On my trips to India, I always try to make it a point to stop at the Desai household in Delhi. Our family has been the dearest of friends with the Desais for longer than I have been alive. While we share no blood relation, we have become family through a shared love of The Beatles, jazz, Scandinavian furniture, Marimekko, and (of course) incredible food. When our families are together, we never go hungry. Not only do we never go hungry, we never actually feel the physical sensation of hunger because we are too busy stuffing our faces with unbelievable treats! There was the memorable trip when the two Desai girls came to Chicago, and we managed to eat an entire wheel of cheese in less than 4 hours. Another trip involved me eating an entire Tosca cake over the course of 2 days. We always have certain things we request when we visit each other: they insist on my dad’s butter chicken (recipe to come at some point in the future!) and I always ask for baingan bharta. Shanti, a member of the Desai household, makes the absolute best baingan bharta I’ve ever had. She roasts the eggplant over a fire, deeply caramelizes onions with cumin, and combines it with tomatoes and spices for a completely heavenly dish. I try to eat it three times a day when I visit: on toast for breakfast, with parathas for lunch, and with rice and rotis for dinner. A few years after I first tasted Shanti’s most amazing baingan bharta, I built up the courage to ask for the recipe. I wrote it down on the back of my boarding pass and stuck it in the book I was reading as a book mark. When I returned to the states, I made it a few times, and while it was (and has never been) quite as good as Shanti’s, it certainly satisfied my craving. At one point, I lost the recipe (because of course I didn’t transcribe it onto a more permanent medium than the boarding pass) and panicked! I called the Desais, insisted on getting the recipe again, and breathed a sigh of relief once it was in my hands–this time on an actual sheet of paper rather than a scrap. Now, the recipe is here for posterity’s sake. I hope you make this and fall in love with it as much as I have!
The base of this dish, and what makes the dish so amazingly delicious, is fire roasted eggplant. Shanti typically roasts the eggplant over the stove, and in the past that’s what I’ve usually done. As it was unbelievably hot in Portland this past weekend, I roasted the eggplant over our grill and it worked perfectly. The key is to roast the eggplant until the flesh softens, the skin blackens and begins to split. Be very careful when you do this! A lot of steam is built up from all the water in the eggplant. The eggplant is then allowed to cool slightly, cut in half, and scooped out with a spoon. After coarsely chopping the eggplant, it’s added to a spicy tomato and onion mix. If you have a gas stove, feel free to roast the eggplant directly on the open flame, turning it regularly. If you have an electric stove, your best bet is to cut the eggplant in half and roast it under the broiler.
The tomato and onion mixture starts off by toasting cumin in oil until slightly browned. It’s very important to not let the cumin blacken in this dish, otherwise it can lend a bitter flavor to the finished product. Then, diced onions are browned until the edges just begin to turn very dark. Then go in tomatoes and a small sampling of spices. This is all cooked down into a rich, savory paste. Once it is a dark terracotta color, the smoky eggplant gets added in and stirred well. It’s briefly cooked together until all the flavors meld. The final dish is smoky and savory, it’s slightly sweet from the caramelized onions and tomatoes, and it’s absolutely delicious. There are relatively few spices called for in this recipe and all the ingredients are easily available at a grocery store, so if you’re nervous about making Indian food, this is a good place to start! I hope you love this dish as much as I have, and I hope it becomes a staple in your home as it has in mine.
Smoky Eggplant with Tomato, Onion, and Cumin ~ Baingan Bharta
|Prep:||Cook:||Yield: serves 6||Total:|
Break out the grill for this classic Indian dish of roasted eggplant with caramelized onions, tomato, and cumin. It's smoky, rich, and utterly delicious!
- 3 medium eggplants
- 4 Tbsp. canola oil
- 1.5 tsp cumin seeds
- 3 medium yellow onions, diced
- 6 roma tomatoes, diced
- 1.5 tsp powdered coriander seed
- 1.5 tsp powdered cumin
- 1.5 tsp red chili powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- Salt, to taste
- To roast the eggplant on a grill:
- Heat your grill to medium high. Place the eggplant on the grill and roast, turning frequently, until the skin is blackened, blistered, and the flesh has softened. Remove from the grill and transfer to a plate and allow to cool.
- To roast the eggplant on a gas stove:
- Turn the gas onto high. Place the eggplant directly over the open flame and roast, turning frequently, until the skin is blackened, blistered, and the flesh has softened. Remove from the gas flame and transfer to a plate and allow to cool. Repeat with remaining eggplants.
- To roast the eggplant in the oven:
- Cut the eggplant in half and place on a broiler proof baking sheet. Broil, checking frequently, until the skin is blackened, blistered, and the flesh has softened. Remove from the oven and allow to slightly cool on a plate.
- For the rest of the dish:
- Heat a large saucepan or wok over medium-high heat. Add the oil to the pan. Add the cumin seeds and allow to sizzle and darken slightly until terracotta colored. Add the onions and cook until well browned, with darkening around the edges. Do not allow to burn. Add a pinch of salt. Add the remainder of the spices and stir well.
- Add the tomatoes and cook until the oil separates from the tomatoes. Be sure to scrape up the flavorful fond that the onions left behind!
- While the tomatoes are cooking, cut the eggplant in half. Carefully scrape the softened flesh from the skin and chop coarsely if necessary. Some eggplants will totally dissolve with the heat.
- Once the tomatoes are cooked, add the eggplant and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Taste and season with salt. Garnish with cilantro and serve!
Delicious with flat bread, rice, as a side to grilled meats.