by Kaveri Ponnapa
In an emergency, you can always rely on eggs to help you cook a big, tasty dish of curry, or to prop up a faltering meal with an improvised side dish, or a rich pickle, all without too much effort. Eggs are a solid, if unremarkable presence in most kitchens –and they never seem to get their due for all the support they provide us. The one dish that my husband could –and still can –make unassisted, from scratch, draws on hard-boiled eggs; a scattering of spices; fresh green chillies, practically crackling with intensity; copious quantities of fried onions, and best of all, a fistful of brightly scented coriander leaves. The results are incredibly good, and we always scrape the last trace of the slow-cooked sauce off our plates. Years after I first ate it and learned to cook it from him, I discovered that it was my mother-in-law’s breakfast special. And sometimes when everyone wanted a light supper, it doubled quite happily as the dinner special, usually eaten with bread or chapatis. Of course, she had the advantage of her own home-reared hens. They wandered around the yard that blended seamlessly into the coffee plantation, bobbing around, pecking industriously underneath coffee bushes. They produced the freshest organic eggs that tasted very different, so much better than a lot of what passes for food these days.
We still cook these breakfast eggs with the same enthusiasm as we always did, it’s a recipe of which one can never grow tired. Every now and then –for some reason, it’s often a Sunday morning or evening –we make the dish, and surprise ourselves by scraping the bowl clean, yet again with the same enthusiasm.
This concoction is in fact a variation on a rustic Coorg egg and potato curry that everyone made with near identical ingredients. When you simmer all the spices together for egg curry, and finally slide in a generous spoonful of thick, smooth coconut, the result is a dense, fragrant base that supports the halved hard-boiled eggs, their surfaces splashed attractively with turmeric and bright red chilli powder. Unevenly shaped, less than perfect looking, ripe country tomatoes that still carry a little sharpness untamed by the hot sun make the perfect paste for the spices that go into this country style curry, created from ingredients easily at hand. A perfectly wonderful variation on the same theme brings in a flat, Indian-style omelette loaded with green coriander leaves and green chillies, sliced into slabs and simmered in the gravy in place of the boiled eggs. With akki ottis or steamed rice, it is a complete meal. It was my grandmother’s go-to curry when unexpected guests arrived at meal times. She too, had hen-houses a short walk away from her kitchen, which probably accounted for the unforgettable flavour teased out from very ordinary ingredients.
Faced with eggs on a supermarket shelf, we are numbed to their existence by the rows and rows of neatly packed boxes that we see in prodigious quantities. In the countryside, you appreciate their value quite differently. Very often, while visiting an isolated home perched above green rice fields in a remote part of Coorg, I was offered an egg. It used to startle me at first, being asked if I would like to eat an egg at slightly odd hours of the day. I quickly got used to it, though; it took a while to realize that this was the freshest, most sustaining –and most easily portable food that one could offer a guest. If I declined to eat a freshly cooked egg, my host would quickly boil a couple of them and package them for me to carry away. The journey home was always a long walk across fields and rough tracks before you reached the road head. I remember, with some nostalgia, the number of times I have returned with a couple of hard-boiled eggs in my bag, a gift of food from my hosts. Eggs never seem to get the credit they deserve.
All Food Styling: Kaveri Ponnapa
Please look out for this recipe in my cookbook.
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