What I think is brinjal moju which is listed as simply Moju in Doreen Peris’s book.* I made it without the dry fish or karawala with some slight and not so slight adjustments. Until I am lectured to and hectored and corrected I shall call this brinjal moju.
On brinjals. I belong to an age where we were taught home science in school. Yup. They used to do that. Sewing. That too. Not that I have anything against teaching the necessities of day to day life except that the subject was only taught to girls; and boys did not need to know. That’s what I know. May be there were a few minor exceptions. I don’t know of those. There still is this crazy idea that cooking and sewing can only be done by women and girls and men or boys need not know a thing about it. Strange that. I thought you could teach a puppy any trick. Oh never mind.
At Good Shepherd Convent upper school started at Grade 6 and suddenly home science became a subject. A bit like a semi-grown up playing house kinda thing. There you learned how to make a bed god forbid; but not how to lie on it. As to sewing, hems were made on squares and the stitches had to be clean and virtually invisible. Talk about a tall order. At that time who knew that this was part of the great conspiracy but whatever. But back to brinjals.
The first thing they taught us to cook in home science was brinjals badala uyala and cheese balls. This may be part of my addled mind but before the cooking could start we had to have mastered how to make an apron and one wore it to the cooking class. You got into serious trouble if you forgot your apron for the home science class. Duly aproned we learned about balls and brinjals. The cheese balls involved boiled potatoes and grated kraft cheddar cheese to make them cheesy which were then breaded and deep fried. Something I never made again except perhaps once. I I recollect it really did not stand up to cutlis. Why bother to boil potatoes and go through the whole drama of breading and frying ra ra when you might as well make cutlis and what a waste of cheese dammit. Those expensive and precious blue tins of kraft cheese were there for only two purposes. 1) cheese and cheesebits; 2) cheese sandwiches. Not big sliced hunks of cheese sandwiches but those you made with grated cheese and sliced hot green chillies in soft chewy slices of bakery bread buttered with globe brand butter. Cheese balls my football. But I digress again not unlike Greece looking for the long way home (thank you Teju Cole).
Brinjals badala uyala stuck in my heart in the home science room at GSC. An early loaded food memory of sorts. But never mind the feminist conspiracy theory I still make a killer BBU and so does Arjuna despite ever having gone to a home science class. He learned it from love. Any time it is made I put my heart and soul into it which is never a hard thing for me when it comes to good food but this somehow gets a little bit more love. First loves of sorts.
Arjuna’s brinjal BBU; not from a book but how his mom made it
Now dishes made with brinjals that are fried come under different names but I no longer know what is what and the only thing I know for sure as to a label is the brinjals badala uyala. At GSC our teacher left out an important bit. She simply called it brinjals badala uyala leaving the dish thus unnamed but hereinafter to be known as BBU. Then there’s brinjal sambol, brinjal pahi, and brinjal moju in the grand pantheon of brinjals that are thinly sliced or cut lengthwise and then liberally rubbed with lashings of salt (or salt water in the days of coarse salt from the sea) and finger staining turmeric and then deep fried; after which more unspeakable things are done to them. Yah. At the end of the day fried brinjals are fried brinjals and it has no equal. Especially when the brinjals are good and piping fresh and not too big so that each piece has some skin on. The question whether my BBU is moju or pahi still remains unanswered. Amma never used words like moju or pahi you see so blame it on my bad upbringing.
In my tiny household when we do the badala uyala brinjals thing we call it eggplant. Oh I forgot to explain brinjals is another word for eggplant but Sri Lankans like to call them brinjals. As to the terminology of brinjals versus eggplant that is for another day. In the curry context there is no need of clarification usually but if clarification is needed when eggplant is on the menu – brinjals fried and cooked – is what comes up; a literal translation of the Sinhala expression. The words moju or pahi are never uttered around here.
When I was planning a menu recently and discussed with my cousin the possibilities given she had inside information as to preferences of those on the guest list brinjal moju came up. Some investigations from said cousin as to how her mom made it bore little fruit. Did it have vinegar or did she use tamarind, did she use dry fish in it etc. were greeted with a curt “ahem no clue.” And thus I ran off on a junket of my own as to what goes into a proper moju. Seems the term moju may be interchanged (inaccurately? thus this ruminatory rant) with pickle. Sambol is straight forward and that I know. But is moju the same as pickle in context of brinjal moju? And what the hell is pahi? Is that the proper term for BBU? If not what is the proper term for BBU and so on and so forth.
Despite having gone through all three of my Sri Lanakan cook books to figure out the difference I was still no closer to the truth here. A quick look on the web only made matters worse as to the actual terms used. Don’t trust the web.
