Vangi Bhat, or Eggplant Rice, is one of those Tamil rice dishes that is so exquisitely tantalizing, I sometimes dream about it!
Okay, I was only kidding about the dreaming, but I do crave it all too often.
Maharashtrians make a super-delicious and more complex version of vangi bhat (that recipe incorporates more spices and peanuts) but on a weeknight I find it quicker to put together the one that I learned out of a Tamil cookbook eons ago and which instantly became a favorite.
This is my second eggplant recipe in just over a week but, as all of you cooks know, it is eggplant season out there. My vegetable patch is festooned with tiny little eggplants that I cannot wait to devour. And this week, my local farmer’s market was overflowing with eggplants of many colors and sizes- white eggplants, green Thai eggplants, skinny lilac eggplants, and many more. Since I could eat this delicious veggie any day of the week and any time of the day, I came home with armfuls of it.
For this recipe, I used a small, skinny eggplant that was pale purple streaked with white. Both the woman who sold it to me and I had no idea what the variety is called, but the usual small, egg-shaped Indian eggplants or even the bigger varieties would do perfectly well in this dish. You might have to vary the cooking time for the eggplant to ensure it is cooked through. Remember, an undercooked eggplant is worse than no eggplant at all.
So here you go with a traditional recipe for a classic dish that everyone must try one time or the other in their eggplant cooking career. Enjoy!
1 cup cooked, long-grain white rice like Basmati. You could try this with brown Basmati- I am sure the robust flavors of the spices would hold their own against the earthy nuttiness of the brown rice.
6 small eggplants, or 1/2 of a large one, diced into small, even-sized pieces, around 1-cm square
1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)
1 tbsp + 1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil (not olive)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
Salt to taste
In a skillet, heat 1 tsp of of canola or other vegetable oil and toast until pale golden-brown and aromatic:
1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp bengal gram dal (chana dal)
1 tbsp black gram dal (udad dal)
2 red chilies.
Grind with a little water into a fairly smooth paste.
Heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil in a large skillet.
Add the mustard seeds and, when they sputter, add the curry leaves
Over medium heat, add the eggplant pieces and a little salt and toss around to coat with oil. Let the eggplant cook, stirring a few times, until it is tender and cooked through. Depending on the variety of eggplant, this should take between 10-15 minutes.
Add the ground spices and turmeric, if using, and mix thoroughly with the eggplant. Allow them to cook together for a couple of minutes so the flavors merge.
Add the cooked rice and mix together delicately, taking care not to mash the rice grains which should be separate. Turn off heat.
Garnish with fresh mint or chopped coriander, or even with some fresh grated coconut if you have some on hand.
I served this hot with some freshly fried vatrals (rice-and-lentil crisps) that my sis-in-law, Paddu, gave me on her recent visit. Bliss.