Sri Lankan Aubergine

I recently deep fried some aubergine and was reminded how delicious it is. I think I was trying to recreate a hot aubergine dish I had at a birthday party in a basement last year. It was far too late in the evening to eat and I’d already had dinner but I couldn’t say no to the paper plate of food that was handed to me. I remember the lovely combination of soft, oily aubergine with chili and tomato, served with yellow lemon-tinged rice.

I made this using fresh tomatoes and a version of a Sri Lankan spice blend from Ellawalla and Sivanathan’s cookbook. I was very taken by the smell of the spices as I toasted them and they went well with the aubergine. While most Sri Lankan spice blends contain chili, I have left it out – you can add chili according to your own preference. The quantities given here will make half a jarful of the spice blend, which you can use later – the recipe only requires a tablespoon. I bought some dried red chilis from a local Asian grocer and found one was plenty for a pot of subji. Similarly, one or two fresh green chilis should add a good kick!

If you’d rather not deep fry it, you can roast the aubergine in the oven, steam it (it’s much tastier than it sounds), simmer it in a more liquid-y tomato sauce or smoke the aubergines over an open flame until they fall apart. You can also cut the aubergine into smaller cubes and fry them in a wok with 2-3 tablespoons of oil – it’s not quite as good as deep-fried but they do go nice and soft.

As I’ve suggested with another aubergine recipe, you can add paneer, potato and chickpeas to bulk it out for a nice one pot dish for an occasion when you are feeding a few people.


2 aubergines

six tomatoes (or a tin of chopped tomatoes)

A litre of oil for deep frying

1/2 teaspoon asafoetida

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon of salt (you may need a little more)

chili, as per your preference

For the spice blend: 50g coriander seeds

25g cumin seeds

10g uncooked white rice

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 cinnamon stick

5 fresh curry leaves

2 cardamom pods

2 cloves

a generous teaspoon of black peppercorns

  1. Heat the oil over a medium low heat in a wok and chop the aubergine into cubes. While the aubergine fries, you can make the spice blend. Do note that the turmeric and asafoetida go in later.
  2. I suspect the ingredients should be toasted in batches, but I toasted them all together in a non-stick frying pan before whizzing them up in my coffee grinder and putting them in a jam jar. (Do make sure to label the jar – there are a number of jars in my cupboard which I assume are garam masala but am not sure…) You will only need a tablespoon of the spice blend for the recipe.
  3. Keeping an eye on the frying aubergines, chop the tomatoes and heat a tablespoon of oil to fry the spices in. Add the turmeric and asafoetida followed by a generous tablespoon of the spice blend. Stir to stop the mixture sticking, then add the tomatoes. Leave to cook over a low heat until they reduce and the individual chunks of tomato start to disappear.
  4. Once the aubergines are fried, add them to the tomatoes and simmer over a low heat. You might prefer bigger chunks of aubergine but it’s also very nice if it’s almost bordering on being a puree. Add the salt and as much or as little chili as you would like.