Baingan Bharta is something that I was introduced to seven years ago. (Basically, ever since I started working and it was de rigueur to have lunch in the office cafeteria!). The cafeteria food sucked. And day after day it was pure torture to let the undercooked, over spiced, all-round-sad food enter our mouths. I could have opted to take a lunchbox from home, but it was just too much work in the morning. (Besides, in those days I thought I was too cool for a lunch box!). So it was almost a godsend when a little Dhaba (highway or roadside restaurant; very popular in the North of India) opened up next to office. This was run by a Punjabi family who served home style meals at a modest price. (Which suited our pockets just fine!). They had a fixed menu written on a black board everyday and fixed quantities that would run out if you reached later than 1:30 pm. So we religiously moved our lunch break to 12:30pm and ensured we got the pick of the loot. He made Baingan Bharta every Tuesday and every North Indian worth their salt would be queued up to order it. I thought it looked pedestrian really – bowl of red-yellow mash of aubergines. Give me my Matar Paneer anyday! Then it happened eventually…one day I was forced to order the Baigan Bharta because the Paneer ran out. And the rest as they say is history!
I love the smokey flavor of the aubergine and the tang of the tomato. Someone really worked on getting the ingredient combo right! Every region or house in India has their own secret recipe for Banigan Bharta so I can’t really claim that this is the best or the most authentic. But my dear cook Kumudh has churned this out atleast once every week for the past three years – so rest assured that it’s good. (I had to beg her for the recipe and only after telling her that it’s going to go on the ‘Computer’ did she allow it). So all credit to Kumudh for this one – she monitored me like a hawk when I made it!
(Recipe from my cook Kumudh)
Prep time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
What you need:
1 Med-Large Purple Aubergine/ Eggplant/ Baingan
1 large Onion, chopped
2 Med Tomatoes, chopped
2 Green Chillies, chopped
1 tsp Ginger-Garlic Paste
½ tsp Cumin seeds (Jeera)
3 Tbsp Oil
1 tsp Chilli Powder
1 tsp Coriander Powder (dhaniya powder)
Salt to taste
Coriander leaves to garnish
What to do:
Wash and dry the Aubergine (Baingan). Make 4 vertical slits in the skin and prick the rest with a fork. (Keep the stem on, it will help in holding and moving the aubergine around). Now place the aubergine on a grill rack on an open flame. (I use the flame from my gas stove). If you have a charcoal grill – that will work as well and add a more smokey dimension to aubergine. Keep turning periodically to ensure all parts of the aubergine come in contact with the flame. The objective is to get the pulp inside nice and soft. The outer skin will start flaking and charring. (That’s the point!). When liquid/ moisture starts oozing out of the eggplant, you know that it’s starting to cook. (But not cooked yet…) You know that it’s done when it feels soft to touch in all areas and you can slide a knife in, without any resistance.
Now take off the flame and remove the charred skin with a bread knife. It will come off easily. For the stubborn parts that are still stuck to the pulp, just wash the aubergine under the tap to ensure its clean. Take the stem off and mash the aubergine to a pulp with a fork. If it was cooked well, it will give in easily.
Now for the easy part. Heat the oil in a kadai (wok) and toss in the cumin seeds. Add the ginger-garlic paste and chillies and fry for a few seconds. Now add the chopped onions in. (Sprinkle a pinch of salt to ensure it fries faster). Saute for 5 mins or till the onion starts turning brown. Add coriander and chilli powder and sauté for 2 mins.
Now add the chopped tomatoes, stir and close with a lid. Keep it on for 5 mins or till the oil starts separating from the mixture. (I peaked once or twice to check that it’s not burning – I don’t have the confidence of my cook!)
Now all we need to do is mix the aubergine mash with the mixture on the stove. Saute for a minute till it looks well blended. Check the seasoning. Take off the stove, garnish with some chopped coriander leaves and enjoy with hot rotis.