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Mama’s Punjabi Recipes: Baingan da Bhartha (Spicy Eggplant Puree) Traditional Style

Recipe-in-1

Amazingly – and delightfully – this rather simple but tasty Punjabi dish has found a large following over the past four years, appearing on the tables of many non-Punjabis and even showing up on the menus of some restaurants. There are two ways you make this dish, and by popular demand we will publish both recipes, with a few extra pointers. First, below is the traditional way to make Baingan da Bhartha.

Eggplant – also called aubergines or brinjals and just baingan in Hindi – are a popular vegetable wherever you go. In France, they like to cook it as aubergine farci in which the hull of the vegetable is stuffed and baked; the Chinese prefer a Szechuan style cooked with garlic sauce; Arabs prefer to eat it pureed as a dip called Baba Ganoush which Russians eat in a dish they call Baklazhannaia Ikra or Poor Man’s Caviar.

Baingan are very widely used in India and especially in the North where it is cooked with potatoes or fried in pakoras (fritters) or in some sort of sauce. But when Punjabis see the large plump round ones, they immediately think of the most popular dish, baingan bhartha which is cooked with lots of onions and maybe a slice or two of red tomato to give it a multi-colored look and extra flavor. Some people even add peas (fresh shelled ones are best) for an added taste and crunchiness.

The plant that bears the eggplant is native to the Indian Subcontinent but it is widely available all over the world and cooked in many ways. There are many varieties of the plant that produce different sizes, shapes and color, though typically purple. Chinese and Japanese eggplants are typically long and skinny; Europeans usually prefer the plump round ones and Indians have both of those plus the small ones, about 2 inches round. Eggplants have all the B vitamins, and are high in B9 (folate) as well as in calcium (1%), phosphorus (3%) and potassium (5%).

This recipe uses a large round eggplant and is made in the traditional style. When I was a young girl in Lyallpur, my mother (whom everyone called Biji), and the other ladies would roast it over a chimta (iron tongs) balanced over an ingithi (clay bucket charcoal stove) and the slightly burnt aroma of the outer skin would permeate the whole house!

 

Ingredients:

• 1 large round baingan
• 2 medium pyaaz (onion)
• 2 medium tamater (tomato) – soft ones are best
• Some small shelled mutter (peas) (if desired)
• 2 tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil
• Spices (to taste): namak (salt), mirch (red pepper), garam masala

 

Directions:

1. Place a few drops of oil on the eggplant and smear it all around the skin.
2. The traditional way to roast the eggplant is over an open flame that allows the eggplant to take on a smoked, roasted flavor, so for best results, cook over a gas flame.
3. If you do not have a gas stove but only have an electric stove, place the eggplant in the oven on a metal tray and set on bake at 450 deg till it is soft in the middle. The eggplant will cook faster if you slice it in half.
4. You can also cook the eggplant in the microwave in a deep tray; again slice it in half, set the power on full and adjust the timer for 10 minutes till it is cooked.
5. Remove the eggplant from the fire, oven or microwave and peel off the roasted skin. Be careful as it will be hot! We often place the roasted eggplant in a bowl of water in order to cool it down fast.
6. Cut the green shoot off, leaving some meat on it. Cut the rest of the meat into quarters and then mash it, making sure it is not stringy.
7. Heat the oil in a skillet, wok or kadai. Cut the onion into small pieces and sauté them in the oil till they are brown, then add the cut tomatoes and then add the spices (turmeric is usually not used in Punjabi bhartha).
8. Pour the mashed eggplant and the green shoot (dandal) in the masala and cook over low heat for some time. When you start to see some oil rise to the sides, turn the heat off; cover and let it stay for 10 minutes.
9. Uncover the skillet and if you want, sprinkle with garam masala though it is not necessary since the bhartha has so many onions. It is an honor to get the cooked dandal and remove the cooked meat off it. When thoroughly cooked, the green shoot can also be eaten and is delicious.

 

MAMA’S TIP OF THE WEEK: HOW TO CHOOSE A BAINGAN (EGGPLANT) TO COOK BHARTA

For most eggplant dishes and especially bharta (pureed eggplant), the choice of the vegetable is very important for the texture, taste and ease of cooking as well as if the final dish will be tough or soft to eat. Usually you don’t want to have a dish with lots of seeds as they distract the palate from the softness of the main dish and you will spit them out.

It is best to choose a large round eggplant that is not heavy: a heavy one means that it has a lot of seeds. A slightly tender, round eggplant is the best, but most times you will find elongated ones. Still, choose the one that is tender but does not collapse when squeezed. Also, the green stem (dandal) should not have any dark spots on it. When cut off with the top portion of the eggplant and cooked correctly, the skin and base of the stem are very edible and tasty.

 

 

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Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur (since renamed Faisalabad), India before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her mid-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share some of her delectable Punjabi recipes

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