Stovetop: Baingan Bhartha - Roasted Eggplant

February 14, 2023

Stovetop: Baingan Bhartha - Roasted Eggplant

     Americans have come to understand - love - and make Baba Ghanoush at home. It's about time you learn what I often refer to as its Indian version. Roasted eggplant mashed and cooked with delicious Indian spices. It's a mainstay on Indian menus and it's one of the simplest yet seemingly difficult dishes to make at home. While I showcase this dish in the oven try roasting your eggplant on a grill - better yet wood-fired. This way you'll get that true roasted charred flavor that this dish is known for especially when made right on a small outside oven known as a chula or small, outdoor oven. I still remember my childhood visits to my father's village Bhikhi in the heart of Punjab. In the evenings as the sun would start to settle, my dadi's (grandmother's) cook, Chota, would heat up the chula just outside of our kitchen doors. He would fan the flame for a bit - red hot embers circling around and around. We kids were instructed not to get near it. So, we'd squat outside far enough away that we would not invoke his yelling. (He had a love-hate relationship with us - we'd often love to 'help' but invariably just slowed him down.) We'd stare at the flame almost hypnotized with wonder that such a small contraption could generate so much heat. 
     Now, I make the eggplant in my oven. But, whenever I do, I remember those days sitting in our outdoor and veranda cooking up dinner with our simple tools and ingredients bought that day from market. I love that my family adores this recipe and every time I make it I wonder why it took me so long to make it again. 

Stovetop: Baingan Bhartha - Roasted Eggplant
Yield: 5 cups

3 medium eggplants with the skin (the large purple variety)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 heaping teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 large yellow or red onion, diced small
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, grated or minced
8 cloves garlic, grated or minced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled (optional) and diced
1-4 Thai or serrano chiles, stems removed and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon salt

1. Set the oven rack to the second-highest position and preheat the broiler to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil to avoid a mess later.

2. Poke a few holes in the eggplant with a fork or knife and place them on the baking sheet. Some rub the skin with oil – I don’t. Broil for 30 minutes, turning once. Remove from the oven and set aside to cook for at least 15 minutes.

3. Using a sharp knife, cut lengthwise from 1 end of each eggplant to the other, and pull open slightly. Scoop out the roasted flesh, being careful to avoid the steam and to salvage as much of the juice as possible. Place the roasted eggplant flesh in a large mixing bowl. Discard the skin.

4. In a heavy-bottomed, 4-quart saute pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the cumin seeds and cook for 40 seconds. Add the coriander and turmeric, stir, and cook for 30 seconds.

5. Add the onion to the saute pan and cook for 2 minutes, until slightly browned. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 2 minutes.

6. Add the tomatoes and fresh chiles to the saute pan and cook for 3 minutes, until the mixture softens. Add the eggplant flesh and cook, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking, for 5 minutes. Add the red chile powder and salt and stir to combine. Remove from the heat. At this point, you should also fish out and discard any stray pieces of charred eggplant skin.

7. Using an immersion or traditional blender, process the mixture. Don’t overdo it – there should still be some texture.

8. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve traditionally as an Indian meal with roti or naan.

This recipe is from my third book, Indian For Everyone, page 106. 


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