Indian Lunchbox: Egg Curry

Lately I have been rediscovering old flavors from my childhood. Growing up, I definitely was not a picky eater, but there were certain things that I wasn’t too fond of. One of them was egg curry. Boiled eggs were fine on their own, but for some reason I just couldn’t get to eating them simmered in a spicy brown gravy. It’s quite odd because when I look back, I can’t even think of any good reason as to why I didn’t like it. My entire family loved it. In fact, back in India, egg curry would be a special treat in any tiffin daba. For those of you wondering what that is, a tiffin daba is a steel container in which the housewives of Mumbai pack lunches for their husbands. Now an Indian housewife is just as busy as any a housewife anywhere else in the world, and hence she does not have the time to venture through Mumbai’s insane traffic to personally hand deliver lunch to her husband at work. Rather she hands over the boxes to a dabbawala,  literally meaning “boxman”,who along with others uses a system of trains, bikes, and good memory to transport these meals from the home to the office, where they arrive at the desk, still piping hot. Looking at how these men manage to coordinate such a massive operation without any computers or cellphones baffles me. It makes appreciate this ancient art, and heck even I would personally be very excited if a steaming bowl of egg curry appeared on my desk during lunch hour.

They say you won’t know how something is until you try it for yourself. For me that meant making the egg curry with my own hand. For some reason, I was blown away this time, and it’s not due to a personal bias toward one’s own cooking, but more so a better appreciation of the entire process. Egg curry really is a brilliant thing. As most families in India can only afford to eat meat once a week, curries like these become wonderful ways to use those similar spices and the eggs replace the meat as a cheap protein source. The cooking process is just as magnificent too. Wet masalas form the base of a lot of curries in India, but when you cook them out, the moisture evaporates. What results is perfectly caramelized mixture blooming with the concentrated flavors of the aromatic vegetables and spices. I added desiccated coconut to take this curry in a more South Indian direction, which I might even intensify next time by adding mustard seeds and curry leaves. I could even see this masala serving as a great base for a tofu or shrimp curry. It looks as if the possibilities are endless just as much as my new-found enjoyment of dish will continue for many years to come.

Recipe: Egg Curry

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 medium red potatoes, diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 green chilies, chopped fine
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 cup frozen, desiccated coconut
  • 6-8 large eggs, hard-boiled
  • fresh cilantro, to garnish
  • salt to taste

Method

Heat some oil in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cloves and bay leaves and allow them to crackle in the oil for a minute or so. Then add the onions and cook until beginning to soften. Then add the green chilies, ginger, and garlic and cook until the onions have softened. Add the cumin, coriander, and turmeric and sweat with the mixture. Once the mixture begins to dry up, add the tomatoes and desiccated coconut. Cook out the masala over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the most of the moisture has evaporated and the oil has separated, about 15 minutes. Then add about 2 cups of water and the potatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer over low heat till the potatoes are tender, about 35-40 minutes. Then add the hard-boiled eggs and simmer the mixture for an additional 5-10 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro and season to taste with salt. Serve warm with rice, chapatis, or some crusty bread.

Cooking Notes

  • Desiccated coconut is also known as shredded coconut and is available in Indian grocery stores and larger supermarkets. If you would prefer a creamier curry, you can omit it and replace it with a 15 oz can of unsweetened coconut milk.
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