Eggplant also known as brinjal, aubergine or baingan in hindi is the gorgeous shiny purple-skinned vegetable that is familiar to most of us. Eggplants are used commonly in Indian cooking. As far back as I can remember, I have always nurtured a fondness for eggplants. A lot of people carry a great deal of dislike for this versatile vegetable and I for one cannot fathom why!
Eggplants are widely used in my native cuisine. There are quite a few dishes made from eggplant that are my absolute favourites. I love our traditional Udupi-style gulla bolu huli or kodhel (eggplant sambhar), gulla bajji (smoky eggplant mash), gulla palya (stir-fried eggplant) & gulla dosa (eggplant pancake). My paternal grandmother would make the most scrumptious dishes out of mattu gulla (the green round variety of eggplant). If you were wondering, eggplant is called gulla in my mother tongue Tulu. My husband shares my love for this vegetable so the afore-mentioned items feature heavily in my routine day-to-day cooking. Apart from that, I love eggplant in vangi bhath (eggplant rice), badane ennegayi (stuffed eggplant in a peanut-based gravy), baingan bhartha (Indian-style fire roasted eggplants), bharwan baingan (stuffed baby eggplants), any other form of eggplant curry/side-dish and also in International dishes like moussaka, eggplant parmigiana, ratatouille, Chinese-style stir-fried eggplant with garlic sauce, & baba ganoush. I may be missing a few more stellar eggplant dishes but they'll come back to me later. Come to think of it, there is no form of eggplant that I have not liked so far. This vegetable can do no wrong in my books!
Now that my long-standing affinity to this vegetable has been firmly established, let me tell you a bit more about this recipe. Baingan bhartha is the Indian cousin of the Middle Eastern baba ganoush. The origins of this dish can be attributed to Punjabi cuisine. To make this dish, eggplants are roasted on an open flame until the surface is charred and the insides are soft and then they are skinned. mashed and cooked along with onions, tomatoes, garlic, fresh chillies and spices. The end product looks like a exotic dip and has a heady smoky aroma. Although the traditional method calls for a charcoal based tandoor to roast the eggplant, that isn't feasible in our everyday kitchen so the recipe has been adapted to suit the stove-top method of roasting.
Before leaving to India, I was scouting around the fridge wondering what to cook for dinner when I came across three slim purple eggplants (that I had forgotten all about). I wanted to make something new or else something I hadn't made in a very long time so the idea of making baingan bhartha popped into my mind. I wasn't even able to remember the last time I made this dish. The main reason is because I'm a little lazy when it comes to roasting veggies on an open flame. It takes time and it is a little messy so I try to avoid it whenever possible. In our household, it is my hubby who is the fire-roaster (if that even is a word). He is the one who will take the time to patiently char the vegetables (mainly eggplant & bell peppers) on an open flame until they get cooked and turn smokily awesome and then cool, peel and chop them to be used in the dish of our choice. Anyway, on that particular day, I was feeling rather motivated so even though he wasn't around to do the dirty work, I went ahead with making this dish.
I wanted the smoky flavour of the eggplant to be the highlight of this recipe so I didn't mask it with any spice powders. This recipe is simple to put together and showcases the amazing flavour of the fire roasted eggplant. I served it with freshly made phulkas and it was super yummy!
I will be making this dish more often since I realized that open flame roasting isn't such a big deal as I made it out to be after all. It didn't even take as much time as I thought. So if you have some of the same concerns that I did, I hope I have coaxed you to change your mind!
If you love eggplants, you will love this dish and if you don't love eggplants, you might just become a convert so try it either way!