Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eggplant Bharta: A Classic North Indian Dish

Of all the world cuisines, Indian is unquestionably my favourite. With its extraordinary layers of flavour and culinary complexity of aromatic spices, fresh herbs, and dazzling array of vegetarian dishes, daals and curries, India's range of cuisine delights and amazes most palates. Different regions in India offer their own specialties with their own unique taste, subtlety and aroma. A popular dish in the Punjab and Rajasthan region of northern-western India, is Eggplant Bharta, also known as Baingan Bharta, which was traditionally made by gently roasting eggplants in the ashes of a fire. An unlikely cooking method for modern day cooks, many choose to roast them in the oven instead, until they become wonderfully soft and tender.

Sautéed with chopped onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin and green chilis, many recipes call for fresh chopped tomatoes, but I prefer using tomato paste instead, as it adds a more robust flavour to the final dish. Some cooks also discard the skin from the eggplant, but I think that the taste and presentation is greatly enhanced by coarsely chopping the whole eggplant, rather than mashing it, as with a traditional Bharta. A nutritional powerhouse, eggplant is also low in fat and sodium, and high in dietary fibre and vitamins. Add to that the tomato, green chillies, onion and aromatic blend of spices, you also have a classic and delicious Indian dish — and vegetarian too.

Indian Eggplant Bharta
Serves 6-8
Modified from a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey

2 large eggplant
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 fresh hot green chili, seeded and finely chopped
3 tbsp cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 small can tomato paste
1 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp ghee (optional)
2 tsp garam masala

Preheat oven to 375°F. Trim the ends off the eggplant and cut lengthwise into eighths. Place skin side down on a baking sheet and roast for 1 hour, until the flesh is browned. Remove the cooked eggplant from the oven and place on a sheet of tin foil, overlapping the slices into a mound. Seal the packet tightly, and set aside. 

Using a small food processor, blend the onion, ginger and garlic into a smooth paste. Add 3 tablespoons of water and continue to blend for one minute.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Pour in the paste from the blender and add the turmeric. Sauté this mixture stirring frequently for about 20-30 minutes. The paste will not brown but will reduce slightly. Add the green chili and cilantro and stir for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove the eggplant from the foil. It will be very soft and tender. and coarsely chop into bite size pieces. Add the chopped eggplant to the sauce and cook for 10-15 minutes, seasoning with lemon juice, salt, garam masala and dollop of ghee for flavour. To serve, transfer the Eggplant Bharta to a warm dish and garnish with chopped cilantro. The Eggplant Bharta can also be kept warm over a very low heat until required.

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