My family always made fun of Baingan or eggplant with the word “bin gun” which loosely translates to without any abilities as the vegetable is part of the nightshade family and high in alkaloids which can wreak havoc on sensitive stomachs. My family was very much in the above category but my mom would make this recipe as an exception for us as we fared a bit better in that department, and the flavor and textures of this recipe elevate eggplants into a star of its own. And that’s where the “bhagare” comes from describing the tadka or frying and tempering of spices, coconut, and lentil along with a tomato onion mixture which is fragrant and contains notes multiple in earthiness and surprises.
In fact as I grew older, I realized we had very unfairly characterized eggplant! Eggplant is a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B1 and copper. Eggplant skin contains nasunin which has shown to help in situations of cell damage. Also as someone transitioning back to a somewhat resemblance of my vegetarian life when I was younger, I love the spongy meaty texture of eggplant for my main meals.
Along with making diet changes, I want to refocus my recipes as loving memoirs of the elements that make each dish so unique in the layers of flavor it builds. As I see white interpretations of dishes that are home to me, I’m saddened although not surprised by the lack of nuance. See: garam masala does not need to be the sole spice ingredient for everything. With that in mind, I hope I can paint a portrait of the beauty in which these dishes churn and bring so many ingredients together in something that’s both harmonious and echoing of the beauty in differences.
- 1 tbsp Chana dal
- 2 tbsp grated dry coconut
- a couple curry leaves
- 5-6 red chilis
- 2 tbsp peanuts
- 2 tbsp cashews
- 1 tbsp sesame
- 1 tbsp corriander seeds
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste (can make by soaking tamarind seeds and extracting paste)
- 8-10 baby eggplants
- 2 medium tomatoes
- Handful cilantro
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1/2 tsp sugar (optional)
We start out by making the paste that we will stuff the eggplants with as well as composing the main gravy of the dish. Take the coriander, sesame, mustard, and cumin seeds with the red chilis, cashew, peanuts, and chana dal and roast them on a pan on medium high. It’ll become very aromatic as its close to being done. Combine in a blender with the coconut, tamarind, and ginger paste. Set aside.
Cross section eggplants about 3/4 of the way so the eggplant will hold. Fill as evenly as you can the paste, I find a butter knife really useful for this. Once done, you can either fry the eggplants so they’re slightly cooked or I like to put a tablespoon, slightly sear the eggplants and then put a lid on them to steam for 2-3 minutes. Set these aside as we make the base sauce.
We start the sauce with caramelizing diced onions. Add some salt and keep it on low. It takes a little while for them to start sweating before caramelizing. Stir occasionally.
Take the caramelized onions and blend with the 2 medium sized tomatoes. In the pan with the sauteed eggplant, add the tomato onion and previous tamarind and spice paste we made. Kindof starts to look like a jackson pollock painting? Place a lid over the pan and simmer on low. The iconic bhagare part of the process. You can add the optional sugar here, but I prefer it without.
Garnish with more chili or chopped cilantro and eat with rotis, bulgur wheat, rice, whatever carby or veggie side that ensures you get to spend a long time savoring the multiple layers of eggplants cooked in this manner.