Baghare Baingan

Baghare BainganI gave up cooking with non-stick pots and pans a long time ago. I am a gal who likes stuff to be low-maintenance and safe, and non-stick pans, it seemed, were neither. You had to be ultra-cautious in cleaning them, and if you got a scrape, heaven forbid, unwanted chemicals could leach into your food.

But non-stick pans do, of course, serve a valuable purpose: you need less oil to cook your food which is important in our health-aware world. And some foods, like a stir-fry, for instance, are better off cooked in non-stick pans. Of course, I never cooked in a non-stick pan that was 100 percent non-stick, but that’s another story.

Anyway, when I decided to give up non-stick pans, I was in a dilemma. My sturdy stainless steel pots and pans were good enough for most every day cooking, but with low-fat stir-frys, for instance, I did feel the need for a surface that was slicker and more forgiving.

That’s when I read a newspaper article on cast-iron pans. This was almost a decade ago, but that article so impressed me, I still have it — yellowed and fraying– in my kitchen cabinet. I prize it not so much for the information any more, which I have almost by heart, but for the fact that it marked a significant milestone in my kitchen routine.

In India, tavas, or flat griddles used to bake chapatis and such, are usually made with cast iron. But until I read this article, that was the extent of my knowledge about cooking with cast iron.

When seasoned, the article said, cast-iron pans made great non-stick pans one could fry, saute, stir-fry and cook just about anything in.

So the next time I went to the market, I picked myself a cast-iron skillet.

It was metallic-gray and I don’t think it cost me more than eight bucks at the time, which was a steal compared to most good-quality non-stick pans. The article had details on seasoning the pan, which sounded really strange and really odd to someone who had never done anything like it before, but I gave it a go.

Then, I tried cooking in my cast-iron pan. It was a disaster.

Everything stuck to it, didn’t come off, and tasted funny. Still, I wasn’t about to give up. One of the most magical things about cast-iron pans is, they are supposed to improve with use. And so I continued to season my pan and used it only to do oily stuff like deep-fry at the beginning. Gradually, my cast-iron pan began to get that prized black, shiny hue and smooth texture that turns it into a naturally non-stick pan.
Baghare Baingan
Now, I have an assortment of cast-iron pans in all shapes and sizes (except a dutch oven. Desi, are you reading?), and I use them all the time for everything from making pancakes to curries to veggies and, of course, to deep-fry.

I couldn’t be happier. They look great, clean easily (forget all those stories about never washing your cast-iron pan. I do it all the time, sometimes even with soap, and it’s never hurt them), and they are supposed to add iron to your food which is great when you are a vegan like me. You do need to take some precautions, like not putting them away when wet (I usually just put mine on the stove after washing and wiping to make sure all the moisture is gone), and you also need to season them a little more frequently when they are new.

This ode to cast-iron pans was just the precursor to this delicious stuffed-eggplant dish that I wanted to share with you, and which I cooked, surprise, in a cast-iron skillet.

Baghare Baingan is a dish from Andhra Pradesh, in South India. It’s very close to Bharleli Vangi, or Bharli Vangi, which is a dish I often ate growing up at the home of Maharashtrian relatives, but has some differences that make it quite unique.

This dish typically uses a lot of oil, but I cut it down quite a bit. You do need the small, round Indian eggplants for this, usually available in Indian grocery stores if you happen to live outside India. These smaller eggplants have a more delicate flesh and skin, and they are the perfect size for stuffing.

Here’s the recipe.
Baghare Baingan

Baghare Baingan
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 5
Ingredients
  • About 10 small round eggplants, washed and stemmed. Make two slits, crosswise, on the non-stem side, stopping short of making a clean cut, so the eggplant holds together at the base.
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp peanuts
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds (khuskhus)
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds (methi seeds)
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp tamarind pulp
  • 1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1-inch piece ginger, chopped
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • ¼ cup canned (or thick) coconut milk
  • Salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Roast the onions on a dry cast-iron or non-stick skillet until they soften and brown spots appear. Remove to a blender.
  2. Roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, fenugreek seeds and peanuts until they start to change color and smell fragrant, about a minute or two on medium heat. Add to the blender.
  3. Now add the ginger, garlic, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, sugar, salt and coconut milk to the blender.
  4. Blend until you have a fairly smooth paste.
  5. Now stuff this paste into the prepared eggplants.
  6. Heat the oil in a cast-iron or other skillet.
  7. Add the curry leaves, stir for a minute, and then add the eggplants one by one, placing them away from you so the oil doesn't splatter on you.
  8. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8-10 minutes or until the eggplants begin to soften.
  9. Now add the remaining paste and ¾ cup of water.
  10. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, to ensure all sides of each eggplant get cooked.
  11. The dish should be done when the eggplants are tender enough to be pierced through with a fork, and when specks of oil have risen to the surface.
  12. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves
  13. This dish tastes best with hot phulkas or chapatis.
  14. Enjoy!

