Brinjal – The vegetable I love

Homemade Bharwan Baingan
Homemade Bharwan Baingan

Discovering famous Indian and global Brinjal dishes.

Yes, I said it. I love Brinjal or Aubergine or Eggplant or Baingan, whatever you may want to call it. It’s said, that Brinjal, the term, came from Portuguese Berinjela, who were largely responsible for getting many vegetables to India. Known as Eggplant in America and Aubergine In England, it’s popular as ‘Baingan’ in India. Over the years, I have had so many Brinjal dishes that it’s hard to not love the vegetable.

However, it’s highly likely that many of you reading this, never liked the vegetable as a kid, just like me. Occasionally, I would like AlooBaingan and Baingan Bharta at home, but never really considered it, amongst my favourites. And even while eating Bharwan Baingan, I only enjoyed the masala.

And as they say, travel lets you explore food beyond your comfort zone. So, over the years, I discovered various Brinjal dishes that made me love this vegetable, in many different ways.

Bhagar e Baingan from Hyderabad

I think, it was in 2005, that I had travelled to Hyderabad. When I had this dish called Bhagar e Baingan. It was the first time when I had a curry made with coconut for a dish, whose central ingredient was Brinjal. Sesame seeds, tamarind paste were two other unusual components (for me, back then) that went inside this dish. The dish did have the usual turmeric, ginger-garlic, salt, onion and coriander, but it tasted nothing like anything I had before. I remember liking the curry a lot and loving the pieces of fried brinjal in it. That’s the thing about brinjal, you taste the vegetable no matter how many spices you put in its curry or masala.

It was then that I realised, that brinjal, if made well, could be supremely delicious.

So, I came back home with a newfound love for this humble veggie.

Kolkata’s Baingan Bhaja & Beguni

Then few years later, when I shifted to Kolkata in 2007, I discovered Baingan Bhaja or Begun Bhaja as Bengalis would call it. One day, a senior from my institute invited me over to his place. It was Vishwakarma Pujo. Excited to have homemade Bengali meal, I reached his place with great expectations. As I reached his home, I was served a big portion of Khichudi with Fish and Begun Bhaja with Raita. He told me, that having Khichudi on Vishwakarma Pujo is a ritual at his home and Begun Bhaja makes for a perfect accompaniment.

It’s made from Thick slices of Brinjal covered in salt, turmeric powder, chili powder and ginger-garlic paste, which were then shallow fried. It was truly mesmerizing. In fact, I remember, later when I started eating it frequently, I loved having it with Luchi and Khajoor-Aam (Date-Raw Mango) Chutney and also with Fish Curry –Rice or simple Daal-Rice.

Baigun Bhaja

Kolkata also introduced me to Beguni, another dish that got added to my list of favourite Brinjal dishes. In simpler words Beguni was just Batter Fried Eggplant slices or Eggplant Fritters. Beguni is made from thin slices of brinjal covered in batter made of gram flour (besan), salt, sugar, kala jeera, chili & turmeric powder and deep-fried. I had this mostly as an evening snack during the monsoon season. Outside my campus, there was a shack that used to sell these Beguni(s) and I would happily eat them with fried green chilies.

Brinjal – The European Way

I had already fallen in love with Indian preparations of Brinjal, however the world had so much more on offer, that I was yet to discover.

And then in 2010, I went to Rome, Italy, on a solo Euro Trip. I had reached Italy, after spending few days in Paris and unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the food in the city, as much as I’d thought I would. Luckily for me, I had my most memorable meals in Rome, which was also my last stop of the trip.

That happened, largely, during my stay with Laura and Andrea, my Italian friends from Rome. Though, I met them for the first time on this trip, they made me feel at home. Italians, just like us Indians, are greatly passionate about their food and Andrea was no different. Besides being a superb Musician (he has a popular band in Italy), Andrea is also a wonderful cook. He cooked most of the meals when I stayed with them. And one day, he cooked Grilled Eggplant (Brinjal) with Fresh Herbs in Olive Oil. It’s been years since I had this amazingly scrumptious dish, however, I still remember how it tasted and how much I loved it back then.

Soft, grilled pieces of Brinjal with freshly chopped parsley and basil, cloves of garlic, a dash of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar with pinch of salt and pepper, this tasted heavenly. With a glass of wine and spaghetti with mussels, this meal was nothing short of magic, the Brinjal being the shiny bright star of the meal.

Another Italian Melanzane (Italian name for Brinjal) delicacy that I absolutely loved was the most famous Melanzane alla Parmigiana. Made from layers of grilled Eggplant (brinjal), Tomato sauce, Buffalo mozzarella and seasoned with oregano and Parmesan cheese that’s perfectly grilled on top. Oh man, how I love this dish. I am salivating writing about it.

Pondicherry – My Italian Sojourn

Tanto's Pizza
Tanto’s Pizza

During my trip to Pondicherry, I went to this hugely popular place called Tanto’s Pizzeria, where I was mighty impressed with one of their Vegetarian Pizzas. I was a thin crust pizza with Tomato, Cheese, Aubergine (Brinjal), Rosemary, Garlic, Zucchini, Capsicum and Onion. It was the first time I had ‘brinjal’ on a Pizza.

Baba Ganoush and Muttabal – The Food of Middle East

And no story on Brinjal can ever be complete without mentioning the food of Middle East. Actually, I don’t think any cuisine celebrates this vegetable in their everyday cooking, as much as people living in Middle East.

