Hot and smoky aubergine curry

18 Feb

Hot and Smoky aubergine curry


My nose is tingling as I begin to tell you about what I experienced last week. I taught a cookery class that shifted me emotionally.

Hot and Smokey aubergine curry by Deena Kakaya

It was a community based cookery class, which means that it was for local Londoners and not for profit. I always, agreeably expect a mix people, from different worlds to join me in classes like this.  This time too, we had the world in our classroom; a lady, who spoke Spanish and then translated into English, used every opportunity to convey to me how it’s done in Spain. She spoke tenderly and her eyes were damp. I’m blushing when I admit, that a few years ago I might have considered this as decelerating the class but this time I felt calmly assured about this gentle lady. It turns out that she has an embolism on her lung and that she lived alone. She filled with tears as she expressed how much she looked forward to attending community classes and passionately, generously offered to sew some more of skilfully made aprons for the cookery school. She overflowed with love and told me that there are choices; show spirit and keeps busy, or not.

Hot and Smokey aubergine curry by Deena Kakaya

A gentleman who walked and talked unhurriedly made much conversation with me and as he filled in a technical term for me, which escaped my mind, I warmed to the way he spoke. I like intelligence.  It evolved with his telling me of his trekking in Africa and I told him about my mother’s family being expelled from Uganda. He told me about his brother, who despite having high-end cars and a focus on achievement hadn’t really lived.  As we surveyed spices and checked textures, he drew pictures in my mind of his sisters contrasting life in Italy, living on fresh produce from her garden and feeding many friends, around a laughing table. She has lived. He asked the question on why people should judge themselves or others, for simple choices in life when it is so short.


From a chirpy massage therapist to a man with no fixed abode, from a seasoned cook from Mauritius to someone who gave me the first smiles of acceptance after three cookery classes together. You know the interesting thing? Often in these classes there are light quips about the menu being entirely vegetarian or some vocalised disassociation with spice. There are sometimes questions, ‘so you aren’t from India then’, but in this class, there was simply overwhelming and unanimous praise, encouragement and enjoyment. There were no leftovers. There were empty plates. There were huddles around an iPad as they all perused my blog with intrigued eyebrows and sighs.

‘They really like you Deena, you’ve really given them something today, they loved the food too’, the cookery school manager stopped to tell me. It wasn’t all about the food I don’t always do good things. Sometimes I do darn silly things. But in that class, I took some lessons and I felt emotionally shifted.


One thing they did note is that it’s not all curry on the site, even though we did cook a couple during the class. These days, I’ve been hankering for something with a proper kick. I fancied a curry with attitude; a curry that isn’t weakly vegetarian as so often and unfortunately vegetarian curries are described to be. I have been visualizing thick, red gravy with some deep and juicy tones….you get the idea. For me, aubergines can go badly wrong if they are watery, understated and without garlic. Luckily this dish is none of those.  Where does the fusion come in? Well, as I served this dish the smell in Mexican but taste is Indian because I use Mexican guajillo chillies as well as chipotle to give smoky aromas and a total block red colour. This is not one for the faint hearted.  This is a bold curry, it’s alive.


Ingredients to serve 4-6

Two large aubergines

7 desert spoons of plain yoghurt

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground coriander

3 dried chipotle chillies

2 dried guajillo chillies

3 tbsp. cooking oil

¼ tsp. mustard seeds

One large onion, finely diced

2 bay leaves

6 green cardamom pods

6 cloves

6 cloves of garlic

Salt to taste

350ml water

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. smoked paprika



  1. Cut the aubergines into large cubes and marinate them with the yoghurt, ground cumin and coriander. Leave them in the fridge for at least an hour.
  2. Take the chillies and gently heat them on a non-stick pan and let the aromas release before soaking them in the water for 30-40 minutes.
  3. Once the chillies have soaked, grind them to a paste with the garlic and then leave it to a side.
  4. Heat the oil and add the bay leaves, mustard seeds, cloves and cardamom pods. Allow the seeds to pop and then add the onion and salt then soften the onion until it is lightly golden.
  5. Add the chilli and garlic paste and fry for a minute until the oil surfaces.
  6. Now add the aubergine, with the marinade. Sprinkle in the paprika and lemon juice. Turn the flame to a low level and cook the aubergine for 5-8 minutes before adding the water.
  7. Now simmer the aubergine for 45-50 minutes until the aubergine is tender and the curry gravy is thick.






