Baghare Baingan (bug-aray bai-gan) is an incredibly popular dish from Hyderabad, India. Weddings, special events, family dinners don’t take place without this on the menu. It is the accompaniment to the very famous Hyderabadi Biryani and I have to say, they are perfect for each other.
The term “baghare” means tempered in Urdu and the dish then is known as “tempered eggplants”; since the eggplants are tempered with hot oil, curry leaves, garlic and cumin seeds. If you are imagining tempering as in glorious, melty chocolate tempering, this is not quite the same. In Indian cooking, tempering or baghar is usually hot oil infused with spices being poured over a dish to finish it off before serving. The tempered oil adds great flavour to the end dish because of the spices and herbs that have released their oils and flavour into the hot oil. Some of my favourite curries are tempered; usually with curry leaves and mustard seeds.
What makes baghare baingan such a beloved dish is the time it takes to make it. Much time is spent roasting the spices, the seeds, and nuts and then grinding them into a paste. This paste is the stuffed inside the eggplants and left to marinate for a bit. The eggplants are then fried, covered in tangy tamarind water and left to simmer till meltingly soft.
This eggplant masala is a labour of love and each family has their traditional way of preparing it. My way is the way my mother made it and the way I grew up eating it. It has been a favourite of mine since childhood, which is strange because 1. it has eggplants (kids don’t like eggplants) 2. pretty bold spices even for Indian food. But I have loved it forever, it seems.
This is another recipe that I didn’t get from my mother. I have tried out many recipes and tweaked them over the years to arrive at what I have now. It’s a little different from my mother’s; a bit more bolder and a bit more masala like. You will find various renditions; some thin gravy like, some thick masala like and some with tomatoes. I always grew up eating the one without tomatoes so I prefer mine pure, unadulterated, thick masala with soft, velvet eggplants.
Baghare baingan is another example of the royal kitchens of India, influenced by the Ottomans and Persians with their use of nuts and seeds and then, the addition of South Indian flavours of tamarind, curry leaves and coconut to add a fusion element. The resulting dish is mind blowing. The richness of the nuts and sesame seeds is balanced by the sweetness of the coconut and onion and the tang from the tamarind. It’s a veritable explosion of flavour for your taste buds.
This dish is not readily available in Indian restaurants because most restaurants don’t know how to make it. It is very much a Hyderabadi delicacy and not a taste everyone may be accustomed to. Now, if my Southern husband, from the very down south lands of Alabama and South Carolina, likes it, then I think y’all will too!
I almost didn’t post this recipe, like all my curry recipes. It is impossible to photograph a curry or masala and make it look appetising! Most of the time it looks like mush! Case in point; today I showed my husband a blog that always has beautiful photos. I told him how lovely I thought her photos were and how she had them composed, etc. He agreed with me, kind of reluctantly though and then tells me that her photos are nice enough, but what was that mess on her plates! We were looking at plates of curry. There you have it.
After that statement from him, I was even more reluctant to post this recipe! He is right, curries look a mess on a plate and don’t photograph well at all. However, this dish too good not to share and if you like the list of ingredients, then you will love this! The eggplant, I feel, doesn’t really even contribute to this dish, it’s all the masala itself. The masala is what makes the eggplant so flavourful and delicious.
Serves: 10-12 servings
- 8-10 small, round Indian eggplants or use one large American, chopped in medium pieces.
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced
- 2 teaspoon ginger, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander powder or 2 teaspoons of whole coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon red cayenne powder (more if you want spicy)
- ¼ teaspoon fenugreek/methi seeds
- 2 tablespoons desiccated, unsweetened coconut
- 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter (unsweetend) or raw peanuts
- 1 heaping teaspoon tahini paste or 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
- ½ teaspoons white poppy seeds
- 1 plum size ball of wet tamarind
- 4 cups warm water
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar, optional
- ⅓ cup neutral flavoured oil, Canola, Vegetable, Grapeseed
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 4 dried, red chillies
- 12-15 curry leaves
- slivers of whole garlic, optional
- Rinse the eggplants and then quarter them keeping the stalk end intact.
- Let them soak in cold water while you make the spice paste.
- In a dry cast iron skillet or fry pan, dry roast the whole spices one at a time:
- Cumin seeds, coriander seeds if using, fenugreek seeds, sesame seeds if using instead of tahini, white poppy seeds, raw peanuts if using instead of peanut butter and coconut.
- Dry roast individually until fragrant and toasted.
- Watch the coconut, it will brown very quickly and can burn.
- After all the spices are done, grind them in a spice grinder.
- May have to do this in batches.
- In the same pan, add a drop of oil and sauté the onions till light brown.
- We are dry roasting them too with a touch of oil.
- Once the onions are done, allow them to cool.
- Using a blender or food processor, grind the onions to a paste.
- Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, red cayenne powder to the onions and mix.
- Add the dry roasted freshly ground spice mix to the onion paste.
- Now, if you did not use the whole raw peanuts and sesame seeds, add the tahini paste and peanut butter now.
- Mix all the pastes together to make an onion-spice masala.
- Drain the eggplants and stuff each eggplant in the centre, through the slits, with the masala.
- You probably will have masala left over, just save that to add to the curry.
- We just want some masala permeating the flesh of the eggplant before we fry them.
- Leave them to the side to marinate for 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, soak the ball of tamarind in the 4 cups of warm water.
- The tamarind will soften and release its tangy essence into the water.
- In a big pot, heat the oil to quite hot on medium heat.
- Add the tempering spices and the curry leaves...watch out, they will splutter.
- Once you can smell the cumin seeds and the garlic slivers are beginning to turn golden brown, add the eggplants one at a time.
- Add the remaining masala too and cook in the oil.
- Turn the eggplants gently and brown.
- Make sure the masala is not sticking to the bottom.
- Drain the tamarind water through a strainer into the pot.
- Stir gently to make sure everything is loose and moving around.
- Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer gently till the eggplants are softening, about 20 minutes.
- If you are using a regular eggplant, it will take less time for the eggplant to soften.
- Once the eggplant is softening, remove the lid and simmer uncovered.
- Check to see if you find it tangy enough, if you would like more, then soak a bit more tamarind and add the water to the pot.
- You want the oil to surface and most of the water to evaporate leaving a rich, spicy masala.
- Don't dry it out too much, as soon as some of the oil begins to separate from the solids, turn it off.
- Taste for salt, tanginess and spicy heat.
- I like mine with a touch of sweetness along with the tangy, I sometimes add a teaspoon of brown sugar.
- Sometimes the onion is sweet enough to balance that out and so I don't need the sugar.
- Dish out the eggplants carefully onto a platter or bowl and then pour the rest of the masala over the top and sides.
Try this with my Hyderabadi Biryani and see how well they work together. Both this dishes are heavily spiced and have bold flavours but for some reason they complement each other and don’t compete.
If you like Indian food and want to try a dish that is typically not found at restaurants, try this one. I guarantee you will love it….even though it doesn’t look all that appetising in my photos!
Hope you are having a great week and enjoying spring. We had round 2 of our snow storm. Lovely.