Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Recipe of the Month: Baingan Bhartha (Indian-Style Fire Roasted Eggplants)

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! 

Baingan Ka Bhartha 

Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 15 min
Total time: 45 min
Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

3 medium-sized or 1 very large eggplant/aubergine/brinjal
1 medium-sized red onion, finely chopped
1 large ripe tomato, finely chopped
5 large garlic cloves, (stuff 3 whole into the eggplants and 2 finely chopped)
2 bird's eye green chillies, chopped
a pinch of asafoetida/hing
¼ tsp red chili powder
Salt as required
1/2 tsp sugar
Coriander leaves for garnish
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Method:

1. Rinse the eggplant, pat dry with a kitchen towel and apply some oil all over the surface. Take a knife, make a long slit and wedge some garlic cloves deep into the eggplants.


2. Keep the eggplants for roasting on a wire mesh over an open medium flame. You can also grill the eggplant or roast in the oven but then you won't get the much desired smoky flavor so I wouldn't recommend it). Keep turning the eggplants every few minutes on the flame, so that it gets evenly charred.


3. Roast the eggplant till it is completely cooked and tender. Check the doneness with a knife (it should go in without resistance). Remove the eggplants and immerse in a bowl of water to cool down. 


4. Remove the blackened skin from the roasted and smoked eggplants. Give it one gentle rinse to remove the blackened bits. Make sure you don't lose or accidentally throw away the garlic pods. 


4. Chop the roasted eggplant along with the garlic pods finely or you can even mash it. I used the knife and hacked away at it like a maniac butcher! 


5. While the eggplant is roasting, you can prepare all the other ingredients as shown. After that, in a kadai or pan, heat oil. Then add asafoetida, finely chopped onions and garlic. Saute the onions till translucent.



6. Add chopped green chilies and saute for a minute.


7. Add in the chopped tomatoes and mix it well. Fry the tomatoes till the oil starts separating from the mixture.


8. Now add the red chili powder. Stir and mix well.


9. Add the chopped cooked eggplant. Add the salt and sugar and mix together very well. 


10. Stir and saute for an additional 3-4 min. Remove from heat.



11. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves (if desired).

12. Serve the baingan bharta along with with any Indian flatbread. It goes well even with crunchy toast, pita bread, plain rice or jeera rice. 


Notes:
  • Usually the large round deep purple eggplant is used to make this dish. I buy the smaller slim light purple variety from the market opposite my home because that is what is freshly available and I have developed a preference to that variety
  • You could add 1 tsp coriander (dhania) powder, 1/4 tsp turmeric (haldi) powder and 1/2 tsp garam masala powder to this dish when you add the red chilli powder. You could try both variations and see which one you prefer
  • Garlic does something amazing to this dish so I recommend you don't skimp on the garlic


Cheers,


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