Sunday, March 11, 2012

Baingan ka Bartha - Smoky & Spicy Eggplant Mash

Dear Foodies,

Here is another recipe featuring the King of vegetables and with that it makes its second appearance on this blog (here is the first!). Over the last two years I've slowly but steadily tried to get past my dislike for this veggie by trying various recipes with it. The latest favorite is this spicy, smoky version that is almost mandatory on most Indian restaurant menus. It can be thought if as a spicier cousin of the Lebanese Baba Ghanouj and I definitely like this version better.

Eggplant/Brinjal is unique among other vegetables because it can handle a lot of spices and still hold its own.  Baingan Bartha translates to mashed eggplant and for this dish the larger eggplants are ideal since they have more flesh than seeds. Traditionally, the eggplant is grilled over charcoal which imparts the signature smoky flavor to this dish. An effective alternative is charring the eggplant over a gas flame or using the broil setting in your oven to re-create the intense heat of the coals. Once cooled,  peel the burnt skin to reveal the soft flesh inside which should be almost cooked. Coarsely mashed along with sauteed ginger (lots of it), garlic, onions, tomatoes and lots of cilantro in the end completes the dish. I love the fresh flavor of cilantro is this and so go a step further and add finely chopped stalks of cilantro while sauteing the onions & tomatoes.

A gas stove currently exists only in my dream kitchen & I'm stuck with an electric coil for now. I've never tried charring an eggplant direclty on the electric coil for fear of creating a mess. So I stick the eggplant into a 400°F oven, cut side down, for about 15-20 mins to allow the insides to cook and then place it under the broiler for 8-10 mins in the end while constantly hovering over it. Once the skin begins to shrivel and get all wrinkly pull it out and place the eggplant in a sealed dish. This allows steam to build up within that lifts the skin off, doing half the work for you. If you have a gas stove, then carefully hold the eggplant over medium flame for 3-4 mins on each side until the skin is uniformly charred all around. Picking an eggplant with a firm stem would be really helpful, if not, stick a skewer/chopstick through it.

Sweet, fresh peas are the perfect counterpoint to all the spices in the bartha. With spring making head way, the farmer's market stalls are brimming with vibrant green produce. All of last month I snacked on winter citrus fruit samples while strolling around the market but last week they were offering tender sugar snap peas to snack on! True to their name they were sweet as sugar. After a couple of samples I ended up buying a bag of them and along with it came the fresh pea pods as well.

Baingan ka Bartha
Prep time: 30mins
Cook time: 30mins
Servings: 3-4 (side dish)
  • 1 - Eggplant/Aubergine/Brinjal, medium size
  • 3/4 cup - Onion, finely diced
  • 1 - Tomato, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup - Sweet peas, fresh or frozen
  • 2 tsp - Ginger, minced  (reduce for mildly spicy version)
  • 1 tsp - Garlic, minced
  • 2 - Green Chillies, minced (reduce if you like it mildly spicy)
  • 1 Tbsp - Cilantro stalks, finely diced
  • 1 tsp - Cumin seeds (or use freshly ground powder)
  • 1 tsp - Coriander seeds  (or use freshly ground powder)
  • 1/8 tsp - Turmeric powder
  • 2 Tbsp - Oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro leaves & julienned ginger for garnish
  1. If using an oven, place one rack close to the broiler with engouh room to slide the eggplants, and one in the middle of the oven. Pre-heat to 400°F. 
  2. Preparing the Eggplant: Wash and dry the eggplant, slice in half and coat the skin with a little bit of oil (or use an oil spray). Place cut side down on an greased foil sheet or non-stick mat and cook for 15-20 mins in the middle rack until it begins to soften. Now change to broiler setting and move the eggplants to the upper rack. Continue to cook for 8-10 more mins until the skin shrivels but constantly monitor them as each oven's temperature is different. Once they are done, move them to a deep bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap for 10-15mins. When cool to handle peel and discard the outer skin, a few bits and pieces of it is still fine. Coarsely shop and reserve the flesh and any juices collected at the bottom of the bowl.
  3. While the eggplants are in the oven, chop and mince rest of ingredients. In a pestle and mortar lightly crush cumin and coriander seeds.
  4. Heat oil in the wide pan (I use a cast iron skillet) and add crushed cumin & coriander seeds. As they turn fragrant add ginger, garlic and chillies (Have your exhaust fan on at this stage as these ingredients could be very pungent) and cook for about 20-30 seconds before adding onions, a pinch of turmeric and salt.
  5. The onions don't have to gain color or soften completely, add tomatoes next and cook until they loose texture and become mushy. 
  6. Add eggplant, chopped cilantro stalks & salt next. Without breaking up the eggplant chunks to much mix all the ingredients and cook for a few more minutes allowing the flavors to meld. Taste and adjust for seasoning and add fresh peas towards the last 5 mins of cooking time.
  7. Serve warm, garnished with cilantro, fresh ginger julienne's and lemon wedges. It goes really well with Indian breads like naan/paratha/phulkas/rotis or with rice dishes.
Notes: Be very watchful when the eggplant is placed under the broiler as it can get out of hand very quickly. When chopping the eggplant keep them chunky as this isn't supposed to be a fine mash.
- I love the heat of ginger, chillies and fresh cilantro in this dish and so use more of them, but adjust quantities to suit your tastes. I use more ginger than garlic but you could surely swap quantities based on your preference.
- I like the flavor of crushed coriander seeds, but if you like a more subtle flavor use coriander powder instead, adding it along with the tomatoes.

The charred flavor of the eggplant, intense combination of ginger, garlic and chillies make it nothing but a show stopper. This is one eggplant dish that I now cannot resist. The flavors are most intense right off the stove but it mellows down a bit as it sits. Despite the use of all these strong elements they come together beautifully and each flavor hits your palate differently. Biting into the juicy, fresh peas brings respite from the spice and just keeps you going for more. If you only have only smaller eggplants (Indian/Thai eggplants) but want to make this, no worries, go ahead and cook them the same way. I've done it and the bartha was still amazing. You'll have as much seeds as eggplant flesh in the dish but the flavor will still be great.

9 thoughts:

Srimathi said...

Hi Priya,

You are blogging after a long time. Nice to see you. I love Baingan anything. Looks delicious.

Sharmilee! :) said...

Wow looks so tempting...this is onto my todo since long and ur version sounds an looks yum, adding peas is a nice idea.

Priya V said...

Srimathi, you're right, its been an unintentional long gap. There's no lack of cooking or photos but lack of words to string them together...How have you been ?

Sharmilee, they do brighten the dish up a bit too, it would be a plain brown mush without peas and cilantro.

anudivya said...

Beautiful Priya! Just like always...

Maayeka said...

very lovely post and so beautiful and tempting clicks dear!!!

Purabi Naha said...

This looks scrumptious! Loved the recipe and the photograph!!

Ramya Manja said...

wow pics are highly tempting,loved the simplicity of the recipe....

Rosh said...

Lovely clicks and blog!!

MommyLabs said...

Hi Priya,
I came to your blog googling unique dalia recipes and am enticed by the lovely photos! I'm passionate about photography too, including food photography! I'm subscribing to your blog for the delicious pictures! :)

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