EGGPLANTS AROUND THE WORLD: BAGARA BAINGAN
The second installment of the ‘Eggplants Around the World’ Series comes from Hyderabad, India. I think it’s really fascinating that this recipe dates back to the Mughal Empire, so people have been eating some variation of Bagara Baingan in this region for 500 years! (And it is also popular in Pakistan.)
Some of the challenges and benefits of trying new cuisines from different cultures is trying to find the obscure ingredients. I had to go on a hunt for tamarind paste and lucky me, my local shopping mall has a Seafood City in it.
Yes, a fish market in the mall between the Macy’s and the Target, it’s so bizarre. Nestled amongst purple pickled duck eggs, snapper fish balls, and mystery fruits, I was able to find these tiny Indian eggplants and the tamarind. A woman with a thick accent stopped me when I was bagging the eggplants and asked skeptically if I knew how to cook them. I told her I was going to slice them and fry them, to which she seemed to approve, and then she walked away without ceremony. I usually only last about 10 minutes in there before the fish smell drives me out, so I have to know exactly what I want and try to guess which aisle it will be in before I cross the threshold.
Bagara Baingan is essentially an eggplant curry. You might not have an asian fish market at your shopping mall so even if you can’t find these little Indian eggplants, you can just use whichever kind they carry at your grocery, and cut them into 2” wedges. After researching many different versions of this recipe, this is the one I have settled on. Other versions called for caraway, fenugreek, bay leaves, poppy seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves, but every single version was a little bit different. The ingredients below were the ones in common across the board; the only difference being the use of whole seeds, which I didn’t have, and texturally, seemed too risky.
makes 4 servings
1.5 cup water
8 indian eggplants (or 1 regular sized eggplant)
1 tbs salt dissolved in a big bowl of water, enough to cover the eggplants
2 tbs oil
1/4 cup raw peanuts (if you can only find roasted, that’s ok, just skip toasting them with the sesame and coconut)
1 tbs raw sesame seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup water
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp cumin
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2″ ginger, minced
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne, or to your heat preference
salt to taste
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Put the tamarind in a bowl with 1 cup of water to let it soak.
Cut a giant ‘+’ into the bottom of each eggplant, all the way to the stem but don’t cut the stem off or through it. Heat the oil in a big frying pan over medium high heat, add the eggplants and cover with a lid. Fry them until they are tender and glossy, turning them often to cook them evenly, about 10 minutes. You want them to be about 90% done.
Set aside, keeping the leftover oil in the pan.
In a dry frying pan, add the peanuts, sesame seeds, and coconut. VERY lightly toast them, (but don’t burn them!) When they have just begun to show a little color, remove from the heat and put them in a food processor. Grind to form a thick paste, adding 1 tablespoon of water at a time as necessary to form the paste. Set aside.
In the frying pan used for cooking the eggplants, add the onion and spices and cook over medium heat until the onions are soft and browned, adding another tablespoon of oil if necessary.
Add the garlic and ginger and cook for one more minute. Pour in the tamarind soaking water, but not the tamarind pulp itself. Discard the pulp. Also add the coconut paste. Stir everything to combine and add back the eggplants.
Reduce the heat the low and put a lid on the pan. Allow it to come to a simmer and cook 5-10 more minutes, depending on how done the eggplants are. Test them for softness with a fork, they should give no resistance when poked. Add salt to taste if necessary.
Bagara Baingan is traditionally served with byrani rice or some naan bread. And, maybe a sweet accompaniment like chutney.