This is a great dish for those never-ending grey, cold January days, when one has a slight sick on, and leftover soup just won’t cut it. In short, London today…
I made it loosely according to my mum’s recipe, using aubergines, but it can also be done with pumpkin, or the calabash gourd (called lau/dudhi, in Bengali/Hindi respectively, or hulu/huzi in Mandarin). The dried shrimps can be found at any Asian store, but there are varieties – the ones I had were somewhat less stanky than the orange/red ones mum uses; also the latter have more texture (crunch crunch as you bite through the tiny critters’ shells…delicious). The basic idea is to salt, spice, and texturise a somewhat sweet and soft vegetable.
Cut up 1 medium aubergine into bite-sized pieces, sprinkle with ½ tsp of turmeric powder, ¼ tsp of ground cayenne powder, 1/8 tsp of salt, mix and set aside for 20 minutes. Soak some dried shrimp (maybe first time don’t use too much – 2 tbsp?) in a little water for 20 min.
Heat EVOO a bit (not to smoking), and put in ¼ tsp cumin seeds, 2-3 dried chili peppers, and a chopped up onion. Get the onion soft but not brown (regulate heat down if needed). I put in a couple of crushed garlic cloves once the onions are softening up.
Put in the aubergine pieces, ¼ tsp of turmeric powder, and ¼ tsp of cayenne. Depending on the power of your shrimp, and your taste, may add some more salt. Put in ½ tsp of ground cumin powder. Lots of grated ginger (say equivalent to a 3cm piece, stripped of its skin).
You shouldn’t have to add water, unless it’s evident the mixture is burning (which may be the case if the aubergines don’t naturally give off water, though they should). In this case, add 1-2 tbsp of water, at a time, and scrape any burnt bits off the bottom of the pan. When the aubergines are tasting half-done, drop in the dried shrimp, and mix in. Let cook until the aubergines are done. May need to add some sugar. Add 1 tomato, chopped up.
Just before taking off the heat, add green chili and chopped coriander.
There are alternative versions on the internet that have
the shrimp go in first, mix and cook t
ogether with whatever spices/onion/ginger (or soy sauce in the Chinese/Thai versions), followed by the aubergine/calabash/vegetable. I haven’t tried this approach so not sure if it’s equivalent to above.
Too much water is death to this dish – the aubergines become mealy and water-logged. Extra oil, conversely and unsurprisingly, helps the dish taste better (an eggplant loves to fry).