The other day one of my bosses came to work with cartons and cartons of eggs. It turned out that the 12 hens that he keeps in his inner-city backyard had been on a laying frenzy and he had been faced with an eggy surplus. I of course, was helpful enough to take a dozen of them off his hands and find good use for them.
Now being an Indian kid brought up by city slicker parents, freshly laid eggs were never really part of my upbringing. While I was growing up, most of my parents’ friends were like us- Indian immigrant urban professionals who didn’t even have a cat, let alone chickens running around in their backyards. So imagine my delight as these gorgeously imperfect thin-shelled things landed in my hands. Eggs of different shapes, deeply yellow yolks and smudged with dirt for authenticity. Eggs without dates stamped on them!
What to do with this unexpected produce? I certainly didn’t have the heart to bake them into anonymity in a cake nor did I want to beat them into submission to make an omelette. No, these eggs called for a starring role in their own dish, a trailer with gold star on the door and their own stunt men (stunt eggs?). Surely, these eggs needed to be in an egg curry. An egg curry that is inspired by one my friend Sailaja made us when I visited her in Chicago last year. Creamy, hard boiled eggs floating happily in a lightly spiced sauce with the bite of onions and the tang of tamarind.
Of course, if you don’t have a boss who provides you with charmingly wonky home-laid eggs, I suppose the ones from the supermarket (preferably free range) will work just fine.
1 quantity spice mix
8 small eggs or 4 large eggs
Small red onion
Small chunk (about 3cm cubed) of dried tamarind
1 hot green chilli
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 chubby garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup passata
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp chilli powder
Salt to taste
1 cup baby spinach leaves, firmly packed
Small handful chopped coriander
For the Spice Mix:
1/4 tsp Cumin
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/8 tsp mustard seeds
1/8 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/4 tsp black pepper
The insides of 3 cardamom pods
Place eggs in a large saucepan and cover well with water. Bring to the boil and simmer until eggs are hard-boiled. Drain water, allow to cool and cut eggs lengthways into halves for small eggs and into quarters for large eggs.
Soak the tamarind in 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Once the water cools, squeeze the tamarind with your hands or with a fork. Strain and retain water.
For the spice mix, place all the spices in a non-stick pan and toast over low heat until slightly browned and fragrant. Grind using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to a coarse powder.
Place 1/2 onion and whole tomato chopped roughly, half of the ginger and garlic, green chilli chopped roughly and 1 tbsp of the tamarind water in a food processer. Whizz until pureed.
Chop the other half of the onion finely. In a non-stick saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add 1/2 tsp cumin seeds and 1/4 tsp mustard seeds. Once these are popping, reduce heat and add turmeric, chilli powder and spice mix. Fry, stirring for about 2 minutes and add curry leaves (stand back as these will sizzle!). Once curry leaves are browned, add ginger, garlic and the chopped onion. Sauté the mixture until the onion is translucent, then add the pureed mixture, passata and the remaining tamarind water. Add salt to taste, about 3/4 tsp. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 mins, adding water if necessary to maintain a gravy consistency.
Reduce heat and add spinach and stir mixture until spinach wilted. Add eggs by gently placing into gravy. Stir gently, spooning gravy over eggs. Allow to simmer gently for 4-5 mins.
Serve on steamed or boiled rice with coriander sprinkled over the top.
I realise not everyone wants to be grinding spices after being at work all day. To simplify this, you can use about 1 to 1 1/2 tsp of garam masala instead of making a spice mix, but of course IMHO, freshly ground spices always taste better.
Dried tamarind is available at Indian grocery stores. If you can’t find it, you can use about 1 tsp of tamarind paste, but this may give you a darker curry.
This makes a reasonably spicy curry, so feel free to leave out the fresh chilli if your spice threshold is on the lower side of if you are feeding little ones.