Who isn’t a fan of Sundakkai, those little bursts of crunch and flavour, also known as the Pea Eggplant. Pea-sized they are, but pack a punch in the flavour department. They are also called Turkey Berry, Devil’s Fig, Prickly Nightshade, Shoo-shoo Bush, and Wild Eggplant.
Fresh Sundakkai are used in dishes such as Sambar, Kuzhambu, Poritha Kuzhambu and Kootu. They are also sun-dried, a salty, slightly bitter vathal that can be used in Rasam, Sambar and Kuzhambu. I also like to powder the dried ones, after sauteing, and use quite untraditionally as a sprinkle over non-Indian salads and other dishes.
This dish is a Sambar made with the sundakkai. You will find it delicious with wonderful flavours. The Turkey Berries first need to be picked from their stems. This is the sort of job that is similar to shelling peas or peeling broad beans – best done while watching your favourite show on TV or sitting outside in the sunshine. Then rinse them well in cold water.
Are you after other Sundakkai dishes? We are planning others, so check back here when you get a chance.
While in some other countries, the Pea Egglants are cooked whole, in South India it is common to split them. This allows some of the seeds to fall out, removing some of the bitterness of the dish. It also stops the “Thai problem” that some Thai friends mentioned in conversation – the juices inside a whole pea eggplant can get so hot that when you bite into them your mouth gets burnt.
0.75 cup toor dal, soaked for an hour or more, or overnight
0.5 cup turkey berries, picked from the stems
1 tspn turmeric powder
1 onion, finely chopped
1 – 2 medium tomatoes, pureed
0.5 tspn Indian chilli powder, or to taste
2 tspn roasted sambar powder (see note below recipe)
1 small lime sized ball of dried tamarind soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
1 tspn brown mustard seeds
1 tspn cumin seeds
3 Indian dried red chilli
pinch of asafoetida powder
10 – 12 curry leaves
2 tspn ghee or Indian Sesame Oil
Rinse the toor dal well, and cook in fresh water until very soft and mushy and is disintegrating. This can take from 40 mins to 60 mins, sometimes more, depending on the age and quality of the toor dal. I don’t mind this slow cooking of the dal, but many people will use a pressure cooker. Add turmeric to the cooking dal part way through the cooking.
Wash the turkey berries and drain. Using a mortar and pestle, crush the berries a little. Keep them aside.
Strain the tamarind, pushing the pulp through the sieve and discarding the fibres and seeds. Keep the strained tamarind aside.
Heat the ghee in a kadhai and add the mustard seeds and let them pop. Add the cumin seeds while they are popping Add the asafoetida, then the red chillies, and then the curry leaves – let them sizzle. Then add the onion and saute until golden brown.
Now add the crushed sundakkai and saute them for 3 or 4 minutes. Add the pureed tomatoes, salt, a little chilli powder and sambar powder. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes.
Add the dal and the strained tamarind. Add water to form the desired consistency and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat, cover and allow to stand for 3-4 minutes. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with rice.
recipe notes and alternatives
If you are using a sambar powder where the spices were roasted during the making of the powder, add it as directed in the recipe. If your sambar powder is not roasted, add it to the sundakkai after 2 or 3 minutes and continue sauteing for another 3 minutes.
You can usually tell if your sambar powder was roasted or not by the colour (deeper colour if it is roasted) and the depth of the aroma.