God, I hated the sight of baingan bharta as a kid! I had, as I’ve said before, a huge aversion to eggplant that continued into adulthood and indeed only ended a few years ago. And no preparation of the vegetable was more repulsive to me than this dish: the mashed baingan, replete with seeds, looking like the insides of some disgusting squashed creature.
Well, now that I’ve got your appetite stimulated, here’s the general way in which I’ve been making the dish since I suddenly started eating eggplant. You have to understand, as I always say about dishes from the vast Indian home cooking repertoire, that baingan bharta is a genre more than a specific dish. It involves mashed eggplant, ideally first charred, and then cooked with onions and spices. In its simplest form it can be nothing more than roasted eggplant mashed with chopped onion and chillies and salt. More involved iterations bring in different combinations of spices. It’s very common to add tomatoes as well. But in most versions the goal is to let the smoky flavour of the charred and peeled eggplant remain the star of the show. This is the case in this recipe as well. I use a mix of black peppercorn and fresh green chillies for heat and balsamic vinegar rather than tomatoes as the souring agent. Give it a go and see what you think.
- 1 globe eggplant, about1 lb or so
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 1 tspn freshly crushed garlic
- 1 tspn freshly crushed ginger
- 1/2 tspn haldi
- The following lightly toasted, cooled and ground: 2 tspns cumin, 1 tspn coriander seed, 1 tspn black peppercorn, 1/2 tspn methi, 1 large Kashmiri chilli
- 1-2 Thai chillies, minced
- 2 tblspns balsamic vinegar
- 1 tblspn jaggery or brown sugar
- Chopped chives or cilantro for garnish.
- Salt to taste
- 2-3 tblspns oil
- Roast the eggplant with stem still on, ideally over charcoal or otherwise over a gas flame, till the peel is completely blackened all over and splitting. Set aside to cool. Once cool enough to work with cut the hard stem end off and remove the charred peel. Chop the eggplant with a knife till it resembles a coarse puree.
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a karhai or wok or other pan of choice and when it shimmers add the chopped onion; saute till the onion has softened but not browned too much.
- Add the ginger and garlic and saute till the raw aroma is gone.
- Add the haldi, the ground spices and salt, mix in and saute for another minute or two.
- Add the vinegar and jaggery, mix and stir for a minute or so.
- Add the chopped eggplant and minced chillies to the pan and mix in thoroughly.
- Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for another 5-7 minutes.
- Garnish with the chives or cilantro and serve with dal and rice or chapatis.
- The flavour of this dish is best when the eggplant has been charred over charcoal but no matter how you char it don’t be a stickler for getting every last bit of charred peel off—you want the extra smoke.
- If the balsamic vinegar seems like a bridge too far to you by all means use chopped tomato instead. Add 1/2-1 cup at step 5 and make sure you cook it down before adding the eggplant.
- If you don’t use vinegar you can probably leave out the jaggery too.
- Resist the temptation to make this too hot via red chilli powder or to up the masala significantly.
- I also make a version in which I add some water to the pan after mixing the eggplant in and cook it longer to a much softer and smoother consistency. I’ve been known to serve that as a dip with tortilla chips.
P.S: I usually have a whisky review on Wednesdays and recipes on Thursdays. The order is flipped this week. I’ll have whisky reviews tomorrow and on Friday.