Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Baghara Baingan

I've always been a fan of all vegetables. Yes, even the bitter gourd. Mum will vouch for that, I'm sure. We were also raised to respect the food on our plates. We never wasted a morsel of rice, a piece of vegetable, or even a curry leaf. Every single ingredient has its own nutrition value, and we were always made to understand that. Mum would explain why the curry leaf or cilantro leaves were important to health, of course she didn't have to try hard since I loved those flavours anyway. The brinjal has always been a top scoring vegetable in my life. I used to be allergic to the big eggplant as a kid, but now that's gone. Whether it is kathrikai curry, or bagara baingan, or baingan bartha, or vaangi baath, or eggplant parmesan... I just love it.

S, on the other hand, never liked brinjals. Ma and Pa in law have praised me for changing his food habits. He now eats almost anything I dish up... and I wanted to impress him with the brinjal. So I introduced him to Bagara Baingan, and he now regrets never ordering that dish when we were in India, especially when he was in Hyderabad. One of the things I have learned from mum is to convince children, and in some cases adults like S, that a particular vegetable is great for you, by simply stating the obvious - such as, brinjal cures flatulence, it is rich in potassium, and many believe it has the medicinal properties to cure cancer, diabetes and hypertension.

I've eaten Bagara Baingan at my cousin's home, in Hyderabad, made by authentic Andhra cooks. I was sure that my husband would begin loving the brinjal, and it sure did work. These days, the very mention of bagara baingan makes him crave for it and ask for more. This recipe that I'm going to share serves 5-6 adults, depending on your appetite.

Things you'll need for this rich dish:
1. Small round brinjals - 10 to 15 numbers.

2. Peanuts - 1/2 a cup. This is a traditional ingredient in most Andhra cuisines.

3. Sesame seeds (white) - a handful

4. Poppy seeds (cous cous) - 1 measuring teaspoon

5. Fresh scrapped coconut - 1 cup

6. Ginger - 1 inch piece

7. Garlic - 5-6 cloves

8. Whole masalas (Star anise, Jeera, Cinnamon, Cloves, Cardamom, Bay leaf)

9. Corriander seeds (dhaniya) - 1 measuring tablespoon

10. Dhana jeera powder (Blend of dhaniya and jeera powders, available in stores) - 1 measuring tablespoon

11.Chilli powder - 2 spoons

12. Green chillis - 5-6 medium spice small ones

13. Turmeric

14. Mustard, Hing, Curry leaves, Jaggery, Fenugreek seeds, Tamarind (lemon ball sized)

15. Medium sized onion, or half of a big one - chopped finely.

This is how you dish it up:
1. Leave the stems intact on the brinjal and slit them criss cross. Let this be done only when you're almost ready to toss the brinjal into the pan, because they have a tendency to get oxidised if exposed a long time.

2. Shallow fry the brinjals in oil with salt , till they are about 90 percent cooked.

3. In the same oil, roast the peanuts, poppy seeds, sesame, coconut, ginger and garlic, green chillis, whole masalas, corriander seeds and jeera.

4. When this cools down, grind it to a fine but slightly coarse paste. I prefer roasting them all and grinding them to a gravy so the flavours blend well. You can leave the masalas as a whole, if you wish to.

5. Heat some oil in the same pan, and allow some mustard seeds and jeera to splutter. Add the curry leaves and fenugreek seeds. Make sure you add just little fenugreek, else your dish will turn bitter. It's important to fry the curry leaves in the oil as this way, its flavour penetrates into the dish better, and its nutrients spread into the oil.

6. Add the chopped onion to the pan and cook them with salt, turmeric, chilli powder and hing.

7. Add the ground masala paste with water and add a small piece of jaggery followed by the tamarind water. Adjust seasonings at this point.

8. When this mixture cooks and the oil separates, add the partly cooked brinjals.

9. You need to make sure the mixture doesn't scorch so keep stirring. Reduce the flame, cover the pan, and let the brinjals cook completely, absorbing the rich flavours.

10. Stir this mixture now and then. When the brinjals soften and the dish is all done, you're ready to serve it with rotis, nans, plain rice, or... the best ever combination, biryani.

It's been a while since I cooked this awesome dish. I'm going to bring it back into my kitchen one of these days :)

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