Papa owned a Vespa scooter. A blue LML Vespa dx, with silver rims. For someone living in a small town of central India, that was sort of a matter of pride. Even though after Papa and mummy took their seats there was practically no room left for a seven and four-year-old to squeeze in but we somehow made room and we were very proud of that scooter. We have so many childhood memories attached to that little blue wonder wheels of ours.
But one day for some reason my parents decided there’s need for a change. It might have something to do with my 4′ 3″ brother sitting on a tiny seat right in front of papa while he would drive, but they decided that we as a family need to graduate to a car. They brought home a second hand Fiat car. I really can’t recall what model it was but I do remember me looking at it for the first time and thinking, boy this is a beauty! It was after that car came into our lives was when the real fun began. It sure stopped at some of the most random places and Papa would ask my brother and I to hop out and push, but by then we were big and strong enough to do that and we did not mind it a bit. Nothing can beat the pride of being one of the few kids in your class whose dad owned a car, right? And then those road trips to grandma’s house, long drives and picnics.
There used to be a hanuman temple on top of a mountain and right on the foothills ran a beautiful river. So most summer Sundays would begin with a drive up to the hanuman temple and then a lunch picnic by the river. Mummy and aunts would either take the kids for a hike or we would play in the river with our dog and dads would be in charge of food.
Papa would generally cook his chicken curry on campfire. Uncles would make batti (thick wheat bread) and baigan bharta. A very simple recipe but carried a punch. It would start with eggplants being covered under hot ashes until almost cooked and then charred on direct flame. Peeled, mashed and mixed with chopped onion, tomato, hot chili, cilantro and salt. That’s it! A recipe doesn’t get simpler than that but the smokiness of charred eggplant skin married with the heat from chili was just a party in your mouth.
The Baigan Bharta recipe I am sharing today is not exactly the same as what uncles made 20 years back but it still brings back those memories.
Ingredients: Serves 4
1 medium sized eggplants (approx. 1lb)
2-3 garlic cloves (whole, peeled)
2 thai green chili (adjust per taste)
2 tablespoon cooking oil (I use mustard but any other oil is fine too)
1 pinch asafetida
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
3/4 cup onion (chopped)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 cup tomato (chopped)
1/2 cup green peas
1 cup potato (boiled, peeled, coarsely mashed)
Salt to taste
1/4 cup cilantro (chopped)
Wash the eggplant clean. Make shallow slits. Press whole garlic cloves and
chili in the cuts.
Roast it over direct flame, turning on intervals until the inside is cooked through and outside is charred. Once done, place in a deep dish or bowl and cover with lid.
Another way of cooking the eggplants is to wrap it with aluminum foil. Place on
lower rack of oven. Bake for approximately 3 hours at 400 deg. F until fully cooked. Pull out of the over. Let it cool for 10 minutes. Finish charring on direct flame. Once done, place in a deep dish or bowl and cover with lid.
Once eggplant is cool enough to handle, peel the skin out. Coarsely mash the flesh and set aside for later.
Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan over medium heat. Add asafetida followed by cumin and mustard seeds. As they sputter, add onion. Saute for 2-3 minutes until they begin to get translucent.
Add turmeric, coriander, garam masala. Quick stir. Add tomato. Cook on medium heat for 5-8 minutes until the tomatoes melt and form a loose paste.
Turn heat to medium low. Add green peas. Cook until tender.
Add salt, potatoes and cooked eggplant. Stir to mix well. Cover and cook for 3-5 minutes.
Uncover. Add cilantro. Stir well. Turn off heat. Serve with hot naans or roti.