Roasted Eggplants (Baigan Bharta) with Spring Garlic and Scallions
By Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
Eggplants, native to India, grow there all year-round and are available in many shapes and colors. It is very popular in Indian cuisine with a variety of cooking methods, such as stir-frying, stuffing and roasting. In the United States, some people are not fond of eggplants. This article shows how to select the best eggplants for a very popular Indian dish called Baigan Bharta.
If prepared well, eggplants are delicious! In addition, eggplants have many health and nutritional benefits. They are a good source of fiber and potassium and are very low in calories, therefore a good option for weight watchers. Eggplants have high levels of antioxidants, such as vitamins A and C, which can help prevent cell damage. Eggplants also contain polyphenols, a chemical that can help maintain blood sugar level which is beneficial to people with diabetes.
Many variations of eggplants are now available in the United States particularly during the summer. Some of these varieties are thin and zucchini-shaped, and others are small and round, like tomatoes with green or white skin. And they are labeled as Japanese, Chinese, Italian or Indian. The small eggplants are less seedy and less bitter than are the large globe eggplants. These small eggplants are the best for roasting and/or stuffing. For this recipe, if you cannot find these eggplants in your local store, go to the farmers’ market. Try to select eggplants that are shiny and fresh and not too hard but also not too soft and wrinkly. If you cannot find the small variety, then pick a small globe eggplant.
Roasting eggplants is a fun activity and it transforms this vegetable into a soft and smoky delicacy. In addition to Indian cuisine, roasting eggplants and then mixing them with various vegetables and herbs is a method found in Middle Eastern and Russian cuisine (such as “baba ganoush” and “mock caviar”). In India, there are many regional recipes for roasted eggplants, such as this North Indian Baigan Bharta.
Eggplants love to pair with garlic – and particularly the green garlic available for short duration in the spring. If green garlic is unavailable the regular cloves of garlic work for this recipe as well.
4-5 small eggplants, about 6” long; Japanese, Chinese or Italian (about 2 cups of pulp after roasting)
Or 2 small globe eggplants (If the small eggplants are unavailable)
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil or any type of cooking oil
1/3 to ½ cup of finely chopped green (spring garlic with most of its greens)
1/3 to ½ cup of finely chopped spring onions or scallions with their greens
1/3 to ½ cup finely chopped medium hot pepper, such as Anaheim or Poblano pepper
2 or 3 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped (to get about 1½ cups of chunks)
1 teaspoon each coriander and cumin powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon or to taste salt
2-3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
¼ teaspoon or to taste cayenne pepper powder (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
First wash and dry the eggplants. Next, roast them over a flame. You can do this outdoors in open fire or on a bed of charcoal. Cooking in the open air gives the eggplants the real traditional charred flavor. But indoor roasting on a gas flame works too, leaving your kitchen with a smoky fragrance. Hold the eggplants over the open flame, one at a time, and turn them frequently while roasting. The skin will start to char and blister as you roast the eggplant. Each eggplant will take only 2-3 minutes to roast if they are fresh. (After getting some practice, you can roast two or three eggplants at a time on a burner.)
If you are cooking them outdoors, roast them on top of a hot bed of coals (without covering with foil) turning frequently. Or, hold them over the open flame with skewers while turning. When the eggplant skin has been charred all over its surface and the inside pulp looks soft, making the eggplant lose its shape, it is cooked.
Lay the roasted eggplants onto a platter and allow them to cool enough to handle. Then remove the charred skin by using your fingers. It will be very easy to peel. Finish peeling all eggplants and rub off any remaining charred skin with wet fingers. Lay eggplants on a chopping board and cut the pulp into small pieces with a knife or fork. (Do not use the electric blender or food processor for this step.) Collect the pulp into a bowl and set it aside.
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a frying pan over medium heat and stir-fry the green garlic and green onion for a minute or so. Do not allow the delicate greens to burn and turn dark. Transfer the sauteed onion and garlic onto a plate and set it aside. Wipe the skillet clean, then put the rest of the oil in pan. Add the pepper and sauté for a minute. Then add the tomato chunks. Stir fry for a few minutes while stirring and breaking the lumps of tomatoes.
Next, lower the heat and cover the pan for 2 to 3 minutes so that the tomatoes form a paste-like consistency. Then add the eggplant pulp, powder, spices and salt, while stirring to mix everything. Continue to stir the mixture for 5 minutes to heat and cook the vegetables thoroughly. Then, sprinkle the fresh lemon or lime juice. Next, taste for doneness and to see if you need more spiced flavors. If so, add the optional cayenne. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with rice or roti (Indian flat bread) or pita slices as a lunch. Or, for a complete meal, serve up Baigan Bharta with rice, bread and an Indian dal soup (you can find my dal recipe in Sunset Beacon’s September 2020 column.
Recipe copyrights by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff © 2021
Shanta is a Sunset District resident and the author of “Cooking Together” and “Flavors of India,” both available at Other Avenues Food Co-op., Green Apple Book Store, Rainbow Grocery Co-op, and at other local bookstores. Shanta writes recipes and articles on food and teaches cooking classes. Currently she shares her recipes via videos on YouTube. To view the video of this recipe, go to the website of Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture or CUESA; www.cuesa.org. Click on Eating Seasonally and then Seasonal recipes.
Categories: Cooking Together