I’m currently on a culinary pilgrimage, and a darn fascinating one at that. Here’s Part 1 of my quest.
Without further ado, here’s the recipe to the world’s oldest curry. I extrapolated it from this video and adjusted it slightly to my own taste. That’s the best thing about Indian cuisine in all its regional variations: with a little imagination, it’s easy and fun to customize recipes to your liking.
- Small purple eggplants (the smaller the better for taste), slit: 7
- Unripe mango, peeled and flesh chopped into small pieces: 1
- Ginger: an inch-sized cube, peeled and grated
- Sesame oil: 2 tbsp
- Cumin: 1 tsp
- Turmeric: 1 tsp
- Sugar (used instead of sugarcane powder): 1 tbsp
- Salt: to taste
- Add oil to a heated pan, then add ginger, cumin and turmeric to it. Let simmer for a minute, or until the spices give out their aroma.
- Add the eggplants and turn them over every few minutes until they’re roasted on all sides.
- Add the chopped mango, sugar and salt. At this point, you might need to add about ¼ cup of water to help the eggplants cook. Cover the pan with a lid so the steam can do its magic.
- Within about 10 minutes or so, your curry is ready.
The recipe is rather simple, as prototypes tend to be, but it’s unbelievably delicious. No wonder it has sustained over the millennia without major upgrades or changes—it bears the hallmarks of a basic preparation from an average Indian home of today:
- Locally grown/procured vegetables
- Vegetables in season
- Basic spices, each chosen with care for not only taste but their beneficial effects on health
- Cooked with minimal fuss with the most scrumptious and healthy results
Anything else added to this recipe (like chillies, curry leaves, sliced onions etc., which are later discoveries or imports to India) is an embellishment to bring out an appealing variation. There’s no harm in this, because where’s progress without experimentation, right?
I would’ve loved to make the curry in a copper or earthenware pot for authenticity, but because I didn’t have either handy, I chose to go with a cast iron pan (although iron wasn’t available during the Indus period).
Depending on their socio-economic status, sections of the Harappan society would’ve probably used copper cooking utensils, while those who couldn’t afford copper would’ve gone with baked earthenware pots.
I also cooked brown rice to be served with the curry as Harappans would’ve done. Okay, there are two schools of experts when it comes to domesticated rice and Indus Valley. One school believes that the people of the Indus Valley cultivated rice as a staple food grain and the other (the minority) doesn’t think so. Given this situation, I did what any self-respecting enthusiast does: aligned myself with the school that complies with my own beliefs. (I mean, how can I imagine an Indian subcontinent without rice as a staple?) The alternative carbs at a Harappan home would’ve been wheat/millet flatbread or barley porridge.
So, there you have it, my journey to the heart of an Indus home: its kitchen.
Wouldn’t you like to give this recipe a try? I’d love to hear about your experience, if you do.
For a different take on this curry and its history, read Ambika Sambasivan’s Cooking Up a 4,000-year-old Curry. While there, be sure to check out and support Yali Books’s commendable efforts at bringing to life books that highlight South Asian cultures.