Vankaya Ulli Kharam is one of those dishes that every Andhra household has a recipe for. Surprisingly, we never made it in our home. However, I have eaten it often at my uncle’s home and that thought brings me to the reason I made it this week.
This past week I have been overwhelmed with bouts of nostalgia; I am not sure why. May be it is the onset of summer and all the talk of vacations that is in the air. One person who was suddenly front and center in my thoughts was Pedda Peddanannagaru. That appellation deserves some explanation.
If you count my father and all his siblings, you will arrive at a number just short of a dozen; most of them brothers with a few sisters to break the monotony. Given that three of these brothers were older than my father, we needed ways to identify which uncle we were talking of. Pedannanagaru in general means father’s older brother. We used to call my father’s oldest borther Pedda Peddanannagaru (oldest Pedda Peddanannagaru).
For some reason, we were terrified of him; may be because he had a very strict demeanor. Now, for the life of me, I cannot tell you why I was scared of him! Anyway, in his later years, Pedda Peddanannagaru settled in Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh, and we visited often during Diwali.
One memory that lingers is how he always gave my aunt (Doddamma) a list of yummy dishes to make for us and top of the list was Gutti Vankaya Kharam. And that is not where it ended. Peddanannagaru would personally choose “just the right” brinjals from the vegetable vendor who would come to our doorstep on a bicycle laden with baskets of farm-fresh vegetables.
And let me not forget to mention what a wonderfully warm person my doddamma is. It is just a bonus that she is also a wonderful cook.
I am not sure of the recipe my aunt used but this is my tribute to both Peddanannagaru and Doddamma.
Time: 45 Minutes
- Baby Brinjals – 12
- Onion – 1 Large
- Kashmiri Chillies – 2 (Optional, for the deep red colour only)
- Cloves – 2
- Cinnamon – 3/4″
- Coriander Powder – 1/2 tsp
- Spicy Red Chilli Powder – 1 tsp
- Grated Jaggery – 1/4 tsp
- Thick Tamarind Pulp – 1/4 tsp
- Mustard Seeds – 1 tsp
- Oil – 2 tbsp + 1 tsp
- Curry Leaves – A Few
- Salt to Taste
Method to Make Ulli Kharam
- Peel and slice the large onion.
- In a wok or kadai, heat 1 tbsp oil.
- Add the cloves and cinnamon.
- Stir-fry for 30 seconds.
- Add the kashmiri chillies and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
- Add the sliced onion and stir-fry till the onion is transparent.
- Turn off the heat.
- Add red chilli and coriander powders.
- Mix well and let the onions cool.
- Grind the onion along with tamarind pulp, jaggery and salt into a smooth paste.
Method to Make Vankaya Ulli Kharam
- Chop 1 small onion into fine pieces.
- In a large vessel, take 4 cups of water and dissolve 1 tsp of salt in it.
- Make two vertical cuts in each baby brinjal from the top towards the stem but do not cut through and through. The brinjal must stay intact.
- Add each cut brinjal to the salted water.
- Take each brinjal out of the water.
- Shake off the excess water.
- Stuff each brinjal with a generous amount of the ulli kharam.
- In a wok or kadai, heat 1 tbsp of oil.
- Add mustard seeds and wait till the splutter.
- Add curry leaves and stir-fry for a minute.
- Turn down the heat and place each brinjal into the oil.
- Over medium heat, let the brinjals fry lightly while turning them over at regular intervals so that all sides are evenly fried.
- Add about 1/2 cup of water and any left over ulli kharam.
- Over medium heat, cook covered till the brinjals are tender and the water has been absorbed thick.
- Serve hot with rice.