How to make the perfect baingan bharta – recipe | Food
Bharta (also written as bhurta, vorta, bhorta and bartaamong other variations) is a happy family of mashed spicy vegetable dishes particularly popular in northern India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Aloo ka bharta use the potato, shalgam ka bharta turnip, while today’s topic, baingan ka bhartais a mashed eggplant smoked by the flames. Mallika Basu calls her “the mother of all bhartas”, while Romy Gill says in his book Zaika this baingan ka bharta with dal and roti “would be my ultimate desert island dish”. Silky, tangy with tomato and onion, and with a deliciously burnt edge, it is, as Maunika Gowardhan notes, a deceptively simple recipe, and “home cooking at its finest”.
Gowardhan believes that the secret to the magic of baingan ka bharta is “the way the eggplants are cooked. Charring them over an open flame means a smoky, earthy flavor develops and lingers.” In his book Indian cuisine: the secrets of Indian home cookingshe recommends blackening them over an open flame for best results, as most people do, with saira hamilton offer barbecue as an alternative in My Bangladesh Kitchen, and Rick Stein a very hot air grill in his book on India. Basu cooks his eggplants in a hot oven before charring them over a gas flame, which is less tedious but more energy-intensive, while Meera Soda fry them then smoke the end result by adding a hot charcoal with a little oil poured over it and letting it steep for a few minutes.
All of them are pleasant, but the smokiest results are those obtained on a barbecue or on a gas flame. If you don’t have any of these things (or don’t feel like cleaning them up afterwards), I’d recommend a hanging grill as the next best thing. If you don’t have one, do like Meera in Fresh India, though you have to beg, borrow, or steal a piece of charcoal first (please don’t steal it).
Chief Sanjeev Kapoor advises that “it is easier to remove the charred skin from a roasted eggplant if it is soaked in water immediately after roasting”, although Roopa Gulati recommends leaving on a few grains of skin “for more flavor”, a tip taken up by Harneet Baweja in the Gunpowder cookbook, and which, as a naturally sloppy cook, suits me well. (Baweja also cautions against throwing out the seedy eggplant pit. If that’s something you do, you might want to consider not doing it, although I’ve never heard of of such a thing.)
Whichever way you do it, the eggplants should be soft enough to mash with a fork or spoon and, ideally, nicely charred and blistered on the outside so they look more like charred leftovers than they do. to something you’d like to eat. Smaller examples cook faster, so opt for those if there’s a choice.
The supporting cast
Although the aubergines get the big bucks, chef Kapoor explains in his book How to Cook Indian, “this North Indian dish is as much about the sweetness of onions and the tartness of tomatoes as it is about the smoky taste of roasted eggplants” . His version uses a lot more onion than the others I try – for each eggplant he uses five red onions (which are closer to the sweet Indian pink onion than the harder yellow variety) Far from overpowering eggplant, they make a great contrast with its sweet bitterness, as well as the more acidic taste of tomatoes. (Sodha calls for white onions, which again are milder than the yellow variety, probably for the same reason.)
Use fresh rather than tinned tomatoes, if you can, as their spiciness is essential – if yours are a little underwhelming, you can, like Gowardhan, add a teaspoon of tomato puree: just enough to underline the fresh fruit, rather than turning in a tomato sauce.
Kapoor’s bharta is very simple – just aubergines, onions, tomatoes, chili powder and coriander leaves – showing that you don’t need a lot of ingredients to achieve greatness here. That said, the widely used garlic and ginger pairing adds to the depth of flavor, and I enjoy the more herbaceous heat of the widely used green chiles over the dry heat of the chili powder.
Herbs and spices
Cumin, ground coriander and turmeric are common additions in recipes I try, but I’m sold on the garam masala used by Gulati in her book India: The Vegetarian of the Worlda blend that tends to contain the first two with flavors of cinnamon and cardamom to bring out the sweetness of the onions.
A final handful of chopped cilantro and a drizzle of lime juice from Gulati and Hamilton for freshness, finishes things off nicely.
Any other matter
Ambica Aggarwal, whose recipe Stein includes in her book, cooks her bainghan ka bharta in mustard oil, which gives it a real kick, while Gulati and Baweja use ghee, whose richness I find irresistible. If you have it and eat dairy, the latter would be my preference, but neutral oil seems to be the more common and cheaper choice.
Serve, as Gill suggests, with roti and dal, or with Sodha rice or buttered naan and yogurt, or with Gowardhan rice and dal, or as part of a thali. Or with baked potatoes, or baguette, or whatever you want, because it’s a dish that can never be less than delicious.
Perfect baingan bharta
Preparation 10 minutes
To cook 40 minutes
2 medium eggplants (about 650g)
3 tablespoons of gheeor neutral oil
3 red onionspeeled and sliced
20g ginger rootpeeled and finely grated
2 cloves garlicpeeled and crushed
2 small green pepperssplit lengthwise
½ teaspoon garam masalaplus extra to serve
4 medium tomatoescoarsely chopped
1 handful of fresh corianderto serve
1 limeto serve
Place the aubergines on the gas fire of the hob or on a barbecue and leave them very tender and black, turning them regularly with heat-resistant tongs to ensure even cooking.
Alternatively, blacken under a hot broiler. Anyway, once blackened all over and soft inside, leave until cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, put the fat in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions, stirring, with a pinch of salt until tender and soft.
Stir in the ginger, garlic and chilies, cook, stirring, for about a minute, then add the garam masala and tomatoes, and cook until the tomatoes begin to soften.
Remove the eggplant flesh from the skin (don’t worry if you put some skin in it, it will only add to the flavor).
Add the eggplants to the skillet. Mash with a wooden spoon or similar until fairly smooth, then simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Meanwhile, coarsely chop the cilantro.
Stir in chopped cilantro and a little more garam masala to taste, squeeze in lime juice, also to taste, then check seasoning and adjust if necessary. Serve with rice or flatbreads.