Baingan Bharta (Fire Roasted Eggplant Stew)

The eggplants were so shiny and stacked up high at the farm stand last week, I couldn't resist. They were the perfect small/medium size for good flavor, and I thought I might make eggplant parmesan this week.

However, we are trying to eat a little healthier these days. The holiday, birthday, anniversary season is here and food is getting heavy! So we need to compensate a bit with what we can control. But, ugh, it's a lot more work making healthy dinners sometimes, isn't it?

I dipped into my experimental archives to find the bharta recipe I created last year. After moving, we were having fun with our bbq grill, and had actually made the effort to grill the eggplants and tomatoes over flame. I searched my computer and drawers and finally found my barely decipherable scribbling of a rough recipe in a drawer.  This time I did not feel like firing up the grill, so I broiled the eggplants and used canned tomatoes. This year's version was not as smokey as the first, but I did improve the seasoning of the dish well enough to share it here.

Baingan Bharta
1 hour, 4 servings 

2 small eggplants (3” thick / 8” long, about 1lb)
Olive Oil
1 T unsalted butter
1/4  tsp cumin seeds
1 small onion, chopped
2 tsp (1/2” thick / ½” round piece) ginger root, peeled and sliced
2 large cloves garlic (about 1 T)
*½ tsp fresh hot chili pepper, finely minced (Thai/Bird chili or Cayenne) *optional, add extra chili powder to taste if not using fresh
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp chili powder (Indian chili powder)
¾ tsp garam masala spice mix
¾ tsp kosher salt
½ C fire roasted tomatoes (canned with juices, or 3 fresh tomatoes broiled or grilled)
½ C green peas (frozen)
1 or 2 T fresh lime juice
¼ C Cilantro, plus more for garnish
*pinch of methi (fenugreek) leaves, *optional

1. Grill or broil the eggplants until mushy inside.

Pierce the eggplants a few times with a knife and rub with olive oil. Grill outside over flame or broil them on a foil lined pan. Grilling will be quick, 10-15 minutes, so check and turn every few minutes. Broiling takes about 20-25 minutes, turning every 5 minutes (don’t keep them too close to the oven’s coils or flames to avoid oil flare-ups). If you don’t have these options, 30 minutes in a 500F oven is fine. Test for doneness: a knife inserted should go in to the center easily and move around easily, you want a squishy mushy texture inside (like an over-baked sweet potato).

If using fresh tomatoes, add them (whole, coated in oil) for the last 5 minutes, just to char the skin. Chop them, including the skin.

Let the eggplant cool while preparing the other ingredients. Peel and discard most of the skin and stem (a few charred skin bits are good to keep) and give it a quick chop to break up the lengthwise strings of the flesh (careful to reserve the juices – I just run a paring knife through the mass inside a bowl to break up the strings).

2. It’s best to prep and measure all the ingredients before cooking. Measure out the powdered spices into a small dish ahead of time (turmeric, cumin, chili and garam masala). Also, making a paste of the onion, ginger and garlic is also a key to a more flavorful curry. If you have a food processor or mini chopper, add 1-2T of the onion, sliced ginger and garlic cloves and pulse until well chopped or even pasty. Otherwise, finely chop the 3 together and use a large knife blade at a 30 degree angle to mash and scrape them together with a little salt.

3. In a medium skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Toast the cumin seeds, stirring until fragrant and they start to pop a bit. Add the onions and cook 3 minutes until softened. Add the onion/garlic/ginger paste and fresh chili and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the dry spices and add the tomatoes, eggplant and salt. Turn the heat to low and cover, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Check and adjust the seasoning to taste.

4. Add peas and simmer covered for another 5-10 minutes. Add lime and cilantro, methi leaves if using, and re-taste for seasonings. Leave hot or simmering until ready to serve.

Garnish with cilantro. Serve with basmati rice or hot naan (or other lightly toasted flatbread).

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