Baba Ganoush and Muttabal being the most celebrated dips, no Middle-Eastern meal is ever complete without them. Baba Ganoush or Baba Ganooj (Pampered Father in English) is often confused with Muttabal, however, both are different from one another. In Muttabal, Tahini (sesame paste) is used with smoked brinjal to make a dip (in some cases thick yoghurt is also used), whereas, in Baba Ganoush, the brinjal is smoked and mixed with onion, tomato, fresh herbs, lemon juice and olive oil.

Kashk-o-Badenjan - Postcards from Persia
Kashk-o-Badenjan – Postcards from Persia

I have fond memories of eating Kashke Bademjan Rolls at Aniada Parvaneh’s Postcards of Persia Pop-Up at SodabottleOpenerwala in Delhi. Made with a paste of roasted brinjal flavoured with fried onions and Irani spices, mixed with ground walnuts and Kashke (dried sour yoghurt) all rolled and covered in bread. While eating this delicious dish, Anaida told me, whether stews, dips, grills, there are many recipes in Persia that uses this vegetable extensively.

Brinjal – The Greek Way

In fact, a few years ago, Anastasia-Elina Papagian, the lovely lady who ran Mykonos, a Greek restaurant in Delhi, introduced me to Melitzanosalata Dip and Classic Greek Eggplant Moussaka.

Mykonos Shahpur Jat
Mezze Platter Dips -Mykonos

While the Melitzanosalata dip tasted very similar to Baba Ganoush, as the base of the dish was smokey roasted brinjal and onions, however, the difference was the flavour of Greek Oregano, which Anna had used generously. With freshly made Pita this was delightful. And the Moussaka was made with layers of brinjal, potatoes with spiced meat filling, topped with bechamel sauce and baked to perfection.

Brinjal dishes that fascinate me:

Bihari Litti Chokha

While I did have this dish at Delhi’s famous Bihari den The Potbelly Café in Shahpur Jat, however I would love to eat a plate of Litti Chokha from a roadside vendor somewhere in Bihar, just like how it should be eaten. Chokha is similar to Bharta except, it isn’t cooked. Grilled smokey Brinjal paste is mixed together with chillies, onion, tomato, cumin powder, coriander powder and turmeric powder in mustard oil, to make Chokha. Now doesn’t that sound exciting?

Turkish Imam Bayildi

And who doesn’t know about the famous Turkish dish Imam Bayildi, roughly translated to ‘The Imam Fainted’ in English. While I have never had the dish, but having read about it, the dish seems mildly similar to our own Baingan Bharta. But what fascinated me about the dish was, its name. From many online versions of stories revolving around its name, the funniest was that the Imam fainted with the joy of eating this delicious dish. I feel, one day this could happen to me too.

And after writing about all the fancy Brinjal dishes, I come back to Baingan Bharta and Bharwan Baingan. If you ever want to eat world’s best Baingan Bharta, visit Bharawan Da Dhaba in Amritsar. The smokey flavour of this dish is perfectly balanced with the use of fine tomato puree and chillies. Eating this dish with Amritsari Kulcha is like going on a pilgrimage, and I am not exaggerating.

And after all these years, I have finally realised no one makes Bharwan Baigan better than my Mom does. With loads of onions, tomatoes, ginger-garlic and spices, she gets the masala bang on. She, then fills this masala inside the brinjal, after slitting them open from the middle. Even with a simple roti, oh! it tastes heavenly!

I do wonder sometimes, why I didn’t enjoy this as a kid.

Well, the fact that I have written more than 1200 words for a vegetable, that’s not really too fancy, shows that I have grown up. And I guess, so have my taste buds.

MY MOM’S RECIPE FOR BHARWAN BAINGAN:

INGREDIENTS QUANTITY
Brinjal Half KG (small round ones)
Onions 5 Big Red Onions (4 fine paste + 1 coarsely chopped)
Tomatoes 5 Big Tomatoes (pureed)
Ginger 10 Grams (paste)
Garlic 8 Grams (paste)
Green Chilli’s 5 Finely Chopped
Mustard Oil 2 Tablespoon (TBSP) + 1 TBSP
Salt To Taste
Turmeric Powder 2 Pinch
Red Chilli Powder 1 Teaspoon (TSP)
Garam Masala 2 TSP
Rai and Mustard Seeds ½ TSP
Fenugreek Seeds 2-3 Seeds
Cumin Powder 2 TSP
Black Pepper Powder 1 TSP
Amchoor 2 TSP
Daniya Powder 1 TSP

 METHOD:

  •  Clean and dry Brinjals. Silt them open from the middle, keep them aside.
  • Make fine paste of onions, ginger-garlic and green chilis.
  • In a wok, heat mustard oil and put rai, fenugreek seeds and mustard seeds in it.
  • Pour the onion mix into the wok and cook until the mix becomes soft.
  • Add the puree of the tomatoes along with salt, turmeric powder, black pepper powder, cumin powder, amchoor, dhaniya powder, red chilli powder and garam masala. Cook all the ingredients together and get your filling for the brinjal ready.
  • Fill the above-mentioned masala in the middle of the brinjal.
  • Pour 1 TBPS mustard oil into the wok and add all the masala filled brinjals in it.
  • Also add coarsely chopped onions in it and cook until brinjals become soft.
  • Serve it hot with Paratha and enjoy.

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