I have always believed that there is no vegetable that's more versatile than brinjal or eggplant or aubergine in all its forms, colours and sizes. From Greek Eggplant Moussaka to a baingan bharta to a South Indian style brinjal sambar, there's a lot of magic possible with the humble brinjal. This could also be because I saw brinjal play out in many different types of South Indian dishes when I was still a kid. One of my first memories of a delicious brinjal dish is what we call a kalyana gothsu - a gravy where brinjal is the hero ingredient and is served with piping hot pongal. It's a wedding breakfast speciality and hence the name.
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And then there was a special dish that would normally feature on Friday lunch menus at home. The spotlight was always on traditional recipes every Friday at my paternal grandmother's old family home. More than the dish and its unique flavours and textures, it's the name of the dish that probably caught my attention as a kid. As children, we automatically gravitate to dishes that are easy to pronounce, especially those with a name that caught our fancy. The Race Kuzhambu was one such dish.
My great-grandmother's family comes from near Thanjavur, the hub of the Chola empire that has been trending thanks to Ponniyin Selvan. This dish is a specialty from the region where it's also known as Anjaraipetti Race Kuzhambu. Anjaraipetti refers to a traditional spice box that's now mostly made in stainless steel, this kuzhambu uses all the ingredients that you typically find in an anjaraipetti. It translates to a box with five compartments although most spice boxes in South India typically contain eight ingredients that also include dals like channa dal and urad dal that are used extensively for tempering along with everyday spices like mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin and black pepper.
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I've asked many family members why it's called 'Race' kuzhambu and I am still waiting for the explanation. The name might seem odd for a dish that takes some time and effort to make.
This is a heirloom family recipe, one of my great-grandmother's specialties. While some versions of the race kuzhambu are made with okra and drumstick, it was almost always made with brinjal at home. It's an interesting twist to the vathakuzmhambu or vathal kuzhmabu that's tangier because of the dominating presence of tamarind. The race kuzhambu tastes delicious with hot rice and a small dollop of ghee or gingelly (sesame) oil. It's also a terrific accompaniment for curd rice.
Recipe For 'Race' Kuzhambu
- Toor dal: 1 1/2 teaspoons
- Bengal gram: 1 1/2 teaspoons
- Moong Dal: 1 1/2 teaspoons
- Urad dal: 1 1/2 teaspoons
- Pepper: 1/2 teaspoon
- Red chillies: 6-8 (or more if you want it spicy)
- Green chillies: 3 (you can add more for a spicier version)
- Fenugreek: 1/2 teaspoon
- Mustard: 1 teaspoon
- Coriander seeds: 2 teaspoons
- Rice (Ponni): 1/2 teaspoon
- Curry leaves: a few sprigs
- Asafoetida: 1/4 teaspoon
- Turmeric: 1/4 teaspoon
- Aubergine: 200-250 gm
- Gingelly oil
- Tamarind (size of a lemon)
- Dry roast the rice with fenugreek till they turn golden brown. Keep aside.
- Soak tamarind in warm water (for about 10-15 minutes) and extract the juice.
- Add 1-2 teaspoons of gingelly oil to a pan and fry the dals, red chillies, coriander seeds and pepper. Let it cool.
- Add this to a blender along with the roasted rice and fenugreek. Also add a few curry leaves and asafoetida and grind into a coarse paste.
- Temper the mustard with curry leaves in gingelly oil before adding the green chillies and brinjal. Let it fry for a couple of minutes.
- Add the tamarind extract along with curry leaves with salt to the brinjal and let it cook with water for a few minutes before you add the coarse paste. Stir well.
- The dish is done once the gravy thickens (watch out for lumps when you add the paste).
- Serve with hot rice. It also tastes delicious at room temperature with curd rice.
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.