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The Meaning Of Dinner

A dinner can be many things.

Clearly it fills a functional need because we must eat to live and sometimes (maybe too often) that’s more or less all dinner gets to be. Too many people seem to lead busy, busy lives that don’t create a space for what we know dinner can and should be…

  • It can be a family or community ritual.
  • It can be a special occasion, celebratory thing.
  • It can be a manifestation of our cultural identity (as discussed in Tangled Noodle’s thoughtful posts on ethnicity and food identity, which you can read here).

And it can be a way of saying things without words.

Take last night. We had our Australian friend JB over for dinner. JB is in the position of having to reluctantly return home soon, due to that thing that gets referred to in the abstract as the “global economic downturn” but that has a very local and very real effect on many people I know.

The dinner was many things. It was a way of treating JB to some good, homecooked food. She’s been stressed and busy in a way that I suspect has not been conducive to her making good meals for herself. It was a way for her to unwind, with some obligatory glasses of red wine to accompany the food. It was a way for us to enjoy each others company, as we’ve done many times over the past couple of years, and (though nobody said so) sharing this simple thing will soon become physically impossible due to the fact that 12,000 miles will separate us.

As for the food itself, we had a coconut milk curry with aubergine and potatoes, creamy and soothing, real comfort food. Did it matter that the accompanying appams (rice and coconut pancakes) did not turn out at all like in the recipe? It mattered not one whit. They were a tasty, sticky mass of ground rice and coconut that took the curry even further into the comfort food zone and us with it.

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Aubergine, Potato and Tomato Curry for JB


This is a recipe slightly adapted from one in Atul Kochhar’s lovely Indian Essence. It’s aromatic and melt-in-the-mouth.

The Fresh Stuff:
  • About 450g aubergine
  • About 450g potato
  • About 150g cherry tomatoes
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • coriander leaves for garnish
The Sauce and Spice:
  • 1 x 400g tin coconut milk
  • 5cm cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3 tblsp coriander seeds
  • 4-5 dried red chilies
  • 5-6 fresh, or 10 dried, curry leaves
  • 1.5 tsp salt (or to taste)
The Steps:
  • If you can get baby aubergines for this, then just slice them in half lengthways. Otherwise, slice regular aubergines into discs about 1cm thick. I usually salt them at this stage so that they don’t absorb quite so much oil (so, scatter the slices with salt, leave for 30 minutes or so, then rinse and pat dry). Then cut the slices into bite-size pieces.
  • Peel the potatoes, cut into large chunks and parboil for 8-10 minutes
  • Finely chop the onion and garlic
  • Heat some oil in a pan and add the cinnamon stick, fennel seeds and curry leaves. Saute for a minute or two, until they start to crackle.
  • Add the onion and garlic to the pan and saute on a medium heat until softened and browned.
  • Meanwhile, toast the coriander seeds for a few minutes in a dry frying pan, then crush using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
  • Add the coriander seeds and dried chilies, also crushed, to the pan and saute for another minute or two.
  • Add the aubergine and potato and fry for a few minutes until the aubergine starts to soften.
  • Halve the tomatoes and add to the pan, along with the coconut milk, salt and some water to thin the sauce a little.
  • Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the aubergines are soft (maybe about 10 minutes for baby aubergines, about 20-25 for larger aubergines to get good and soft).
  • Garnish with chopped fresh coriander leaves and serve with rice or appams.
The Portions:
  • About 5 good-sized helpings.


  1. Tangled Noodle

    Thank you so much for the link to my post! I’m so pleased and flattered that you enjoyed it. Hopefully, it won’t take us long to post the next entry.

    Your final paragraph captures that intangible power of food to nourish more than the physical self. It sounds like you and your friends had a marvelous feast.

  2. Giff (constables larder)

    i love this recipe. definitely want to try this.

  3. Daily Spud

    Funnily enough, Saturday was actually my first time to make this particular curry (though I do make curries quite a lot). I’ve loved pretty much everything I’ve made from Atul Kochhar’s book, so I knew it wouldn’t disappoint!

  4. Fearless Kitchen

    This dish looks absolutely delicious. It was very sweet of you to cook such a nice dinner for your friend.

    Food – especially dinner – has been used in my family as a kind of wordless embrace for generations. My grandmother was especially fond of cooking up a nice meal of something tasty any time something was going wrong, and after funerals the grieving family doesn’t need to cook for months (assuming they have the freezer capacity, of course.)

  5. Daily Spud

    I like that tradition of making food for people at such times. A very real kind of comfort food.

  6. Peppercorn Press

    Some of the best times I have had with friends and family have been over a meal. Since scent plays such an enormous role in invoking memories of the past, food is the perfect way to celebrate and just “be” together. Later, detecting a familiar sweet or savory aroma can bring back those wonderful memories.

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