So I’ve come to the inconclusive opinion just as bad or good as any football world cup referee’s decision that brinjals badala uyala (fried and cooked) must be brinjals pahi; and brinjals moju is brinjals pickle. And now to confuse things even further moju is usually made with brinjals and yes, fried dried fish or karawala. So technically brinjal moju without karawala in it is not really brinjals moju. However given that karawala was not on the list I think I may have made brinjals moju with a little help from Doreen Peiris bless her heart. Or is it a pickle?
So let the great brinjal debate begin. As to the sewing; that is for another day.
Use smaller brinjals and stay away from the huge ones so each piece gets some skin on.
3 lbs smallish brinjals (eggplant).
Turmeric powder and sea salt (the fine powdered type) for seasoning brinjals
½ – 1 lb Sri Lankan shallots from the Tamil shop if you are not in Sri Lanka, peeled.
Fresh Green Chillies – About half or same quantity in volume as the peeled shallots.
Oil to fry – lots. Not olive oil but oil with neutral taste or coconut oil.
2 tablespoons of Ceylon type mustard seeds
½ to 3/4 cup of Ceylon coconut vinegar
about 1 inch piece of fresh ginger
3 – 6 medium cloves of garlic peeled
chilli powder to taste and about 1/4 teaspoon or to taste of chilli flakes
A sprig or two of fresh curry leaves
A tablespoon of sugar
A few hours or more of your precious time.
A big deep pan to fry in safely.
Splatter shield just in case things splatter.
Kitchen paper towels.
Method in my madness:
Soak mustard in vinegar the night before and ideally seal with plastic wrap in case you have fruit flies or leave uncovered if safe. Alternatively cover and leave in fridge. Bring to room temperature before using.
Find brinjals that are not too long and not too fat and avoid the huge ones. Wash brinjals and remove the tough stem and cut them lengthwise into wedges about 3/4 inch at its widest. If they are too long feel free to cut them in half so each piece is about 5″ – 6″ max approximately. Breadthwise it should be no longer than 1 – 1.5 inches. Place in a large bowl as you cut and keep throwing some turmeric and salt to season as you go and mix gently. Leave aside for about an hour. Be careful not to over salt.
Peel the shallots then rinse well and drain and place in separate bowl. Wash the fresh green chillies and drain and make a slit (do not cut all the way) about halfway down the middle lengthwise with tip of sharp knife. Prepare the garlic and ginger and rinse and set aside the curry leaves.
Fill large deep sauce pan with about 2″ to 3″ of cooking oil (not olive oil). Bring to high heat (almost to smoking). Take a few handfuls of the brinjals and place in a bowl and quickly wipe with paper towels to remove excess liquid and carefully fry in batches. Adjust heat once the oil gets hot and deep fry somewhat slowly so they cook and turn nearly golden and crisp outside. Usually about 10 minutes per batch. Do not crowd the oil as this will result in the eggplant absorbing too too much oil like a sponge.
Drain in colander as you fry. Taste a piece from the first batch for salt. If it needs more salt add more to the rest of the raw brinjals and sprinkle the fried brinjals with a little salt to taste. You can keep doing this so each fried batch is properly seasoned. Fry all of the brinjals in batches.
Once brinjal is fried; fry shallots in batches and ensure some salt is added before frying. Follow with the green chillies and that too must be salted before frying. Add to colander as you fry.
Blend the vinegar and mustard in high speed blender and add ginger and garlic and chilli powder and chilli flakes and sugar. Be careful about not putting too much chilli as it may not be to your taste but the chilli flakes are important as it adds to the flavour. Remove to a bowl. Taste it for salt and adjust or add keeping in mind the salt content of the fried vegetables.
Place about 2 – 3 tablespoons of the oil (in which the vegetables were fried) in a large non reactive sauce pan that could easily hold about thrice the quantity of the fried vegetables. When hot fry the curry leaves till the whole house is fragrant then take off flame and add the vinegar mustard mixture and cook over a medium flame for about five minutes. Adjust flame to low so the sauce does not over boil. It should cook at a high simmer and then reduced to a simmer towards the last few minutes and it will thicken. Remove from flame and add all of the fried vegetables into the sauce and very gently incorporate the mustard sauce without breaking up the vegetables. Try your best to keep the vegetables in tact so it does not become a mushy mess while incorporating the sauce. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt. The vinegar and mustard flavour will be obvious but counteract beautifully with the eggplant.
The vinegar mustard dressing cooking and thickening. From liquid to creamy.
Let the brinjal cool to room temperature. Store in a glass jar or non-reactive dish covered in fridge for a few weeks. Make sure vessel and cover is non-reactive to acid etc. I like serving this at room temperature with rice and curries. Would go well in a sandwich filling on its own or with left over roast lamb or curried meat.
This quantity generously filled a 1.5 litre dish and easily made a dozen servings. Kept well for thee weeks in fridge. Time for another big batch.
*A Ceylon Cookery Book, A practical guide by Doreen Peiris. 6th Edition. (no publisher is named but Printed at D.P. Dodangoda & Co. Moratuwa). 1983. At Page 65.