Coconut Curried Eggplant

by Jenn on April 12, 2012

in Dairy Free,Gluten Free,Vegetarian

Coconut Curried Eggplant

Eggplant is one of those vegetables.  I see it in the market, know I should be eating more of it, and yet, am usually stumped as to ideas of what to actually do with it.  It’s never a fast cooking vegetable, so I know I will need to put in some time and effort for whatever comes of it.  My favorite way to eat it is battered and pan-fried, but I can’t be enjoying that too regularly as I have no willpower for such deliciousness :)  Luckily, the beauty of eggplant is also its versatility.  I know I can do more with it and will enjoy it, if I just think a bit and dare to try something new.

But trying something new is easier said than done, no? Stepping into the unknown, not knowing where it will lead…  As a scientist, I live and find comfort in control.  When everything is kept the same except for that one part I want to investigate, I know exactly where the different results arise from.  In science, if you know the right questions to ask and can find a well controlled approach to solve those problems, you’re generally on track to gaining new insights.  And it all stems from being able to control everything else.  When too much is out of your control, you really have no idea where to begin to find those answers.

Being in control tells me I am in charge and can lead the direction.  When I cook, especially gluten free, I take that same mindset from the lab and apply that approach to the kitchen.  I have notebooks of ingredients and measurements that I’ve tried, and when something doesn’t work out perfectly, I systematically alter the ratios of ingredients to find the best combinations.  When I cook, I find comfort in knowing how certain ingredients play together – for example basil and tomatoes will always be a fantastic marriage, no matter what dish they are combined in.  There are rules to cooking because in the end, cooking is just an extension of chemistry.  Ingredients behave according to their relative amounts of each other, just like molecules in a chemical reaction (it really is all about ratios).  I like knowing that rules exist for the kitchen –  the more I learn what those rules are, the more I can use them to achieve what I want on our dinner plate.  To me, the process of discovery while cooking is really not all that different from the same process that I use in my day to day life at work.

With photography, I am equally analytical.  I set up my flash bounced off the ceiling on the opposite side of the room, take a reading with the lightmeter, and adjust accordingly based on the ratios of light allowed to pass through the camera to form my image and dictate exposure.  I love that once you know the rules, it just works. When I first tried long exposure photography last summer in our hotel room with the windows wide open to the freezing night air so that I could watch the stars dance over the Matterhorn, I dutifully worked out in my head all the tables of exposure to go from a quick 30s blurry dark mountain against a starlit sky to a bright contrasted Matterhorn lit by the slightest hint of pre-dawning light shining with the bright lingering trails in the sky over half an hour.  The entire 30 minutes I was giddy with delight, and knew while I had never done this before, I knew something cool would result.

My first star shot, ever. Early Morning Star Trails above the Matterhorn

Within rules, I find freedom.  Knowing my constraints forces me to be creative.  I’ve never really thought of myself as an artist, because everything I like to do is always so meticulously planned out and fashioned. But it’s in those plans that I can let myself see beauty.  Understanding that nature has a path and a purpose, and that sometimes we can glimpse into her mechanisms just a little bit to see the world for what it is, opens up a mystery and fascination that has always inspired me.


I like to think that control is also possible in life.  That there are rules in which everything just works out, if only we could understand what those rules are.  But I think I am learning (if not now then soon for sure), that not everything is a perfect symphony of spheres dancing around in space – some things will be without rules and we may just have to make it up as we go along – and that terrifies me, not having that control to rely on.  My husband, being very chill and a “go with the flow” type, doesn’t seem to have this issue, and I know he is going to have to help me adjust to the idea that there are some things I just won’t be able to plan.

And it’s times like these where I increasingly find myself in the kitchen, an environment I know will always follow the rules.  In fact, I even prefer to cook GF foods, because the constraints inspire more creativity and we both end up often pleasantly surprised by the results we come up with.

But eggplant? I don’t know what makes eggplant sing.  Not a clue.  So in the process of learning to let go a bit and just “see what happens”, I decided to give eggplant a try with an entirely new direction.  Taking my cue from last month’s IndianFoodPalooza event, I grilled it and gave it a coconut curry.  I know eggplant is versatile, I know I like coconut curry, so sure, why not?? I took a chance on something that lay outside of my known “rulebook”, and gave it a try.

Coconut Curried Eggplant

I ventured to something unknown, something totally new, and it was beautiful and wonderful.  You may not think eggplants and coconut were meant to be together, but they are – a perfect marriage of flavor and texture.  We both sat at the table, my husband and I, bellies now full, yet still craving more.  Exactly the type of reaction I look for in a successful dish.

But more importantly, for once I let go of my rules.  And life still went on.



Coconut Curried Eggplant
Adapted from Tamil Nadu Recipes

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hr


  • 2 large eggplants, sliced
  • salt
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated coconut
  • 1 tsp. ground cayenne
  • 1 tbsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 tsp. tamarind paste
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • oil for cooking
  • coriander leaves for garnish


  1. Lay out eggplant slices on a large baking sheet and sprinkle salt on them and let rest for about 15 minutes to draw out excess water.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet on medium high, and add onions, garlic, coconut, cayenne, coriander, and ginger and toast, stirring frequently, until fragrant and the coconut begins to brown.  Add in the chopped tomato with its juices as well as the tamarind and sugar.
  3. Add a little bit of water as needed and grind the curry into a paste using either a food processor or a mortar and pestle.  Adding more water will make it runnier like a sauce, less will make it thicker. Do as you want.
  4. Heat a oil in a large grill pan on high heat, and add eggplant slices.  Cook a few minutes until browned nicely and softened, then flip to the other side and repeat.  Add more oil as needed, as the eggplant will soak up a lot.
  5. Spread curry sauce on the eggplants, and garnish with coriander.  Works great served with rice.


