In last week’s New York Times’ Dining & Wine section, Melissa Clark explored the eggplant. A staple of late-summer farmers’ markets, the fleshy purple-skinned vegetable is steamed and fried, grilled and roasted, with dreams of deep-frying, sauteing and broiling for good measure.
When I saw that article in the paper, I ignored it. I don’t particularly care for eggplant, with all its slimy oiliness, and am generally uninterested in reading about it. But when she read the article, my aunt exclaimed in outrage, “I need to write a letter to the editor!” due to Clark’s failure to mention baingan bharta, the popular North Indian eggplant curry. All of a sudden I was intrigued. Not so much by the article (sorry Melissa!) but by hazy recollections of a creamy eggplant dish I vaguely remember my grandmother making.
I brought it up with my parents when I was home this weekend, and my mom immediately said, “oh I used to make that a lot!” Somehow I’ve managed to collectively forget the apparently many, many times my mom made this when I was a child. I’m of the opinion that she maybe made it once or twice and believes that she made it more often, but I’ve been told I’m wrong.
Rather than the traditional roasting of the eggplant on an open flame, she boils the eggplant first, then sautees it. To me that sounds horribly gross (boiled eggplant? Ew.) but both my mom and dad insisted that it’s delicious. Since my expertise in both the eggplant-cooking and Indian-recipe-making areas is limited, I went with what they said, following my mom’s recipe to the T.
What results is a fiery, velvety dish, perfect for dipping with pita or crackers or even just a spoon. It converted this eggplant non-believer into a “well, I know I like baingain bharta” gal and it may do the same for you. As summer winds down and you hit up the last of your picnics, consider bringing this dish. I promise only good things will follow.
Baingan Bharta (Indian Eggplant Dip)
– 2 medium eggplants, chopped into 2-inch pieces
– 4 cups water
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
– 6 tablespoons oil
– 1/2 onion, chopped
– 1 tomato, chopped
– 4 cloves garlic, grated
– 1 inch fresh ginger, grated
– 6 Thai green chilies, minced (or 2 jalapeño peppers, with seeds, minced)*
– 1/2 cup cilantro
– 1/4 teaspoon sugar
– salt and pepper, to taste
*Thai green chilis are small, skinny peppers that pack a hefty punch. Six of them in this recipe makes it quite spicy, which I liked because I thought it balanced the sweetness of the eggplant nicely. If you can’t handle a ton of spice, start with three and keep tasting and adding as necessary.
1) Boil the eggplant with the water, salt and turmeric for 20 minutes, until translucent.
2) In a large skillet, heat up the oil until sizzling. Fry the onions until slightly browned, then add the tomatoes and saute for 3-5 minutes on medium heat. Then add the ginger, garlic and chilies and fry for another 7-10 minutes.
3) Once everything has browned, add the eggplant and mash with a wooden spoon. Add sugar, salt and pepper, then cook for an additional 15 minutes, until a bit of oil begins to rise to the top of the mixture.
4) Stir in the cilantro. Serve warm, with pita, pita chips or crackers.