Fermina Daza , the heroine of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' " Love in the Time of Cholera'' hated eggplant in any form and, have no doubt about it, Fermina knew her mind.As a little girl she thought they had the colour of poison. As a young wife she was fed the abhorred vegetable every day in Palace Casalduero, where it was cooked out of respect for her dead father-in-law, who loved the wretched stuff.
Aubergine would not rate very high on my own vegetable popularity scale .They do have a rather deadly look about them . I dawdled over the very same vangi cha bhaji as a kid and tried hard to hide it between the vati's on my thali in a rather ineffective attempt to make it disappear from the eagle eyed inspection of parents who insisted that nothing should be wasted. No luck; baingan was inescapable and a regular item on the weekly menu.
The reason for the frequent appearance of baingan on our dinner table, despite our moving house constantly from one end of the country to the other, is that it is commonly grown in all states, coming in varied colours and sizes, and every region here has its own special recipe for this vegetable. Several methods of cooking it are recorded, even in the 'Supa Sastra of Mangarasa ' written in Kannada in the 16th century. Never really liked any of them much.
But back to Fermina... one day, many years after the death of her mother-in-law, Dona Blanca, long after she and her husband had moved to their home in La Manga, after their own children had grown up, Fermina was served a delicious food she could not identify. She liked it so much that she had two huge portions. She found out later, to her surprise, that what she had eaten with such delight was .....eggplant!!!
Have your own notions about hated foods ever altered so drastically as Fermina's ? Well, as regards eggplant...me too, Fermina.
And here is the recipe that did it.
1/2 kg small round aubergines.(Check to see they are not BT Baingan!
1 large onion chopped
3 green chillies slit
1 walnut size ball of imli / tamarind soaked in a cup of boiling water.
1 tablespoon gur/ jaggery
2 sprigs of kari patta /fresh curry leaves
1 tablespoon hara dhania / coriander leaves
1/2 tsp haldi /turmeric powder
6 tbsp oil
Fry the following spices in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and grind in a blender to make a thick paste:
1 tblsp til /sesame seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
4 dry red chillies
1 tsp jeera /cumin seed
1" stick dalchini /cinnamon
3 tblsp grated fresh coconut
4 cloves garlic
1" fresh ginger
1 tblsp hara dhania / fresh coriander
Keep the stalks intact and make 3 deep intersecting slits through the aubergine from the bottom to the top without cutting through the end. Stuff them with the ground ingredients.
Fry the onions in the oil till well done. Add the chillies, kari patta and turmeric and fry for a few seconds. Place the stuffed aubergines in the pan, cover tightly and cook for 15 minutes. Strain the tamarind and add the pulp along with the water to the pan. Add the gur /jaggery. Cook for another 10 minutes till the aubergines are done. Sprinkle with chopped coriander leaves and serve.
And so back to the story of the stubborn and lovely Fermina and the Eggplant. After that taste-changing experience she acknowledged defeat and it was served at La Manga so often that her husband, Juvenal Urbino, would say that he would have loved to have had another daughter, if just for the pleasure of naming her Eggplant Urbino.