19 Responses to “Hot and smoky aubergine curry”

  1. simplyvegetarian777 February 19, 2015 at 12:19 am #

    Your post today shifted me emotionally, Deena! The purpose and point of “I Lived”, is so lost these days. We all are running…somewhere…where??..nobody particularly knows. Hmmm!! I take a deep breath at that! Live in the moment.
    That curry, I loved!! Amazing flavors going on and that red color is killing!!
    I actually created ac recipe today for a contest using lentils, aubergines, sumac, star anise, cinnamon and bay leaf with hint of mint!!

    • Deena Kakaya February 19, 2015 at 12:24 am #

      Oh Sonal, you know even when I think about that class my eyes fill. I can’t believe a group of strangers had such a profound impact on me. It’s made me consider my old age in a new way. I may feel busy and tired now but actually all of that is a blessing. To fill my time, miss my loved ones…thats stuff I am yet to deal with and must make myself brave and peaceful enough to do so.

      Your curry sounds absolutely wonderful Sonal! Star anise is a superb idea, I bet it smells amazing…sumac, hmmm…I have to give that a go xx

  2. Elaine @ foodbod February 19, 2015 at 6:37 am #

    What a moving experience Deena, how wonderful that you could share your skill with them all and they could share their stories with you xx
    The curry looks fab!

  3. Katie @ Whole Nourishment February 19, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

    Sounds like a very heart warming and successful cooking class you gave. And I’m loving the Mexican/Indian fusion here!

    • Deena Kakaya February 19, 2015 at 4:52 pm #

      Thank you Katie! I think the smells are more Mexican than the taste, start grok smokiness but curiously it works x

  4. Bintu @ Recipes From A Pantry February 19, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

    What great experiences you have Deena. Long may the continue.

    • Deena Kakaya February 19, 2015 at 6:24 pm #

      What sweet and kind words Bintu, thank you x

  5. Helen @ Fuss Free Flavours February 20, 2015 at 6:20 pm #

    What a lovely post Deena. I think that food unites people so well, ehre are always stories to tell and recipes to share. After all we all have to eat and it is one of life’s great pleasures.

    • Deena Kakaya February 20, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

      Thank you Helen, love and food really do go hand in hand don’t they x

  6. thejameskitchen February 21, 2015 at 9:24 am #

    What a moving experience, Deana, and a fitting curry to match the warmth of your story. I love aubergines cooked any way (I just had a huge batch of baked ones again) but greatly adore it in a curry. Even my husband does not even notice that there is no meat in it. Nicole

    • Deena Kakaya February 21, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

      Thank you Nicole, so true in that aubergines have such enormous depth! X

  7. thespicyrd February 24, 2015 at 6:28 am #

    Such a lovely post Deena. I am reading this after learning that one of my best friend’s mother, who I was close to, just passed away from pancreatic cancer. The thing that resonated with me, was that, like the Spanish woman in your class, my friend’s mother really showed her spirit too, all her life, and during that last 1 1/2 years since her diagnosis. None of us knows what each day hold ahead, but sometime the simple joys of cooking a meal with friends is all that we need 🙂 Delicious recipe too, and love that it’s bold and alive!

  8. coconutcraze February 27, 2015 at 4:24 am #

    This curry looks spicy hot and a kick start for the rainy days to come! Reading your experience was quite touching! You always make me think about the world around us and I like it!

  9. kellie anderson March 1, 2015 at 10:17 am #

    Isn’t it a privilege to teach? We learn as much from our students as they do from us. A beautiful story, well-told and ringing true. Sumptuous, slow gorgeous recipe too. I will definitely be making your version very soon. Truly. Pinned, stumbled etc. A must-make of a recipe. 🙂

    • Deena Kakaya March 2, 2015 at 2:14 pm #

      Oh yes Kellie, totally is a pleasure to teach. I am so glad that my mind is now open enough to receive what there is to learn. Hope you enjoy the curry xx


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