Monday, September 20, 2010

Indian Feast Pt. 2: Baingan Bharta

I remember Arhia telling me once, years ago when we were cooking partners, that she really liked burnt foods because growing up her family cooked in a wood-burning (?) oven that often cooked unevenly.  The burnt taste, therefore, tasted like home and family.

Although I don't really like eating burnt things, I do love the smell of smoke.  And I think it's for similar reasons: I have really positive associations with it.  Campfires and cookouts are happy, special occasions.  Even other kinds of smoke get me: the smell of grilling meat (seriously) takes me back to Senegal and its dibiteries, and often even cigarette and pot smoke (neither of which I partake in) trigger memories of parties and concerts past.

Smoky food is good not just because it tastes like smoke, however, but also because that kind of roasting concentrates and transforms other flavors in the food as well.

Until this post, whenever I made food that called for blackened or roasted vegetables, I'd do it in the oven, as in the case of this baba ganoush post.  But last night I finally tried the stovetop method, which had always struck me as needlessly dangerous.  And oh! it's so much better.

No two eggplants are not on fire...

Yes, that is an eggplant making direct contact with fire.  I put the gas on medium and turned the eggplant about every 2-3 minutes for 10 minutes.  So, so good.

Fire aside, was this a dangerous meal?  Bell pepper, and tomato, and eggplant, all vegetables proven to cause inflammation, send macro folks and arthritics running.  Also, does smoking the heck out of a vegetable increase the amount of nitrosamines or other harmful stuff in it?  I know liquid smoke was controversial for a while, but it's used in such small amounts, it seems negligible.

Do your worst, burnt eggplant; nothing will keep me from getting to you.  This was the dish whose deliciousness really made me want to cry.  The intense smokiness of the eggplant finds faint echoes in the cardamom and cloves of the garam masala I used.  After this taste, the next most prominent is a mixture of quite spicy and slightly sour, a flavor that feels kind of tightly wound, almost fizzy, on the tip of your tongue.  Although the recipe only calls for 1/2 a chile, it's spicier because you add it at the end, after most of the cooking is done.

Strangely, the red onion never really got soft.  I don't think I shorted the cooking time, but it ended up still crunchy.  Now, the eggplant is already perfectly cooked before you add it, so the slightly crunchy onion is not exactly a problem--in fact, it gives the dish a fresh feel that it usually doesn't seem to have when I've had it at restaurants.  But it's a little different.

It's also pretty: purple onion, red tomato, and green chilies and cilantro all decorate the otherwise "meh" color of the eggplant.

Besides reducing the oil, I followed Saran's recipe in IHC quite closely, but I also roasted the tomatoes (in the oven, not on the stove), mostly to remove their skins, which seemed unnaturally shiny.  A step that, had I made it to the farmers market yesterday, would not have been necessary, but one which probably added to the overall deliciousness.

Baingan Bharta

1 large eggplant, roasted, cooled, and peeled
2 TB canola oil
1-in piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 red onion, chopped
1 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TB unsweetened coconut
1 TB ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 medium tomatoes, roasted and skinned (optional), and chopped
1/2 fresh hot green chile, chopped
2 TB chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1/2 lemon

1. After it is roasted, cooled, and peeled, dice and mash eggplant.  Set aside.
2. In a large skillet, heat oil and ginger over medium high heat and cook 30 seconds.  Add onion and salt and cook about 10 minutes (or perhaps longer).
3. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds.  Add coconut; cook 1 minute.  Add coriander, cumin, garam masala, and cayenne; cook 1 minute.  Add a tablespoon of water; cook 1 more minute.
4. Add tomatoes and eggplant; cook 5 minutes.
5. Stir in the chile, half the cilantro, and the lemon juice.  Add salt to taste.  Garnish with remaining cilantro.  Serves about 4-5.


janet @ the taste space said...

Julia, I finally picked up more eggplant to make this... but I am ignorant on Indian food. What do you serve this with to make this a filling meal? Could I throw some chickpeas or lentils in there?

Julia said...

Oh, good! This is one of my all-time favorites. When I make this I often also make some version of Chana Masala, but that's of course doubling your work. I'm sure you could add in some legumes to make a one-dish meal, but I think part of what is so fun about Indian food is having a variety of dishes, with different tastes and textures, to move between. A faster proteiny dish would definitely be dal of some sort-- this recipe from Indian Home Cooking is fantastic (though perhaps not the most geographically 'authentic' match for the Baingan Bharta). Or the spinach dal I think we talked about a while back. This dal with tofu in it (!) is a little bit less typical, but it was delicious and very hearty, and I think the tomato-y flavors would go well with the eggplant dish. Finally, I just made these parathas last night that actually have mung beans in them! A little fussy, but they turned out great.

janet @ the taste space said...

Oops, I forgot to write back, but thanks for the suggestions! Your dal palak is seriously yum! I may very well finally crack out a chana masala recipe.. you first one looks comforting with all the savoury spices but I have been eyeing Orangette's recipe for the longest time! Actually, I bet the bharta would go well with the dal bhat I just posted.. :)