Two weeks ago, we prepared a dozen slow cooker meals to buy back our evenings and reign in our monthly expenses. In two and a half hours, we had all the prep work done to feed 50 people – we hauled the baingan bharta out of the freezer to celebrate my brother’s first visit to Lincoln.
Baingan bharta is a smoked, often chili-infused eggplant dish from South Asia which localizes well: there’s a Gujarati version called olo, a Bengali version called begun pora, a Bihari version popularized in Patna and Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh), and a south Indian version typical of Tamil cooking called kathrikai. Mark Bittman of The New York Times has a version of his own device; like Bittman, this household is enamored of the eggplant.
Quite typical of my home cooking, I don’t write recipes down; readers are guests welcomed to this act. Kel keeps the recipes of all the weeknight slow cooker meals we prepare in advance – this bharta recipe just kind of fell together for us. We had a surplus of minced eggplant and enough spices out and ready for me to visualize something like the bharta from Edison, NJ’s Delhi Garden – our first time (and to date our only experience) with this warming, aromatic and smoky dish.
Slow Cooker Baingan Bharta
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 4-5 hours in the slow cooker
Serves 3 with plenty of seconds and leftovers; might serve 6 in a single seating.
- 2 pounds eggplant, minced to various sizes
- 2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar, stirred in at high heat
- 2 to 3 large yellow onions, quartered, browned in butter and added in the last hour
- 1 spoonful of hot ajvar, which I had on hand
- 2-3 splashes of sherry
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons garam masala mix
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground curry powder
- 2 heads garlic, minced
- 2 small onions, minced
- 1/2 pound sweet potatoes, crudely chopped? (optional; I don’t recall if this was leftover from prep night overplanning)
- ??? tomato paste ???
- 1/2 teaspoon dried cloves, mortar-ground (for the chaunk, which I covered in a previous recipe for vegetarian biryani)
- 1 smoked chipotle in adobo sauce (to impart smokiness; add juices too)
- 1/2 lime, juices squeezed in to taste
- a liberal shaking of roasted cashews
- cubed paneer (I used curds, which melted, since I couldn’t find paneer in time)
- plenty of cilantro for garnish
Prepare your ingredients, add them to the slow cooker with a few cups of water – again, this is all from muscle memory, really…and blogging is not an appropriate vehicle for orality or muscle memory. Just do what feels right – this is your project now.
Temper your chaunk (ground curry spices) in hot oil; add some minced garlic and ginger. Set aside. Prepare your rice or naan; set aside. Once the bharta concoction has simmered in the slow cooker for 4 or 5 hours (on low), sautee your loosely quartered onions in butter until they brown or sear a bit; set aside.
If you are so inclined, take about a third of the bharta and puree it in a food processor or blender. I wanted a creamy consistency to complement the stewed eggplant, to stir back into the pot while retaining some of the eggplant’s mild and fleshy feel. Other recipes (see below), especially those which expose the eggplant to direct heat, may require different methods; with a grill or an open flame, you’ll capture more smokiness – a partial blend would work in that context, too. Once/if you’ve pureed, then add the onions to the pot about 45 minutes before you plan on serving. The onions were a highlight…crisp but buttery, with a nutty flavor imparted when simmered in the bharta.
Garnish with chaunk, smashed cashews, cilantro, and cubes of paneer. Serve hot with rice or naan.
My brother, who runs hot and cold on South Asian cooking (mostly the spices, I’d wager), had three bowls.
What a glutton!
For further consideration (pardon any repeats)…
- Mark Bittman’s baingan bharta
- Punjabi baingan bharta
- Dahiwalla bharta, served with yogurt
- North Indian bharta
- A more or less tomato-centric recipe
- …With chickpeas
- …in the pressure cooker
- …roasted directly over gas jets (!)
- Gujarati olo
- A version more akin to baba ghanoush
- A variety of northern stylings, including potato bharta
- Begun pora
- …also known as chokha, this version is oil-free
- Tamil kathrikai