Eggplant and Capsicum Pahi | Sri Lankan Eggplant Pickle

Eggplant and Capsicum Pahi

This Sri Lankan dish makes a great condiment used with rice, roasted vegetables or even sauteed tofu. It is traditionally cooked in a clay pot over an open flame and is a great accompaniment to other Sri Lankan and Indian dishes. But it is also really delicious on its own with steamed rice, appa (rice hoppers), or roti or paratha. It can be served warm, but is even better the next day at room temperature. It will keep in the fridge for two weeks in a sealed container.

Eggplant Pahi is both sour, sweet and spicy, and in Sinhalese it is called Wambatu Moju or Brinjal Moju. It is like a cross between a pickle and a relish and is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous dishes. The beautiful balance of sweet and sour especially makes this dish a favourite festive dish. There are many different recipes for it.

In Plenty More, Ottolenghi ventures into the world of Sri Lankan cooking with a recipe for this same sweet-sour curry that is traditionally thought of as more of a Sri Lankan style pickle. He does not elaborate on the roots of this dish which is disappointing as it is such a classic Sri Lankan dish. I used the recipe as inspiration but have altered the recipe significantly.

Some recipes, like the one that Ottolenghi uses, call for deep frying the eggplant. I admit, this is really tasty. But other recipes saute or steam the eggplant and saute the capsicum (if using) and onion. I use the latter approach in this recipe to avoid too much fried food.

I have made a couple of other adjustments. Ottolenghi has a habit of specifying curry powder – it is not nearly as precise enough, given the wide range of different curry powders that vary significantly in taste and heat levels. I have specified a Sri Lankan curry powder (unroasted)- it is very easy to make or can be purchased. Also I have added a little tamarind to supplement the tartness.

With all of the changes it is hardly his recipe any more. If you prefer his original recipes you can find them in his books or his Guardian column.

Similar dishes include Capsicums cooked in Tomato and Garlic, Pineapple and Coconut Curry, Pumpkin and Roasted Coconut Curry, and Snake Bean Curry.

Browse all of our Sri Lankan dishes and our Eggplant recipes. All of our Indian recipes are here, and our Indian Essentials are here.  Our Ottolenghi dishes from Plenty More are here, and we have written about our experiences cooking through this book. Or explore our Mid Summer recipes.

Eggplant and Capsicum Pahi

Eggplant and Capsicum Pahi

coconut oil or ghee
2 medium eggplants, halved lengthways and cut into 2.5cm slices or into long strips – if using the shorter, rounder eggplants, use 3 or 4 of them, slice them crosswise then slice each one into strips

2 onions, peeled and cut into thin wedges
4 romano or sweet banana capsicums, cut in half lengthways, seeds removed, and cut into 2cm-wide strips (or use 1 – 2 red capsicums)
1 – 2 fresh green or red chillies, sliced

0.5 tspn tamarind concentrate or 1 Tblspn tamarind paste (from soaking dried tamarind and sieving)
50ml coconut vinegar, palm vinegar, cider vinegar or white vinegar
2.5 tspn palm sugar or caster sugar
sea salt to taste

spice paste
2cm ginger, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2.5 tspn unroasted Sri Lankan Curry Powder (Thuna Paha) – very easy to make at home, or available in Sri Lankan groceries and some Fijian and Indian groceries.
0.25 tspn ground cloves
0.25 tspn ground cardamom
1 tspn ground turmeric
3 tspn black mustard seeds
3cm piece lemongrass, chopped

Place the ginger, garlic, spices, lemongrass, and curry leaves in a food processor or spice grinder, and blitz to form a paste. Set aside.

Add 2 Tblspn ghee or oil to a large frying pan or Indian kadhai and saute the eggplant for about 5 minutes. You might need to work in batches. Add about a half cup water, cover and steam the eggplant until tender. Add more water as needed but you will want only a little liquid left when the eggplant is cooked. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Heat a Tblspn ghee or oil in the frying pan or kadhai. Saute the onions, chillies and capsicums for 5 mins or until soft and tender, then add to the bowl with the eggplants. Cook in batches if necessary.

Saute the spice paste in 1 Tblspn ghee or oil over medium heat for 2 – 3 minutes, until it begins to colour. Return all the vegetables to the pan, along with the vinegar, tamarind, 60ml of boiling water, sugar and sea salt to taste. Stir gently, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 mins before serving. You can leave it with lots of sauce, or evaporate it somewhat to have a drier dish.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

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