I cannot figure out people who detest eggplant, although I've met many, including vegans who will chow down any other vegetable without complaining.
But the mere mention of eggplant will result in grimaces and shrugs and even an emphatic, I hate it!
The reason for this unbridled dislike, I think, could only be that these people have never eaten eggplant that's cooked correctly.
Sure, it's hard for someone not familiar with this veggie to know just what to do with it. It even has multiple names that make your head spin--- brinjal, anyone, or aubergine? And when you actually have to cook one should you peel that skin or leave it on? And how do you get that spongy flesh, so acridly bitter, to taste good or at least palatable?
The answer is simpler than you may think: cook that eggplant, skin and all. Thoroughly. And flavor it wholeheartedly.
Eggplant is not a veggie meant to be eaten partially cooked or mildly flavored. But when you cook it all the way and smother it with complementary flavors, it transforms into the most delicious food. That flesh gets melt-in-the-mouth tender and creamy and even sweet, and it absorbs all the great flavors of the other ingredients.
Now, if you eat it, you'll be deeply, madly, irrevocably in love.
If you want to open up your mind -- and tastebuds -- to this extra-special veggie, try looking to cusines that love it for some inspiration. Roast and mash an Italian eggplant into a tomato-onion sauce for this Baingan Bharta. Serve the smaller, tender varieties smothered in spices and coconuts in this Sri Lankan Eggplant Curry. Or roast one and blitz it with chickpeas and za'atar for a divine Eggplant Hummus.
Make friends with eggplants and, you'll find, they are a magical thing.
What we love about this Baingan Bharta
- It's healthy. Tomatoes, onions, eggplants, garlic and spices with just a little oil. What's not to love?
- It's easy to make. Especially if you have some of my tomato onion masala sauce ready, you can bring this dish together in minutes.
- It tastes amazing. The smoky, creamy, sweet eggplant with the spicy tomato onion sauce is a gorgeous combination.
- It's versatile. You can eat it with almost any meal.
Tips for making the best Baingan Bharta
- Use medium-sized Italian eggplants for this dish, not the skinny Japanese or Chinese eggplants or the small, round Indian and Thai ones.
- For an authentic Baingan Bharta with smoky flavor, you should roast your eggplant over an open flame. This can be a grill, although you can do it on a gas stove with your hood exhaust running full speed. You have to be careful and do this with tongs as the eggplant will leak juices. Turn the eggplant around on the open flame with tongs until the skin is all charred and a knife inserted in the center goes cleanly through.
- If standing over a stove is not your scene, and I completely understand, just bung your eggplant into the oven. Cut it down the middle into half, lengthwise, then place it on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, cut side down. Roast in a preheated 400-degree oven for 30 minutes or until the skin is charred and a knife in the thickest part of the eggplant goes cleanly through.
- Once your eggplant is cooked, let it stand until it's cool enough to handle. Then scoop out the flesh. You can blitz it at this point if you want it to melt into the tomato onion sauce, or do what I do and just chop it up into little bits.
- Garlic is, to my mind, indispensible in a baingan bharta recipe. When roasting the eggplant in the oven, make three slits in the white portion of each half with a knife and push a clove of garlic into each. As the eggplant bakes, the garlic infuses the flesh with all that amazing flavor. If you're roasting the eggplant over an open flame, make slits on the outside and push the garlic in. You can also just toss the garlic in with the ginger and onions when they are cooking.
- When you begin cooking, you'll start out by seasoning your oil, as you'd do for most Indian dishes. Heat the oil and add in cumin seeds or jeera.
- Next you'll add the onions. A baingan ka bharta needs lots of onions, so use a large or medium onion and chop it fine. You want it to melt into the sauce when the dish is done. I like tossing in a handful of cilantro with the onions because it adds even more flavor.
- Equally important are the tomatoes. Use about three medium tomatoes and chop them fine before adding them to the skillet.
- The sauce for a brinjal bharta is simply seasoned. All you need are red chili pepper powder, like cayenne, turmeric and coriander powder. You can add finely chopped green chili peppers, like jalapeno or serrano, if you want more heat, but they're optional.
- The roasted eggplant will be the last thing to go in, and you just need to cook it in the sauce for just a few minutes, until it's thoroughly mixed and has had some time to absorb all those great flavors.
- Turn off the heat, garnish with more cilantro, and serve.
What do you serve Baingan Bharta with?
- I usually serve it with a simple dal like this green tomato dal you see in the photo. It's a south Indian dish, but it complements the north Indian bharta perfectly. Any dal will do just as well.
- Baingan Bharta is perfect with a garlic naan or a roti or aloo kulcha.
Making this recipe with the tomato-onion masala sauce
If you already have a jar of my Tomato Onion Masala Sauce handy, lucky you. You will need to roast your eggplant and scoop out the flesh and then chop it up. Next, heat the oil, add the cumin, and then add the tomato onion sauce to the saucepan. Heat it through, add the chopped eggplant, and mix. Garnish with cilantro. Simple.
- 2 medium eggplants (use Italian eggplants)
- 8-10 garlic cloves (crushed and left whole. Halve if very large)
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 medium onions (finely chopped)
- ¼ cup cilantro (finely chopped)
- 2 tbsp grated ginger
- 4 tomatoes (finely diced)
- 1 green chili pepper (like serrano or jalapeno, finely minced. Optional)
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cayenne (use more or less depending on how much heat you like)
- ½ tsp turmeric
- Salt to taste
- Roasting the eggplants on a grill or stovetop: Make slits all over the eggplant skin and insert the crushed garlic inside each until it's firmly embedded. Using a pair of tongs, carefully roast the eggplant on each side until the skin is charred and a knife inserted in the thickest part goes cleanly through.Roasting the eggplants in the oven: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut each eggplant into half lengthwise. Make slits in the flesh portion of each half and insert a garlic clove in each. Place cut side down on a foil-lined pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the thickest part of the eggplant goes cleanly through.
- When the eggplants are cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skin if you roasted them over an open fire, or, if you baked them, scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Chop roughly. You can also mash the eggplant or blitz it, but I prefer chopping for the best flavor. Set the eggplant aside.
- In a saucepan, heat the oil and add the cumin. Let the cumin darken slightly and then add the onions, green chili peppers if using, and half the cilantro. Season with some salt. Saute over medium heat until the onions soften and start to brown.
- Add the ginger, coriander powder, cayenne and turmeric. Mix well to toast the spices, for about a minute. Then add in the tomatoes. Mix, and let them cook another five minutes or so until pulpy. You don't want to cook them for too long.
- Add the chopped or mashed eggplant and mix thoroughly until it disappears into the sauce. Add salt as necessary.
- Turn off the heat after five minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.