Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The color purple

Decidedly good-looking, elegant, and flamboyant, the aubergine ranks quite high in the vegetable hierarchy, not merely on account of its looks. Its association dates back to our show-and-tell years when we were taught that purple is the colour of brinjals (or aubergines if you went to ‘that kind of school’) and we made sure we used the right crayon while coloring it.

As north Indian as bharta, as Maharashtrian as bharit, as Bong as begun bhaja (which the Calcutta Club on Link Road Oshiwara makes the best of) as Dravidian as katrikai kozhambu, as European as ratatouille—the brinjal rules and blends. Mostly.

In its many avatars— the long skinny purple ones, the little round green and white ones, the massive shiny purple bharta ones, the slender leaf green, smooth-skinned ones, the short, stubby striated purple ones, or the miniature baby brinjals, one thing is certain about them—that they have personality and attitude.

And even after you destroy their looks, like in the case of bharta, they still pack a mean punch. They can be equally divine in the just-smeared-with salt-and-turmeric-and deep-fried-in-mustard-oil begun bhaja way or in a complex yet subtle blend of flavours and herbs as in a ratatouille.

The Women’s India Trust (of the famous WIT preserves and produce) has gone ahead and innovated further—their brinjal pickle has to be had to be believed. I still haven’t figured out how they make it and would welcome suggestions, if any.

Intensely loved or hated, the baingan still invokes mixed reactions. If you love it, you can’t have enough if it, and if you don’t, too bad! Here are two of my favourite recipes.

Baingan raita

This is a recipe from Lata, my cook from yore. She insists on calling it a salad though. You decide.

One large brinjal (bharta variety)
Few cloves of garlic
One medium sized onion
Chaat masala
Jeera powder
Two green chillies
¼ kg curd

Rub some oil on the brinjal and grill/roast on an open flame till tender and the skin is seen flaking evenly.
Now, peel off the skin, mash the pulp with a spatula, cool and set aside.
Chop one onion, a few cloves of garlic and two green chillies finely.
Add to the brinjal pulp, and mix well. Now add the roasted jeera powder and chat masala, and finally the dahi, and mix well. Serve with rotis or as a side dish.

Chickpea and aubergine stew

One cup chickpeas, soaked overnight
One medium sized aubergine
One large onion
4-5 cloves of garlic
Pepper powder
Three medium sized tomatoes
Salt to taste


Pressure cook the chickpeas till soft. Drain the chickpea liquid. Set aside

Chop the aubergines and tomatoes into small cubes.

In a pan, heat some oil and roast the chopped garlic in it. Add the thinly sliced onions and mix well.

Add the tomatoes, and cook well to a pulp and then add the aubergines. Cook covered for five minutes.

Now add the precooked chickpeas, blend well, adding the chickpea liquid as necessary. Cook slowly for 5-10 minutes, add crushed pepper and salt. Serve hot with rice or garlic bread.

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