I’ve been getting a lot of requests for Indian recipes so I thought I would give it a go with my version of a very traditional Indian dish, baingan bartha. Baingan bharta is an eggplant dish that’s a staple on most Indian restaurant menus. I love eggplant but I find that many eggplant recipes call for deep-frying and it tends to soak up a lot of oil when it cooks. I really like this recipe because it involves roasting the eggplant at a high temperature in the oven instead of frying it. The roasting process eliminates a lot of oil which makes it much healthier and it also imparts the eggplant with a delicious smoky flavor.
If you’ve ever been intimidated by Indian recipes or have yet to try one, you may want to start with this dish as it is a relatively simple Indian dish. Simply pop the eggplant in the oven and while it’s roasting, you can prep and chop your other vegetables and spices to save time. Many traditional recipes call for grilling the eggplant over a direct flame but that involves constantly turning it to ensure even cooking so I prefer the oven method. There are a handful of herbs and spices in this dish including cilantro, ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric and garam masala. Garam masala is a blend of dried spices that is commonly used in Indian cooking. There are probably as many different varieties of garam masala as there are Indian cooks but most of them contain a mixture of spices that include peppercorns, cloves, cumin, coriander, and cardamom. All of these spices can be found in specialty grocery stores and Indian markets. They are also starting to pop up more frequently in traditional grocery stores in the spice aisle.
The good news is that once you have all of these spices, you can make just about any Indian dish. Spices are a great way to add a lot of flavor to a dish without adding calories. I like to grate my ginger and garlic with a Microplane zester/grater because I don’t like big chunks of those aromatics in the dish. If you don’t have one, you can puree them in a mini food processor with a little water, or just chop them as finely as you can. You can also buy prepared ginger garlic paste at Indian markets.
I have to admit that I got some help from my mom with this recipe- after all, she is a terrific vegetarian cook. But to make it my own, I made two main changes from her version. First, I added tomatoes to the dish for depth of flavor- although many versions of the traditional dish use tomatoes, my mom makes hers without them. Second, I added peas for a pop of color and texture. Hopefully I made her proud!
- 2 medium eggplants, about 2 lbs. total
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1-¼ teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 2 teaspoons grated garlic
- ½-1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (depending on how spicy you want it)
- 2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon garam masala* (optional)
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ cup frozen peas
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prick the eggplants all over with a fork. Place them on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast in the oven until the skin is wrinkled and the flesh is soft, 40-50 minutes.
- Remove the eggplant from the oven and cool. Once cool, peel off the skin and discard. Chop the eggplant flesh and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, which will start to sputter when they hit the oil. After a few seconds, add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add the ginger, garlic and pepper and cook another minute until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes, turmeric, garam masala and salt and cook until tomatoes start to soften, 4-5 minutes. If the mixture gets too dry, add a tablespoon of water.
- Add the chopped eggplant with any juices to the spice mixture and stir to combine well. Stir in the peas, then cover and cook another 6-7 minutes until the flavors are melded and peas are heated through. Adjust seasoning to taste. Stir in the cilantro just before serving.
- Serve with Indian naan bread or basmati rice (I like brown basmati rice) and Greek yogurt. The tanginess of the yogurt nicely balances the smoky flavor of the eggplant.
* Garam masala is a blend of dried spices commonly used in Indian cooking. Most varieties contain a mixture of spices that includes peppercorns, cloves, cumin, coriander, and cardamom.