A hybrid making - Vizag and Bihar
What is North-East Indian, you ask? Well, there's a story there. I was born in south India, a coastal town called Vizag or Visakhapatnam (I am south Indian by origin) and raised in a small town called Bokaro Steel City, in the state of what used to be called Bihar (now split and called Jharkhand). My dad worked there for his entire life before retiring just a few years ago. Now the beauty of living in an industrial city like that is that it brings together people from all across the country, with different languages, cultures, and of course, food. I big part of me and who I am, and my love of diverse food is stemmed from those early days when I grew up eating various cuisines. Now to an outsider, it might seem like, well its all Indian food, right? Nope, not by a far stretch!
This is where you need to understand, that India with its 29 states and 6 union territories is more like 35 countries because the language and food and customs vary SO much from state to state. The spices vary, and the methods of preparation vary. Once could spend a decade just studying the cuisines of India to get the true sense of the deep verticals in each state. It's truly mind boggling and scintillating for a foodie at least :)
The mustard way of cooking
My love for mustard oil started since I was a toddler. It's a staple in most "Bihari" families, as well as "Bengali" families (another state in India). When you open a bottle of well made mustard oil, the smell is so pungent that no other oil comes close to it, not even truffle oil! It causes what you would call the salivating of glands. In most families it's used not just for cooking, but for topical applications like hair oil, body oil and even to fix ailments like knee pain or joint pain and colds, especially when earned with a few garlic pods and nigella seeds. Since coming to US, I have tried several brands but the one I like the most is Tez - it's the closest to the cold pressed oil I grew up with back home.
There's a saying that the northern Indian people have glowing skin and hair due to mustard oil. Just google it ;)
A true test for real good mustard oil?
Believe it or not, there's one. Warm up a stainless steel or cast iron pan on medium heat. Pour over a tablespoon of oil and when it slightly warms up, bend over and smell it. Your eyes should water and the nose buds tickled. If that doesn't happen, you are probably dealing with a over-processed blend of mustard and vegetable oils, and not straight up pure mustard oil.
So, have I convinced you already to get cooking with mustard oil, if you have never done so, earlier? I certainly hope so, especially this recipe is just so e-a-s-y p-e-a-s-y!!
Panch Phoran - what is that??
A combination of 5 seeds/spices ("panch" means 5), this is the quickest way to spice up any stir fries! The combined flavor of nigella seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, black mustard and fennels seeds has a pickle like effect. I like to call it, the Indian 'all-spice' ;) This specific stir-fry owes a lot of the flavor profile to just 2 tsps of this goodness.
- 2 tsp panch phoran
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp ginger grated
- 1 tbsp mustard oil
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder (optional)
- 6-8 curry leaves
- 2 green chillies slit vertically
- 3/4 cup sliced onions
- 1 whole eggplant (graffiti or italian or chinese eggplant)
- 4 cubed red skin potatoes
- 1 beefsteak tomato
- Of course, our beloved Instant Pot that cuts down the cook time from 15 mins to 5 minutes!
Chop up the veggies as shown.
Turn on your instant pot, and place it in 'saute' mode. Once the digital display says, 'Hot', add 1 tbsp of mustard oil, and the panch phoran (indians call it ranch puran).
As soon as the seeds start spluttering, add the onions. Once the onions turn translucent, add the ginger and garlic, green chillies and curry leaves.
Traditionally, curry leaves are a south indian herb, but you see my cooking is often a hybrid of north and south indian foods. You see where I was going with that monologue of my origin now ?:)
Once the onions are browned, add tomatoes. The trick is in the staging of these ingredients!
Once the tomatoes are browned, add 1 tsp of turmeric powder. The key is, before adding eggplant and potatoes, the roux or the base of onions+tomatoes+the other stuff must be nicely done.
Add the eggplant and add 1/2 tsp of red chilli powder, IF you want some added heat!
Add the eggplant, and potatoes, and stir every 2-3 minutes. The idea is to brown this mixture a bit to release those amazing caramelized stir fry flavors.
After 5-6 mins of browning, add 3/4 cup of water.
Turn the instant pot off, made sure the steam is set to the sealed position.
Then press the 'manual' button, set the timer to 5 minutes. Yes, this image shows 6, but the thing is, I realized it just needed 5. 6 minutes overcooked the eggplant a tad bit.
And that's how it is, when it's all done. I had done a quick release after 10 minutes of the completed pressure cook time.
Serve with hot whole wheat roti tossed in ghee, and a bowl of this delish curry! Yum, enjoy! Now tell me, how do you like your eggplant? What's your favorite way of making it?
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