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Indian Eggplant Spread Cooked Over Hot Embers

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Aubergine spread cooked directly over hot embers - a hot and smokey traditional Indian recipe.

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After Ducasse's Mediterranean Eggplant Caviar and Middle-Eastern Baba Ganouj, I now complete my tour of aubergine spreads across the world with the mighty Indian Baingan Bartha. Make sure you do them over hot embers for the smokey taste and caramelized aubergine flavor. You can do this in an indoor fireplace too.

Baingan Bartha
4 eggplants
2-4 garlic cloves
2-3 scallions
1 walnut sized ginger root
1tbsp whole coriander seeds
1tbsp whole cumin seeds
1 dried chili
5-8 black peppercorns
Mustard seeds oil

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Start a large fire with hardwood or quality charcoal. No briquettes and no softwood as they would impart a bad taste to the food. When the wood has turned to glowing embers, after about 30 minutes or so, carefully lay the eggplants to rest, one by one, on this bed of embers. Leave them until they are soft all over and the skin is shrivelled.

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Remove the eggplants from the fire, brush off any ashes and return to the kitchen.

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Carve the eggplants open carefully so as not to introduce any ashes. Miraculous! The vegetable has slept for 30 minutes on hot embers and yet it is still juicy inside.

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Carefully scrape off the flesh from the eggplant with a spoon, avoiding any black area. Burnt flesh is not the problem but ashes are. They are quite caustic.

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Seasoning is what makes this aubergine spread an Indian baingan bartha. Use whole spices and dry roast them in a hot frying pan. Do not add any fat and remove only when the cumin seeds start to smoke.

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Grind to a powder in a mortar or with an electric spice grinder or manual pepper mill.

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Mash ginger and garlic to a paste and finely chop the scallions.

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Fry in a tablespoon ghee or oil until soft.

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Add the eggplant pulp and combine.

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Add the spices. Now for our most dreadful ingredient - mustard seeds oil. A very pungent taste indeed, more akin to vinegar than oil. Use only the finest oil and make sure it is not rancid or you'll ruin your fine efforts.

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Add drop by drop and taste regularly until the flavor balance satisfies you.

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Serve with naan as a starter, a side dish or even a light meal. On the picture are afghan snowshoe naans I baked in my tandoor.

I was inspired to cook directly over hot embers by The Magic of Fire by William Rubel, an amazing book about cooking on open fires. This is one of my 20 favorite cookbooks and I have several hundreds cookbooks in 6 languages. You need to get this book - the recipes are all traditional and yet immensely original. Mr Rubel (www.williamrubel.com) is a Californian home chef versed into literature and gastronomy. He cooked some of his dishes at Chez Panisse, one of America's top restaurants, and yet most recipes use only a handful of ingredients. A masterpiece. Warmly recommended! I wonder if Mr Rubel was in some accident or something happened to him, I posted some pictures on his forum at www.williamrubel.com but in 3 months he's never visited it. Let me know if you have any information about his whereabouts!


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  • #1
  • Comment by Alex
Great recipe and great cookbook recommendation.  Have you considered posting a list of your 20 favorite cookbooks?  I'm sure a lot of your readers would appreciate it.  
  • #2
  • Comment by Cynthia
We have a similar version of this in the Caribbean called eggplant choka. The eggplant is pierced all over and slivers of garlic inserted then it is roasted. We add a roasted tomato to the mixture also.I'll definitely try your version with the spices and re-cooked by saute.
  • #3
  • Comment by Sherri
How different would it be if we used mustard seeds instead of mustard seeds OIL?
  • #4
  • Comment by Cruelty-free vegetarian store
I really loved your bhaigan bhartha! Awesome!Instead of the large fire shall I burn the bhaigan over the stove? Will the tast differ?
  • #5
  • Comment by jaleel
You neednt place the eggplants over the coal.. leave a half inch gap or so by using a fork or kebab rod or something... Because, in India, we make it with the skin on.. and I guess it also does add to the taste of the dish...
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
You can bake them in an oven but you'll miss out the smokey taste!
  • #7
  • Comment by parshu.narayanan
Great to read the bharta recipe here fx. Cynthia is right, in Eastern India, fm where many trinidadians can trace their ancestry, it is called Chokha, Bharta is the mainstream North Indian name. Today most Indian households would saute chopped onions and tomatoes in mustard oil and then add the smoked aubergine-pulp and spices. In the east, particularly Bengal & Orissa, they also make a salad version ( shades of mutabel) in which the pulp is cooled and mixed with some chopped onion and a little chopped green chillie, some lemon is squeezed over and it's spiked with a dash of cold mustard oil. ( mustard oil loses its nose-tingling pungency when heated and shares it instead with the rest of the house through its aroma)I congratulate you on your thorough sourcing, the mustard oil bottle says in the pic "Sarson" ( mustard in Hindi :-) )
  • #8
  • Comment by Aarthi
I am a South Indian and cook this dish a little differently. I give a liberal coat of cooking oil on the eggplant and show it to the flames of my gas stove, turning it gradually on all sides.(This is for those who might not be able to smoke them on embers). In south India, we don't use mustard oil (as is done in the north) but use sesame oil instead, which gives it a different taste. I just saute chopped onions, curry leaves and split red chillies in cooking oil, add a 1/4tsp of turmeric powder, stir it for a second and add the mashed eggplant, finally garnishing with chopped coriander leaves. Not really as interesting as the recipe given here...We eat it with dosas (rice pancakes) and chappathis. The seasoning you have used is really a refreshing idea and I am going to try it out. Thanks for this wonderful and detailed recipe!
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
Aarathi I am flattered an Indian would want to try my recipe! Sesame oil seems a much better choice of oil than mustard oil in my opinion. Thanks for your visit!
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
Parshu thank you ever so much for your most learned comments, I am glad my baingain bartha passed the inspection of a keen Indian foodie. Heating the mustard oil seems like the way to go!
  • #11
  • Comment by Ria
Hi....luvd ur recipe...u can also cook the brinjals on a stove top...u wont miss on the flavour though...i hv been eating a different version since childhood that my mum makes...urs is a good change..
  • #12
  • Comment by Corinne
Does anyone have any information about your whereabouts? It's been too long since your last post. Hope you are keeping well. thanks for recommending Magic of Fire an amazing book.

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