 

As eggplants fill the summer vegetable market and garden, you can find some more of my favorite eggplant recipes here.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Vaishali! I heard about your site through Gayathri – and have been following it for a while, making tweaks to my own cooking with ideas inspired from your blog. This current recipe sounds absolutely delish – I am a huge eggplant fan – can’t wait to try it out!

    Great job on the site!!

  2. says

    I do have a cast iron pan which I use only for grilling. And because of the norm that it cannot be washed with water I have a hard time cleaning. Thanks for mentioning about it. I have found a way at last! Baghare Baingan looks so delicious! My favourite dish. And with less oil its simply superb!

  3. says

    A lovely tribute to cast iron pans! Got to get myself some at the local Asian supermarket. And don’t you just adore eggplants? They’re present in most major cuisines — in my native country we like to grill it and eat it with chopped raw onions and tomatoes…mmmm!

  4. says

    I think is was all a ploy to sneak in another eggplant recipe :D

    I don’t like non-stick too, but have one pan for my stir-fry’s alone. The rest are stainless steel. I bought a cast iron pan a year back, pre-seasoned one. The initial few trails were not that successful, and me being the lazy self, went back to the non-stick. Will get it back out again now :)

  5. Anonymous says

    I love cast iron pans but as a greek that cooks with tomatoes almost every day I use them only once and a while, as you cannot cook tomatoes on a cast iron pan.

    Best. Maria

  6. says

    I am so happy that u share my passion of cast iron. I have stopped using non stick except on rare occasions when i have to use the BIG ones I still have for cooking for 35 people…I have my skillets for for than 10 years & nothing sticks! easy to clean. i got cast iron kadai from india. & just got myself an iron double griddle come grill.

    I have a few hard anodized (no non stick coating).. & they are great too… like the irons.. no dishwasher.. but great to use & clean
    That baigain looks awesome vaishalli. i actually still remember the flavor some food traditional food would have getting cooked iron back home!

    sorry for this LONG comment!

  7. says

    My mother tells me this all the time about cast iron pans. Am yet to get my own but I will soon and try these baingans in it too:). They taste very very good with phulkas!

  8. says

    One of my favorite eggplant dishes. Love it..
    I bought a pre-seasoned cast iron pan few months back, but havent been using it much. Will have to start cooking in it.

  9. says

    Not a big fan of baingan but your recipe makes me wanna try it. Hubby loves it, so this weekend Baghare Baingan it is :).
    BTW I too bought my first cast iron pan after reading an article about harmful effects of non-stick pans. My research on the net said the made in USA Lodge cast iron pans are the best and that’s what I have. I cook everything in it, from curries to paranthas to fried fish.
    Recently, I found a pre seasoned cast iron “tava”, also from Lodge. Takes the hassel out of seasoning it.

  10. says

    hey..great recipe..my pakistani friend taught it to me and its really delicious…
    I gotta try those cast-iron pans soon…my culinary shopping list keeps getting longer !

  11. says

    I have a couple of these kadhais and they are wonderful .. not like those delicate non stick ones that peel at the slightest negligence … and turn useless. But some say that they should not be used to cook anything sour.
    Love that baghare baingan. :-)

  12. says

    Vaishali!
    Thank you so much for this info about cast iron pans..this just sounds so right to me!I wish to do the same!What do you mean by seasoning the pan-just oiling it?Like with olive oil?Is there anything to watch out for when I purchase them?Any different kinds..?I am so happy to learn this.. I also love this eggplant recipe,I am a huge fan of eggplants,so this is a keeper!
    Thanx! :)

  13. says

    Its funny how we turn full circle don’t we?! :)

    The baghara baingan is one of my favourite and is very similar to the Mirchi ka salan recipe…

  14. says

    Eggplants are my fav vegetables….any kind/version makes me happy.I hv never used iron skillets…am so obsessed with my nonstick cookware.My husband helps me with the utensils after dinner….i never let him even touch any nonstick vessels….huh! I guess am too obsessed,the cleaning bit is sumtng i hate.I shud hunt for iron skillets now…ur post made me think.Thanks for the idea Vishali.

  15. says

    You are totally right about the cast iron skillets. They are a very healthy choice indeed. My grandma insists on cooking with iron and copper vessels than aluminium or stainless steel, becoz they give the food the essentials like Fe and Cu. And you know the easiest way she tells me to clean.. when its all very hot from the stove, take a dosa spatula with sharp ends and scrape off the oil remains sticking to the ends. This will take care of the cleaning for atleast a month. I remember one of our iron kadai, totally rusted due lack of drying. So my mom now takes extra care to dry them in the sun, or atleast leave it in the hot stove for a couple of minutes so that the moisture is all gone.. your baghare baigan is perfect.. Thanks for visiting my blog :))

  16. says

    Beautiful site. I am from the Caribbean but I cook loads of indian style dishes. I love cast iron skillets are you can beat them up and you do not have to feel so guilty. When you have time stop by my blog .
    Tay

  17. says

    Parita, Pavithra, Thanks.

