One afternoon while we were chatting over a long chain of text messages, my friend Kankana asked if I had the recipe for bharwan baigan I can share with her. Well it was a simple question but it got me very confused. . You see I do not have the recipe for bharwan baigan or Indian style stuffed eggplants. I have at least five or maybe more than that.
One is my mum’s recipe that I grew up hating (what a fool I was!) and now crave for a bite of it. She uses Chinese eggplants in her recipe and stuffs it with 6-7 dry pickling spices along with raw garlic and fries it in mustard oil. Then there’s my mum-in-law’s recipe which I cannot admit but is an absolute killer too. She uses those small, stout, softer skinned Indian eggplants and fills them with a spicy onion, ginger garlic paste.
Then growing up I had a neighbor aunty (Indians have a habit of addressing all your mum’s friends, friends friends, house help, stranger walking on the street, basically every woman around your mum’s age as aunty). So this particular “aunty” of mine hailed from the south of India. Now she made some amazing stuffed eggplants too but hers used lighter skinned eggplants and were filled with a paste made of peanuts, coconut and a few other spices.
When talking of bharwan baigan recipes and my inspirations then I should also talk about the cook at our hostel mess kitchen. I wouldn’t call her one of the best cooks in the world although I cannot blame her either. Cooking anything for a tough crowd of 50, weight watching, acne ridden, college going young girls everyday, three times a day can take toll on you. But however watery her dals would be or leather tough her rotis were, she sure made some mind blowing bharwan baigan. She used the commonly used Indian eggplants but used chickpea flour as a stuffing, a recipe again which was to die for.
Like many other Indian dishes every family and cook gives a different twist to this dish depending on the region they belong to. So when someone like my friend Kankana asks me for the recipe for bharwan baigan I rightfully get confused. I stalled her for a few days before I finally confessed my dilemma with her and then confused her too. Just like me she couldn’t pick one because all of them are amazing in their own way. So I promised her to share my own recipe which has an essence of all these recipes that have inspired me. So there you go!
8-10 small of medium size Indian/Asian eggplants
1 cup red onion
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 thai green chili
1/4 cup mustard oil (olive oil or vegetable oil is fine too)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 tablespoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoon dry mango powder (aam chur)
1 teaspoon roasted cumin powder
1/4 cup dry desiccated coconut
Salt to taste.
Wash and pat eggplants dry. Using a carving knife make long deep slits into the eggplant running from top to bottom without the knife passing through the other side. Set aside.
Coarsely grind onion, ginger, garlic and green chili in a food processor.Set aside.
Heat oil in a thick bottom pan over medium high heat.
Add mustard and fennel seeds. As they sputter add the onion paste prepared before.
Mix well. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring every 1-2 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom.
Once the paste begins to turn golden brown add salt. Stir well. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until oil separates.
Add the remaining spices. Mix well and cook for another minute or so.
Turn the heat to low.
Now stuff approximately 1 teaspoon masala paste into each eggplant. Drop egg plants into the same pan. Leave any extra masala in the pan. Try to be careful with hot masala. Can also let the masala cool down completely if its tough to handle.
Again turn the heat to medium low. Toss the eggplants in the pan to coat with the remaining grease and masala in the pan. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the eggplants are cooked through. Toss and turn the eggplants carefully every 2-3 minutes making sure all sides are cooked well.
Serve on the side with hot rotis, dal and rice.