Baghare baingan is a classic Hyderabadi dish of eggplant stuffed with a tangy masala and cooked in a gravy redolent of tamarind. Despite having spent three years in Hyderabad before I turned 18, however, I never actually ate it there. This because I only started eating baingan/eggplant a couple of years ago, randomly, suddenly overcoming a lifelong aversion. Since then it has predictably become one of my favourite vegetables. I cook it often and order eggplant dishes from Indian and Chinese restaurants every opportunity I get. Eggplant dishes featuring a large dose of tamarind abound in southern India but none quite do it for me like a good preparation of baghare baingan. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I make the best baghare baingan I’ve ever had but it’s not bad at all. This is largely because it is basically the recipe from Bilkees Latif’s The Essential Andhra Cookbook, another in that excellent series released by Penguin India a couple of decades ago (that’s an affiliate link). I don’t follow the recipe to the letter and always leave out two ingredients but it comes out very well anyway. What follows is how I make it—the few departures from the original are listed in brackets in the ingredients list and in the notes. (The steps in the preparation are my language.)
- Small round eggplants, just over 1 lbs. They should be stemmed and soaked in salt water for 30 minutes. Drain, make two slits in each crosswise, almost all the way to the stem end and set aside.
- 1 large red onion, thinly sliced [3 onions, finely sliced in the original]
- The following dry-roasted over medium-low heat, cooled and then grind them together: 1 tblspn each cumin, poppy and coriander seeds [2.5 tspns each in the original), 2 tblspns peanuts [12 peanuts in the original], 1 tblspn sesame seeds, 1/2 tspn each fenugreek and mustard seeds, 1 large piece cassia bark/cinnamon [2 1″ pieces in the original] and 3 tblspns dessicated shredded coconut [1/8 dried coconut in the original]
- 1/2 tspn haldi
- 1 tblspn red chilli powder
- 1 tblspn tamarind pulp soaked in 1 cup hot water for about 30 minutes, then squeezed thoroughly to extract all the tamarind goodness [“a fistful of tamarind” in the original…]
- 1 tspn fresh ginger paste
- 1 tspn fresh garlic paste
- 1 sprig curry leaves [10 curry leaves in the original]
- 1 tspn jaggery or brown sugar [not in the original]
- Oil, 1/2 cup [1 cup in the original]
- Salt to taste
- Water, 2 cups [Not specified in the original]
- Heat 2-3 tblspns of oil over medium heat in a pan large enough to later accommodate all the eggplants in one layer and when shimmering add the onions and saute them till browned and set aside.
- Once cooled a little, puree the browned onions.
- Mix the onion puree, the roasted and ground spice mix, the red chilli powder and 1 tspn of salt and stuff the mixture into the slit eggplants. Don’t overdo it—there should be a good amount of the spice paste left over (set it aside).
- Heat the remaining oil over medium-low heat and add the curry leaves.
- As soon as the leaves become glossy (<30 seconds) add the ginger and garlic pastes and the turmeric and saute till the raw aroma is gone (about a minute).
- Add the leftover spice paste, mix in and saute for another couple of minutes.
- Gently add all the stuffed eggplants to the pan and saute carefully till the eggplant skins have gone from purple to brown—turn them over carefully as you go from time to time.
- Once the eggplants have changed colour (don’t be too much of a stickler about this) add the squeezed tamarind pulp through a strainer, pushing down to get as much of the tamarind goodness into the pan as you can.
- Add two cups of water and the jaggery, mix it all in gently—mostly by shaking the pan—and simmer till the eggplants are tender and the oil begins to separate.
- Serve with rice or parathas along with some dal and a meat curry of some kind
- Latif’s recipe calls for 1 tspn chironji to also be part of the roasting and grinding step but I never have any in my pantry. She also calls for the optional use of bojwar masala, which I have never seen (bojwar, I think, is another name for dagad phool).
- I don’t know what’s up with the fistful of tamarind in her ingredients list. She may have very tiny fists. Unless you do too I would not recommend a fistful of tamarind.
- The recipe calls for three onions. Indian onions are quite a bit smaller than American onions and so I use one large red onion.
- I use far less oil than called for—and for what it’s worth, her recipe calls for less oil than many others I’ve seen! It probably would be even better with more oil and if I were cooking for a large gathering I’d do that—but for a dish to be eaten by two adults over a few days there is no reason to be so unhealthy.
- In the original only 1 cup of water is added at step 9 of the preparation. I like to start out with more and simmer it down.
- As you might expect, there are many different takes on baghare baingan. Some make it with a lot of gravy, some make it more on the dry side (as here). Some add tomato. The proportions of the spices differ as do the exact spices used. The constants (usually) are the tamarind, the peanuts, the sesame seeds and the coconut. In some recipes the eggplant is slit and partially fried first before being stuffed and returned later to the pan. Find an approach that works for you.
- As with most Indian dishes involving tamarind this will taste even better on the second day after the flavours have “pickled” a bit.