    Charanya, Welcome! Glad you find the site useful.

    Cilantro, you’re right, they do last a lifetime and even for generations, I believe. They’re quite indestructible.

    Pooja, Thanks, and glad the information was useful. Of course, the cleaning methods I talked about apply to pans that have already been well-seasoned. A new pan will require more intensive care and regular seasoning.

    Lou, I do adore eggplants– a little too much, in fact :) Eggplant grilled with onions and tomatoes sounds delicious.

    Priya, am I that transparent? :) But you’re right — it was a ploy to get in another eggplant recipe!

    Maria, sure, you shouldn’t cook highly acidic foods in large quantities in cast-iron cookware. But adding a little bit isn’t a problem. I’ve often added some tomatoes to a dish I cooked in cast-iron, or squirted some lemon juice on, and I’ve had no problems.

    Soma, I have that huge grill too, and it’s wonderful. And you’re right– these do last for a long, long time.
    I gotta get myself a real true-blue Kadhai next time I’m in India.

    Sunshinemom, thanks, and yes, the eggplants do taste great with phulkas.

    Vanamala, Pavani, thanks.

    Jaya, I tend to buy Lodge too– it’s the best around, i believe, although I do have a couple of skillets from other brands and they work as good. I didn’t know they had a tava– gotta get that!
    Hope your hubby likes the baghare baingan.

    Superchef, Dips, Sharmila, Priya: Thanks, ladies.

    Kahliyalogue: Yes, seasoning means to coat with a light film of oil and then place it over very high heat or preferably in an oven for about an hour. You need to use an oil with a high smoking point, like peanut or canola oil, or even better, some vegetable shortening.
    After each use in the beginning, scrape the skillet clean, wipe off with a kitchen towel, and then apply a light film of oil and place on the stove top until it is hot. Turn off the heat, cool, and then store.
    You might need to do the longer, oven-seasoning step a couple more times when the skillet is new.
    Hope that helps :)

    Miri, you’re right. As time goes by, we find out that some old ideas are still the best ones around :)

    Nithya, Thanks, and glad you found the post useful.

    Bindiya, thanks.

    Hema,Your grandma’s method of cleaning sounds really good, and one I’m going to try next time I make dosas. Thanks for sharing.

  18. says

    I am not a fan of non-stick pans either. Agreed that they use less oil, but I had to throw them out every so often. I use stainless steel though and for chapathis/dosas I use the cast iron ones.
    Loved your version of bharleli vaingan.

  19. says

    That’s a lot of useful information about cast iron skillets which I was not aware. Thanks Vaishali. Let me also make the best use of it.

    The dish looks very good. I have some baby eggplants in the fridge. I have not tried this type of stuffing.

  20. says

    Happy, thanks.

    RC– I too use stainless steel pans for most everyday cooking, but the cast iron really helps with any kind of low-fat cooking.

    Madhuram, Thanks. Hope you try it!

    Justin: Thanks. This curry would go very well with, say, potatoes, or even green peppers. You don’t have to stuff them– just add the veggies, stir-fry them first, and then add the ground masala paste and cook per the recipe.
    I wouldn’t try any veggie that’d give out too much water, however.

  21. says

    Vaishali,
    Love ur recipes.
    Ur comment
    “Everything stuck to it, didn’t come off, and tasted funny. Still, I wasn’t about to give up. One of the most magical things about cast-iron pans is, they are supposed to improve with use. And so I continued to season my pan and used it only to do oily stuff like deep-fry at the beginning”

    I have same problem…pan is becoming gray…please give me tips on seasoning the vegan way….

    –Swarna

  22. says

    Hi Swarna, Welcome!
    Here’s what I do: for the first time I season, I coat the pan generously with shortening like Crisco, heat up the oven to the highest it will go, then put the pan inside and leave it for an hour. It should really get smoking hot. Leave it in for several hours after turning off so it cools down– at that temperature it is really too dangerous to touch.
    When you take the pan out, use a scrubber and very hot water to rinse it out. Now place it on the stove and let it dry out completely. Spread a very thin layer of oil on it and store.
    Remember, when your pan is new do not use soap on it. And try to mostly do “oily” stuff in it, like deep frying or sauteing, rather than poaching or boiling.
    It will take a few uses for the pan to turn really black, but it will eventually. Remember to rinse, dry on heat, and oil your pan after every use for the first few times.
    Hope that helps :)

  23. Nisha Tiwari says

    HI VAISHALI,

    JUST CHECK IF M NOT MAKING ANY MISTAKE, WHEN I CLICK ON THE HEADING “PAV” IN UR INDIAN BREAD RECIPE SECTION IT TAKES ME TO THIS “BHAGARE BAIGAN”.

    GOD BLESS
    NISHA.

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