Aubergine/eggplant/brinjal/melanzane/berenjenas, the humble baingan has many names and they come in all shapes and sizes. The colours mostly vary from deep purple, black, cream, light green, bright magenta or even stripes of white and purple. Did you know eggplant is basically a fruit, a variety of nightshade like tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes? Fruit or vegetable, it is one of my favorites. Full of nutrition, eggplants are low in calories and are rich source of antioxidants, folate, vitamins and minerals, They are high on fiber and low on fat. Most of all they are delicious and can be cooked in many ways. It is not the boring veggie you believe it to be.
When buying eggplants look for vivid color, Choose the ones which are light in weight and free of any bruises, scars or discolouration. They should be firm with their calyx cap still green. This ensures that the eggplant is fresh and ripe. Test the ripeness by pressing the skin of the vegetable with your thumb pad, if it springs back the eggplant is ripe. Once cut, place them in a bowl of salt water to remove bitterness. Throw away the water.
There are so many delicious dishes you can make with eggplants. You can grill them with herbs, bake with cheese, roast and mash to make baba ghaoush, eggplant mash or baingan bharta/chokha, use variety of ingredients,to stuff them or you can make eggplant sauce to top up the pizzas/sandwiches etc. Aubergine dip is one of my favorites and so are these two recipes from my Indian kitchen.
The sweet and sour eggplant or khatte meethe baingan is an explosion of tastes. I love the sweet tangy flavours spiced up with chili and other spices. The tamarind/tomatoes and jaggery give the dish a unique texture and flavor. I love garlic and it pairs beautifully with aubergines.
1. Sweet and Sour Eggplant Vegetable
The khatte meethe baingan have two variations. One is made with Tamarind and jaggery and the one here uses tomatoes instead of tamarind. Chokh Vagun is a traditional Kashmiri baingan recipe that uses tamarind and fennel seeds. This is a variation of the same.
Baby eggplants – 8-10
Tomatoes – 1/2 cup finely chopped
Ginger – 1/2 inch (grated)
Garlic – 4 cloves (grated)
Red Onions – 2 medium size ( finely chopped)
Corriander Greens – 1/4 cup (finely chopped)
Curry Leaves – 6-8
Fennel seeds – 1/2 teaspoon
Onion Seeds (kalounji) – 1/4 teaspoon
Mustard Seeds – 1/4 teaspoon
Cumin Seeds – 1/4 teaspoon
Jaggery – 2 tablespoon (shredded or granules)
Salt – to taste
Whole Dry Red chili -1
Hing/asafoetida – generous pinch
Red Chili Powder – to taste
Coriander Powder – 2 tablespoon
Garam Masala Powder – 1/4 teaspoon
Mustard Oil – 2 tablespoon (you can use any other oil too)
Wash and remove the stems of the eggplants.
Slice them lengthwise in 2 inch slices and put them in a bowl of salted water). Discard the water before using the vegetable slices.
Heat the oil in a heavy bottom pan (Kadhayi) and once it begins to smoke lower the flame. Add cumin seeds and mustard seeds. When they start to crackle add dry red chili ,curry leaves and onion.
Stir the onions on low heat till they become translucent. Add ginger and garlic. Stir.
Add salt to help it become brown. When the mixture turns golden brown add red chili powder and a tablespoon of water. Mix well. This will give color to the masala. Cook on low heat for a few minutes then add the other dry masalas. Mix well and let it cook for a minute. Add chopped tomatoes. Mix well.
Cover and let it simmer for a few minutes. When the tomatoes become soft and mushy and the masala is fully absorbed add half a cup of water to it and mix. Let it cook for 5-8 minutes.
At this point stir in the eggplant slices and cover. Let it cook till the eggplant slices become tender. Now add jaggery and mix well. If the tomatoes are not sour ones then add a teaspoon of amchoor or mango powder at this point. You can replace tomatoes with tamarind taste too. I dissolve jaggery in tamarind water and add that instead of tomatoes at times.
Remember that sometimes the vegetables dont soften once the souring agent is added so it is better to let them tenderize before adding any sour thing.
Cover the curry and let cook for a while untill all the spices and other ingredients blend well.
Open the lid and add chopped coriander greens. Cover and cook for 5 more minutes then turn off the heat.
You can make it dry or a little curried per your liking.
Serve it hot with fresh phulka/paratha or steamed rice.
2. Sweet And Sour Eggplant With Winter Greens
The second delicious vegetable with eggplant today is speciality of Varanasi or Benares as we know it. Aaloo bhanta saag (Thanks Sangeeta Khanna for reminding me this name) is mostly eaten with kachoris there. The preparation is a staple of Uttarpradesh and Bihar and usually prepared during Diwali when the market is brimming with fresh tender winter greens. It is a mushy vegetable made with baby potatoes, spinach, fresh dill greens and masala badi (A condiment- a dehydrated lentil cake). My version doesn’t have potatoes. The spinach and wispy fern like dill greens (sowa) give it a unique flavour.
Dill leaves / shepoo/ sowa has a strong but pleasant anise-like flavour. Usually it is used in combination with spinach. I use it for making pakodas (dumplings) and for aloo sowa veggie too. Both the green have a high nutrient content. The dill springs have many essential volatile oils which are good for health. It also has vitamin A,C, B6, manganese, folate, copper, calcium and iron. Spinach on the other hand is full of phytonutrients. omega3 fatty acids among other things.
To make this wonderful veggie you will need
A medium size round eggplant
Spinach leaves – 250 gm
sowa or fresh dill greens 100 gms
ginger – 1 tablespoon grated
garlic – 3 cloves finely chopped
onion – 1 roughly chopped
Dry red chili whole -1
cumin seeds – 1/4 teaspoon
fenugreek seeds – 1/4 tsp
fennel seeds – 1/4 tsp
Generous pinch of hing or asafoetida
Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
Salt – to taste
Mustard oil – 1-2 tablespoon
Wash, clean and chop the spinach and dill greens. Keep aside.
Wash and cut the eggplant in small cubes. Put them in salted water.
Heat a tablespoon of mustard oil in a kadhai or cast iron wok. Once the oil begins to smoke lower the heat and add, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds and whole red chili. When the seeds begin to crackle add onion, garlic and ginger. Stir well.
Add chopped onions and just when they turn translucent add the chopped brinjals Add salt , turmeric powder and cover. Cook for 5 minutes on medium heat then open the lid and add the greens. Stir well.
Dry roast fennel seed and onion seeds slightly and crush them in a mortar. Add this now.
Let it cook covered for a few minutes so the spices get absorbed in the vegetables (around 20 min) and then give it a stir after removing the lid.
You can make this wonderful veggie dry or coated with masala. I have not added the badi in this version but if you do then crush the badi (I use the amritsari urad dal badi) and in a little oil turn in over with crushed garlic till it browns. Add this to the vegetable and let the flavours seep in.
Serve it hot with Jowar bhakri/ roti/ poori or kachori. Winter greens taste best with flatbreads (roti/bhakri) made with sorghum, pearl millet and Indian corn flour. These are best for people following paleo or gluten-free diet and taste wonderful too.
If you make any of these, do let me know how they turned out. Any suggestions are welcome.