Garam Masala Tuesdays: Baingan ka Bharta
Marriage changes you. It influences your personality, and your responsibilities and priorities change. Your partner’s personality rubs off on you a little and vice versa. I have definitely become more calm, and patient after marriage. Things that would bother me earlier, still do bother me, but to a lesser extent. I would not attribute all the changes to V, although his role is undeniable, but marriage brought with it certain changes which have changed me, for the better. So, yes marriage changed me.
Marriage also changes your eating habits. I have seen a change in what V eats. He has started accepting mushrooms in his diet- he is still not crazy about them but has made his peace with mushrooms. All for me.
I too have adjusted my taste buds to his. From someone who wouldn’t touch bharta with a ten-foot pole, here I am writing about it on GMT.
Baingan bharta is a dish made from roasted eggplants cooked with onions, tomatoes, chillies, ginger and garlic. Some people also add peas and other various vegetables to it.
Baingan (pronounced bane-gun) is what Indians call eggplant in hindi. And bharta (pronounced bhharta with the first “a” in bharta pronounced the same way you pronounce “u” in mud. Pardon me, but phonetic symbols are not my strongest point!), is the hindi word for roughly mashed/pureed vegetables.
This dish can be prepared two ways with roasted eggplant – one with accompanying raw ingredients which typically includes mustard oil and the other with cooked ingredients. The recipe below uses the latter method.
Honestly Baingan ka bharta was my least favorite dish growing up. It was hardly made at home, and when made, I never ate it. I wanted to like it, because eggplants are good for you, but I just found it too slimy to look at.
Just before getting married to V, I remember asking him about his all-time favorite dishes. I had no experience in cooking, and wanted to learn a few Indian dishes before I got married, since I knew the place V stayed (and I would consequently be staying in) had no place to order Indian food from. The only way to eat Indian was to make Indian.
And what better things to learn than my husband’s favorite dishes.
Or so I thought!
V told me his all time favorite dishes were toovar dal, and baingan ka bharta! As they say, opposites attract. These were two of my least favorite dishes. But, once married, I made them, and since I was not going to slog more in the kitchen and make something different for me, I also ate these dishes. A lot. And slowly, I started enjoying them.
Whenever V goes home, his mom makes toovar dal and baingan ka bharta for lunch almost everyday. It gets a little frustrating for me, but V has no complaints. That’s how much he likes this dish. So I really wanted to get this dish right. I had trouble initially making bharta, but when V’s mom was here, she taught me her way and with a few tweaks to her original recipe, I have found a recipe that I very much like.
The origin of this dish is explained by Madhur Jaffrey in her book An Invitation to Indian Cooking .
Until the advent of gas, most cooking in India was done on wood or coal, and one of the waste products of wood and coal is ash. Not wishing to waste even a waste product (now you know why I hate throwing away anything), people would roast food in the ashes while cooking on top of the flame. One vegetable that was roasted as such was eggplant. Once roasted, it was peeled and the inside was either mixed with chopped raw onions, fresh mint and yogurt or cooked further with onions and tomatoes.
Of course, today’s kitchens are not equipped with traditional cooking methods, but a good enough substitute can be found by roasting the eggplant directly on the top of a stove over an open flame. Most Indians do it this way, but I find it too messy. You can limit the mess by inserting an aluminium burner liner before you start. But, mess aside, it takes me too long for the eggplant to become tender, even after it is charred on all sides. I find that broiling the eggplant in the oven, is a quicker and less messy way to roast the eggplant.
To broil, I put a rack on the top, right below the broiler. I baste the skin of the eggplant with some oil, and make some slits in the eggplant. I place it on the top rack. Just below the top rack, I place another rack. On it, I place a baking tray lined with aluminium foil and place the garlic on it. The baking tray helps to catch any juice that the eggplant leaves, thus keeping the oven clean. I make sure that the flame touches the eggplant, ensuring you get the same smoky flavor results as you do when roasting over a flame.
I generally follow this recipe, with slight few changes, but this time I thought I would roast a red pepper along with the eggplant, and instead of using a whole tomato, substitute half of it with the roasted red pepper. Since I am not really high on the whole food connoisseur scale, I am not an expert to tell you the difference, all I can mention is that it did taste good. But, I don’t think there was that big a difference to justify buying a red pepper for just making this dish. But if you do have a red pepper on hand, it won’t hurt roasting it along with the eggplant and using it in this dish.
BAINGAN KA BHARTA
Smoky, spicy, nutty, savory, all with a touch of sweetness that’s what a baingan ka bharta tastes like. It’s not the prettiest thing to look at, but don’t go by its looks, its quite a mean dish! Its amazing how the simple act of roasting these vegetables releases a complexity of awesome flavors.
The recipe below is my mom-in-laws. She generally uses onions for making this dish, but sometimes uses spring onions. I prefer using spring onions. (I maybe biased as spring onions don’t make me tear up like onions do) My mom-in-law also adds cubes of tomatoes and sliced ginger right at the end, barely sautéing it. Her reasoning is that, when you add the ginger and the tomatoes right at the end, and let the steam cook it, you are able to get the individual taste of the ginger, tomatoes and the eggplant, making the dish really flavorful. This dish is served best with Indian breads like poori or chapatti, but can be eaten with loaf bread as well, or rice.
- 1 Italian eggplant
- 4-6 cloves of garlic
- 1 tbsp oil (preferably mustard oil)
- 5 tbsp spring onions, chopped
- 2-3 green chillies, finely chopped (deseeded, if you do not want the heat)
- 1 tsp red chilli powder (optional)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 ” piece ginger
- 1/2 small roma tomato and 3 tbsp chopped roasted red pepper (see post above, if not using roasted red pepper, just use 1 small tomato)
- 2-3 tsp freshly chopped cilantro/coriander leaves
- Salt to taste
- Cut the tomatoes into big cubes. Peel the ginger and grate half of it and slice the rest.
- Wash the eggplant. Slit it and baste the eggplant well.
- In a preheated broiler set at high, add a rack at the top level, closest to the broiler flame. Put another rack just below the top rack. Place a baking tray lined with aluminium foil. Place the garlic cloves on the baking tray. On the top rack, place the eggplant and let it broil till the skin is charred. Keep turning the eggplant to ensure even charring. The tray below, ensures that the juices from eggplant do not fall in the oven. Since the garlic will brown before the eggplant, remove accordingly. Remove the eggplant once roasted and tender.
- Peel the outer burnt layer, making sure you keep the juices intact while doing so. Mash with the garlic in a bowl. Keep aside
- Heat oil in a pan. Add spring onions, green chillies, and lightly saute. Add the roasted eggplant-garlic and mash thoroughly. Cook till color changes.
- Add red chilli powder, turmeric powder, salt and coriander powder. Cook for a few more seconds.
- Once the eggplant is cooked, add the tomatoes and ginger and very lightly saute. Remove from fire. Cover and keep. After a few minutes open and mix in the finely chopped cilantro.
- Serve hot with chapati/poori.