Minor cooking storm – My recipe for Bhaingan Bhartha

When I am feeling well and not-quite-so-pregnant I get in moods where I need to cook up what’s in the fridge, lest all the tasty ingredients I’ve bought lose their luster.  Hence today’s post of yesterday’s cooking. Last week on my final day of work, after an awesome lunch at Nam Phuong, my workplace’s favorite Vietnamese restaurant, we headed to the Vietnamese grocer next door to pick up vegetables. While my compatriots chose Bok Choy,  I picked my favorite old standards – spinach and Chinese eggplant. Pretty sweet deal – 3 beautiful purple eggplants and two large bunches of spinach for $5 total. And all very fresh.

Imagine my glee when opening the fridge yesterday they were still looking pretty good. Better cook them up before I lose more time, I thought! To make sure that I didn’t screw up the recipes entirely, not having prepared these vegetables in some time, I googled and came up with a recipe from the net to improvise my creation: Bhaingan Bhartha – an Indian eggplant preparation. Out came my Tarla Dalal cookbook so that I could make some Palak Paneer, though I will admit readily that I never make preparations as thoroughly as Tarla.

I will also admit that Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World
made a big difference in streamlining my cooking process. While I was originally taught to cook the spinach separately from the vaghar (the oil-spice-onion mixture that is a base for much of Indian cuisine) and then blend the two together, instead this time I just threw in the spinach at the end and gave the whole thing a nice slow cook, so we will see how it turned out. Mark, though creating an awesome book overall that is an excellent go-to for international cooking, still needs to up the ante on his spices a little.  I always just go for whole spices and separate powders when I can instead of mixing up curry powders ahead of time. So I still use family-based recipes when cooking this stuff. For now I will put up the Bhaingan Bhartha recipe. The Palak recipe will go up later – the food’s not quite done. I did the palak part but I haven’t cooked it with the paneer yet. But maybe I’ll post the sauce up later today.

Bhaingan Bhartha (serves 2-3)

3 Chinese eggplants
2 tsp ghee
1 Tbsp vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1-2 green chilis, chopped in half
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 inch chopped ginger
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tsp kosher salt
1 large tomato, chopped
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp red chili powder
additional salt to taste
chopped coriander leaves to garnish (approx 1/4 cup)

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F, place eggplants on baking sheet and allow to roast, turning intermittently, for 30 minutes until brown on all sides and soft. Remove from oven, create a slit through the eggplant lengthwise, and allow to cool. When cooler to touch, scrape eggplant meat out using a spoon, then discard skins.  Chop eggplant.

2. While the eggplant is cooking, place nonstick pan on stove (small wok-type pan preferable) and turn on to medium heat. Add ghee and oil, when melted and hot add cumin, black mustard seed, and turmeric and allow to shimmer.  Add garlic, ginger, onion, and green chilis and allow to saute for 2-3 minutes. Add salt and continue to cook until soft – onions should be clear but not browned.

3.  Add eggplant, tomato, sugar, coriander powder, and red chili powder, stirring frequently. Add small amounts of water intermittently when the eggplant starts to stick to the sides of the container. I add the water as I’m cooking so that it isn’t so much to cook down later. This second part of the cooking process is important because it imparts a smoky flavor to the eggplant – cook and stir for approximately 10 minutes on medium heat.

4. Add additional salt to taste at the end and top with coriander leaves. Serve with rice or naan. (Mine has some daal on the side as well).

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