Baingan-Zeera Masala


I started growing eggplant in earnest last summer. And I had such a monstrous bounty that even after giving at least half of it away we almost had more than we could cope with at home. Thankfully, eggplant is a very versatile vegetable and can be cooked in all kinds of ways and so we never tired of it. Though my readers may have, as all my recipes last September involved eggplant. And as I planted a lot of eggplant again in my community garden plot this year I find myself in a similar situation, both in our kitchen and on this blog. Four of the recipes on the poll for this month involved eggplant and it’s by a hair that we missed having another all-eggplant September: only three out of four recipes this month will feature eggplant—what a relief! Where to begin? Well, maybe with the one I made first back in August. It featured not just single garden eggplant but single plant eggplant: all of it came from one Chinese String plant in my garden. Chinese String, as the name might indicate, is a varietal that produces long thin fruit. I’d never grown or encountered it before but certainly hope I’ll be able to find it again next year as we really enjoyed it, in this preparation and others. You don’t need that specific varietal, of course—any long eggplant will do.

This recipe does not feature very many ingredients—at least by the standards of Indian home cooking. The main ingredient other than eggplant/baingan is zeera/cumin. Beyond that the only spices used are methi/fenugreek seed, cinnamon, red chilli powder and haldi/turmeric powder. Onion, ginger, garlic, vinegar and a bit of brown sugar and you’re done. The final dish is on the dry side and goes very well either on the side with rice and dal or eaten with chapatis.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb eggplant, ideally a long variety cut into thick rings
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 tspn freshly crushed ginger
  • 1 tspn freshly crushed garlic
  • The following toasted lightly over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes, cooled and ground to a coarse powder: 2 tspns zeera/cumin seed, 3/4 tspn methi/fenugreek seed, 1 small piece cassia bark/cinnamon
  • 1 tspn red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • 1 tblspn Chinkiang vinegar [affiliate link]
  • 1 tspn jaggery or dark brown sugar
  • 3-4 Thai chillies or similar, slit
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Salt
  • 4 tblspns mustard oil or neutral oil of choice
  • 2 tblspns chopped dhania/cilantro for garnish

Preparation

  1. Heat the oil in a karhai or similar over medium heat.
  2. Once the mustard oil (if using) begins to lightly smoke or whatever neutral oil you’re using begins to shimmer, add the onions and saute till softened and beginning to brown around the edges.
  3. Add the crushed ginger and garlic and saute till the raw aroma is gone.
  4. Add the eggplant, mix thoroughly and saute, stirring constantly, till the colour of the eggplant peel begins to dull.
  5. Add the haldi, the red chilli powder, the ground masala and the salt. Mix in thoroughly and saute, stirring continuously, for a few more minutes.
  6. Add the vinegar and jaggery, mix in and saute for another few minutes.
  7. Add the slit green chillies, mix in.
  8. Add the water, mix in, lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook till the eggplant pieces are softened to your liking and all the water is absorbed.
  9. Garnish with the dhania and serve.

Notes

  1. I used a pretty hot red chilli powder. That and the Thai chillies make this pretty hot but you should feel free to dial the heat down to where you’re comfortable.
  2. If you can’t find long eggplant of any kind, feel free to use diced globe eggplant—just know the pieces are not going to hold their shape.
  3. If you don’t have Chinkiang vinegar feel free to use balsamic.
  4. At step 8 you may want to uncover the pan a few times and stir to make sure nothing is sticking. Or you could just start out with 1 cup of water and reduce it after the eggplant is done by uncovering the pan and raising the heat for a bit.
  5. Yes, there’s a Reel.

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