Hot and Sour Baingan Masala


This recipe was on the poll for September and October and it’s time has now come. I improvized it in early August when the flood of eggplant from my community garden plot was in full flow and variety in preparation was needed to keep exhaustion at bay. It turned out so well that I made it a few more times before the growing season ended in October. My eggplant of choice for this was a variety I grew for the first time this year: Little Finger. These plants produce a profusion of very dark purple eggplants that are 3-6 inches in length and tubular in shape. As they’re not commercially available—unless there’s a specialty grower at a farmers’ market near you—you can happily substitute whatever long eggplant you do have access to. Alas, globe eggplant, either cut into rings or cubed, is not optimal for this dish as you want the eggplant pieces to hold their shape and not begin to melt into the sauce. You begin by stir-frying the sliced eggplants, setting them aside, making the wet masala and adding the fried eggplant back in for the last step. While the first step requires constant stir-frying for 10 minutes or so, it is, on the whole, a simple and quick recipe—and I think you’ll find it’s very delicious. Great with pulao or with chapatis or parathas; and excellent as both a side dish or the star of the show.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs long eggplant, halved lengthwise (and cut in two if longer than 5 inches)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 tspn freshly crushed ginger
  • 1 tspn freshly crushed garlic
  • 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • The following ground together into a coarse powder: 1 tblspn zeera/cumin seeds; 1 tspn coriander seed; 1 tspn methi/fenugreek seed; 1 tspn fennel seed; 3/4 tspn black peppercorn; 1 tspn hot red chilli powder
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tblspn balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tblspn jaggery/dark brown sugar
  • 2 cups water fresh off the boil
  • 3-5 Thai chillies, slit
  • 2-3 tblspns chopped dhania/cilantro
  • Salt
  • 2+2 tblspns oil, ideally mustard oil

Preparation

  1. Heat 2 tblspns of oil over medium-high heat in a deep pan and when beginning to smoke (if using mustard oil) or when it shimmers (if using avocado/grapeseed oil or similar), add the sliced eggplant.
  2. Stir-fry the eggplant for 10-12 minutes, tossing continuously till it has begun to soften and the cut sides have begun to brown evenly. Remove to a bowl and hold.
  3. Heat 2 more tblspns of oil over medium heat in the pan and, when ready as above, add the onions. Saute the onions, stirring often, for 10-15 minutes or till nicely browned around the edges.
  4. Add the ginger and garlic, mix in and saute for a minute or two or till the raw aroma is gone.
  5. Add the haldi and the ground spices, mix in and saute for another minute.
  6. Add the crushed tomatoes and salt, mix in and saute till you have an aromatic sludge in the pan and the oil begins to separate.
  7. Add the balsamic vinegar and jaggery and mix in.
  8. Add the water, mix in and cook at a high simmer for 5 minutes or so.
  9. Return the fried eggplant to the pan and mix in.
  10. Add the Thai chillies.
  11. Bring to a simmer, cover the pan and cook for 10-12 minutes or till the eggplant slices have softened completely but are still holding their shape.
  12. Uncover, stir and reduce till the sauce is thickened and just barely pourable.
  13. Garnish with the dhania and serve.

Notes

  1. Aromatic Sludge is the name of my R&B band.
  2. You can adjust the heat down by using a mild red chilli powder or reducing the number of hot green chillies you use (but do add some as they give a fruity fragrance to the dish).
  3. Yes, there’s a Reel.

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