Thursday, July 26, 2007

Baingan bharta

Eggplant in any form, particularly prepared as bharta, is something most children loathe. I loathed it. My brother (who will eat anything) loathed it. Even my school bloomer pal Priya (who ate cabbage) loathed it. There was absolutely no question of trading it when it turned up like a nasty surprise in my lunchbox. Eat it I must and eat it I did but only because I worried about the questions the not-empty dabba would raise when I returned home.
I’m not sure if it was the smooth, soft texture, the brown colour, the strange seeds within it, or the unusual taste, but I think they all combined to make a singularly unappealing presentation to anyone under the age of… oh I don’t know….75? To make matters worse, my father would joke about its name “Bay-goon” (which means ‘totally and absolutely lacking value’ in Hindi) and he’d claim it had no nutritional value whatsoever.

I know that following such an introduction with a recipe for bharta may seem slightly foolish. But I include it because my feelings toward this dish, and eggplant in general, have undergone a complete transformation. Our relationship has moved well beyond this youthful hatred to a newfound love and respect. I can’t pinpoint the date, but somewhere beyond school and maybe even college, bharta began to look extremely tempting. Gone were the nitpicky observations about its plain-Jane appearance and strange consistency. I couldn’t get enough of it! I even started eating it with rotis, the way my family does, instead of my favourite rice.

Now the smokiness of the roasted eggplant, the spiciness of the garnish and the fresh taste of the green peas make it one of my favourite ghar-ka-khana dishes. And although I hear my Dad’s voice chanting Bay-goon whenever I look at an eggplant, I smile and persevere in buying and cooking it because it has a flavour that I now love and will always associate with home.

Here's how it's done (or so I've been told):

This recipe for a simple, Punjabi-style Baingan Bharta was sent to me by Darshan-aunty, who is my sister-in-law’s mother. Unlike most aunties who simply inquire about my cooking skills and the ability to feed my husband, Darshan-aunty, in the action-oriented way that she approaches many things in life, kindly sent me the recipe. This is a simple and effective recipe and can be modified easily. It turns out exactly the way I like it and can be prepared within the same hour that you’re cooking a couple of other items, like rice and dal.

Baingan Bharta:
(45min – beware my estimates for everything are not to be taken literally – but that is roughly how long it takes me, while cooking other items)

1 large eggplant
green peas (frozen ones are what I usually use)
1 onion
1-2 tomatoes (if you prefer, use 1 can of chopped tomatoes, or even omit them)
Cilantro (fresh leaves and dried powder both)
Seasonings to taste (salt, pepper, optional - red chili powder)
Green chilies (optional)

1. Cut the end of the eggplant, slice it lengthwise and place face down in a roasting pan. Roast at 350F for 20min (15-30 min- approx until the skin starts to blacken). (In India this is usually done over an open flame, but I’m too timid to venture there.)
2. While eggplants roasts, chop the onion and tomatoes (dice)
3. Heat some oil in a wok or pan, fry onions first until rosy
4. Then add tomatoes and cook the mixture until eggplant is ready (anywhere from 5-20 min works)

5. Add seasoning, green chilies, and cilantro (both) to onion-tomato mix – lower heat
6. Once eggplant skin has blackened a bit, remove from roasting pan – let it cool to room temp
7. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon and add it to the pan with onion-tomato mix
8. Cook until the flesh softens and you can break it up in the pan with a wooden spoon and mix it into the onion-tomato mix.
9. Once it’s all mixed, it’s ready – you can add a squirt of lime or lemon and some fresh cilantro to garnish before serving. Yum!


Kanchan said...

Yummo! Thanks N. That's an easier and more authentic version compared to my self-concocted one. On the bay-goon note, eggplant is allegedly a weight-loss food (minus the kilos of oil I'd imagine)! Check this out!

Nitasha said...

No way- it looks loaded with goodies - and who doesn't love the weight loss benefit!? This recipe uses hardly any oil, so you can add it to your VB diet!

Ramana said...

hi nitasha, kanchan sent me this link - yummy! since we are not invited, i think you also need to keep us up to speed with the hindi movies you all watch in your bollywood movie nights using one of those side bars called "currently watching" :)


Priya said...

perhaps we can post a menu from balle bolly night? i always want to make everything we eat afterwards...but we may have to lie about what films we watch since they aren't exactly mind-bending (pyar ke side effects, dhoom 2...)