamon

4-5 cloves

2 green chillies

2 red chillies

2 large cloves of garlic

2”  (5 cm) stick of ginger

4-5 sprigs of fresh mint

3-4 sprigs of fresh coriander

1 medium sized onion

To roast, cool and grind into a coarse powder

2/3 cup skinned peanuts

1/3 cup white sesame seeds

For the main dish

½ kilo baby eggplants

3 heaped tsp of tamarind puree

4 tbsp vegetable (sunflower, light olive) oil

1 tsp turmeric

Salt to suit your taste

Method:

1. Leave the caps/stems on the baby eggplants and wash thoroughly.

2. On the side opposite to the caps/stems, slit the eggplant into quarters such that the cuts go only 2/3rds of the way down the eggplant (picture 2).

3. Heat 3tbsp of oil and saute the eggplants until their skins are soft and brown but their flesh is still pale and partially cooked (picture 3).

4. Set the eggplants aside to cool and excess oil can be drained off onto paper towels.

5. Blend all the ingredients for the paste until smooth and thick without adding any water (Picture 4 and 5).

6. Dry roast the peanuts and sesame seeds in a frying pan and set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes (picture 1 ).

7. Once cool, blend the peanut-sesame mixture into a coarse powder such that no big peanut pieces remain in the mixture (picture 5).

8. Heat the remaining tbsp of oil in the bottom of a pressure cooker and when the oil is hot, add the turmeric (picture 6).

9. When the turmeric sizzles, add all of the wet paste and cook for 2-4 minutes until the raw smell no longer lingers (picture 7).Add salt to taste and mix well.

10. Add the peanut-sesame powder and mix until uniform. At this point, you will need to add water to make it soup like in consistency. Add the tamarind and mix until uniform.

11. Add the partially cooked eggplants into the soup like mixture and toss until all the eggplants are well coated by the mixture. If the mixture is too thick, add some more water (picture 8).

12. Close the lid on the pressure cooker, put the weight on it and wait for one whistle before turning it off.

13. Alternatively, you can make the entire think in a fry pan like I have this time. Follow steps 8-13 in a shallow frying pan with a lid. Once all the ingredients are in, put the lid on the pan and simmer until the eggplants are soft and almost disintegrate upon touch (picture 9).

14. Serve “yennegai” with rotis (flat bread) or rice and it is best eaten hot (main picture above).

Note:

1.  This works best with baby aubergines or even baby green eggplants. If you can’t find them, then chunks of regular eggplant can be used but you might need to reduce cooking times as the regular eggplants cook faster than the baby ones which have more seeds and tougher skins.

2. Traditionally, it is served with ‘jolada rotti” where ‘jola’ means maize and rotti means bread. In addition, are served lumps of home-made butter and a raita made with yoghurt, red onions and cucumber as maize rotis can be quite fibrous.

Pronunciations:

Jola  = Joe + la*. Here “la” has special “l” sound where you roll your tongue to touch the roof of your mouth as you say ‘llll’ and then release as you say “ahhhh”

Jolada = Joe + la* + the

Kamath= Calm+ math as in mother

Rotti = Row + t + tea

Yennegai = Yen + n*ay + guy> Here the “nay” has a special “n” sound sound where you roll your tongue to touch the roof of your mouth as you say ‘nnn’ and then release as you say “ay”

Yatrinivas =  Yeah+tree+knee+vas as in vase.

Yennegai….
1. Roast peanuts and sesame seeds 2. Slit eggplants into 1/8th 3. Sauté eggplants until soft and mostly cooked 4. Grind these spices and a bunch of fresh coriander 5. Ground peanuts/sesame seeds, cooked eggplant and ground spice paste. 6. Heat some oil and add curry leaves and turmeric for tempering 7. Fry the spice paste until the raw smell is gone 8. Add the peanut-sesame powder, water, eggplants and bring to boil 9. When the gravy is thick and bubbling, it is ready to eat.

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