Also submitted to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays and Gluten Free Wednesdays


Fuss Free Helen April 12, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Love what you have done to that aubergine Jenn, will you now be stepping outside your rules more often?

Jenn April 12, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Thanks – hehe, baby steps :)

Rosa April 12, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I love eggplants and cook with them a lot! I’d love to try that dish during the summer! A great post.



Jenn April 12, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Thanks Rosa! Yes I think we will definitely make this again in the Summer too :)

Linda - Lost in Switzerland April 12, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Looks delicious!!!

Jenn April 17, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Thanks Linda!

Prerna@IndianSimmer April 12, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Why do I feel so proud of you everytime I see you cooking something Indian? :-) The eggplant looks really nice, in fact cooking stuffed eggplants for dinner tonight and the photos as usual gorgeous. That photo of shooting star is just priceless!

Jenn April 12, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Aww thanks Prerna!! :)

Brian @ A Thought For Food April 12, 2012 at 10:13 pm

I have been an eggplant fan for a long time. Simply roasted in the oven, good olive oil, salt and pepper. Heaven. But this is takes it to a whole new level and it’s going on my list of dishes I must make.

And… as I just said on Twitter… those landscape shots are magical.

Jenn April 12, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Thanks so much Brian!!

Jas April 13, 2012 at 12:16 am

Jenn this looks delicious, I’m not a huge fan of eggplant but have found I love it grilled and added to curries ; such an earthy flavor it gives, although I have had it fried too – oh my lord with you on no resistance!
Your nighttime shots are stunning – it must have been one hell of a half hour waiting to see the result!?

Jenn April 13, 2012 at 7:49 am

Thanks so much Jas!! Ha honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pretty satisfied with the result :)

Laura Peach April 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm

This recipe looks amazing and I am definitely going to try it!:)

Jenn April 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm


Sadie Miller April 13, 2012 at 7:45 pm

I am new to anything Gluten Free. I hope to learn more
about it and a friend told me of your newsletter….
I have read through the old post you have and find
them very interesting….

Jenn April 13, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Hi Sadie – I’m sorry but I do not have a newsletter, however you are more than welcome to follow along with my blog posts!

Sara{OneTribeGourmet} April 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Jen, love all of your recipes & photography! I love eggplants & cook with them atleast once a week…I’m definitely going to try your recipe next week! :)

Jenn April 14, 2012 at 11:29 am

Thanks so much Sara! Hope you enjoy it :)

Fiona April 14, 2012 at 9:26 pm

I love aubergine … usually just simply grilled or in caponata (Sicilian aubergine stew – I have a delicious recipe if you want one). I can never be bothered to salt them first though and have never had any problem with bitterness. I can imagine they’re great in curries … another recipe to bookmark for later!

Jenn April 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Thanks Fiona! I salted them to help draw out the moisture, which I find helps them stay a bit firmer when I cooked them on the grill pan :)

Deb April 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm

We are an eggplant loving family but I have not tried a curry with coconut, fantastic idea!
Trying something new can lead to extraordinary results. Can’t wait to try this recipe!

Sally - My Custard Pie April 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Always looking for good aubergine recipes as they are a constant here in the market. Your pictures of the Matterhorn are absolutely breath-taking.

Jennifer (Delicieux) April 16, 2012 at 10:57 am

What a beautiful post Jenn. While you say you aren’t an artist, I beg to differ, both in your photography cooking. Planned or not, you create something beautiful, and in my eyes that is art.

Those photos of the Matterhorn are stunning. My fiance has been experimenting with long exposure star trail photography, and it’s really amazing seeing some of the things you capture.

Ben April 16, 2012 at 5:03 pm

I also see them at the market every week, but always fail to get at least one because I wouldn’t know what to do with it. Coconut and curry… Now I’m intrigued 😀

Jamie April 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I was going to talk about your need for control but was stopped in my tracks by your stunning photos of the sky over the Matterhorn! Gorgeous! Gorgeous! Wow, Jenn, you are amazing! But even though I am more of a baker than a cook and need to have a precise recipe, I never look at it in terms of control, whereas my control-freak of a husband cooks completely “au pif” – by feel and instinct, never a recipe. Maybe because he already feels in control? But back to your wonderful eggplant and curry dish. Love it! I too love eggplant but never know what to do with it. Yours looks scrumptious!

Jenn April 17, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Thanks Jamie!!

Kankana April 18, 2012 at 11:00 pm

I don’t think i can ever get tired of eggplant. It’s for me the next comforting thing after potatoes.
And stunning photo of the stars! I do not calculate and rules are tough for me to follow. But, for a end result like that .. i might as well follow rules ones in a while :)

Jenn April 20, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Thanks so much Kankana!

InTolerantChef April 23, 2012 at 2:49 am

What a wonderful yummy recipe! My mother didn’t know how to cook it at all, and would serve it to us just boiled and oozing water- yuck! It took me a long time to get up the courage to try it again, and now I love it!

Jenn April 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Oh I can imagine how that would take a long time to get over, glad you’ve found you enjoy it!

philo June 17, 2013 at 1:39 am

great story and thought. I have a kitchen that has given me some creative room. 2 eggplant and some coconut with a good ‘ol chef. its a good day

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