Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Slight Variation of Baingan Bharta - The Best Food Ever Invented - Ever

There are simply not enough words to describe the depth of my love for eggplant.  Its creaminess when cooked right makes me happy all the way to my toes.  It's a beautiful vegetable (well, it is actually a fruit) to look at, is low in calories, is fat free, and contains a healthy dose of potassium, magnesium, folic acid and B vitamins.  It's like a yummier more veggie-tastic version of a Flinstone gummy vitamin.  And they come in such an array of adorable varieties!

I want to keep them for pets.

I used to be at a loss for cooking eggplant.  I would usually just turn it into a quick cheese-free Eggplant Parmesan.  Totally delicious, and nothing to sneeze at, but I wanted more.  

A few months ago my husband and I were in Tucson and he mentioned that he wanted to try a new restaurant as we always seem to go to the same places.  He did some research while I was in an appointment and he happily told me he had found what seemed to be universally acknowledged as the "best Indian restaurant in town".  Now, I LOVE Indian food.  Curry, coconut milk, and basmati rice?  I'd take a bath in it if I could.  But John, unfortunately, does not share that passion.  (One of the few points where we disagree.)  I was pleasantly surprised that he was not only willing to go to this Indian place, but that it was his idea.  

We went to the awesome restaurant, (not terribly deterred by the slightly sketchy outside) and loved it.  The inside was pleasant, quiet, staffed with friendly people and smelled delicious.  I decided to try something I had never tried before, Baingan Bharta.  It came to me rich, piping hot, eggplanty, and full of spices, all served in a warm oval dish.  I loved it so much, I could hardly stop eating long enough to take a breath.  

An accurate depiction of me eating my dinner that night.

Basically Baingan Bharta is eggplant cooked into a soft stew-like concoction full of Indian spices, herbs and vegetables.  It's heavenly.  I didn't need the rice, I just ate the entire bowl and poked my husband's hand with my fork whenever he came near to get a taste.  (He liked mine better than his Tandoori Chicken.  No surprise there.)

Since that experience, I've been looking for an accessible Baingan Bharta recipe.  They all have such odd spices, and we don't live in a town with a Penzey's Spices, a Whole Foods or a Trader Joes, so I needed something with simpler, everyday ingredients.

Enter Susan Voisin (again) at the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.  She describes her dish as being very close to a Baingan Bharta.  The ingredients were pretty easily found at our Safeway (Minus the Garam Masala. That would have to be purchased in a bigger city.) and I was able to pull it together pretty quickly.  

Here is Susan's picture (she called it Eggplant Chickpea Curry) for your drooling delight.

*nom nom*

A few notes before the recipe.  1.) You don't really HAVE to use chickpeas, as those are not an ingredient in the original Baingan Bharta.  They don't hurt the dish one bit though and they add a dose of protein.  Next time though, I may run them through the food processor on a rough chop to get more of a textural affect rather than having the whole beans in the dish.  2.) You don't really need to serve this over rice.  I did not and we were as happy as clams.  I did serve it with a side of Susan's Red Cabbage and Peas with Cumin and Mustard Seeds, which was delectable and paired nicely with the eggplant.  3.)  It's hard to prick eggplant hard enough to really make holes.  Get in there and use some of those arm muscles but please don't stab yourself.  =)

Here is the link to the recipe on Susan's site.   Below is the recipe as found there. 

Eggplant and Chickpea Curry


  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper seeded and diced
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon asafetida (or 1 clove garlic, pressed)
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted preferred)
  • 2 teaspoons ginger paste or minced ginger root
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or other hot red pepper (less or more, to taste)
  • 1 15-ounce can (or 1 1/2 cups) cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley or cilantro
  • 1/4 teaspoon garam masala (start with less and add more to taste)


  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Prick eggplant with a fork several times and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until eggplant is sunken and soft all the way through. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop the eggplant flesh.
  2. Heat a non-stick skillet and then spray it lightly with vegetable oil. Add the onion and cook until it begins to turn golden. Add the bell pepper and cook for a few more minutes. Clear a spot in the center of the skillet and sprinkle the cumin seeds directly on the hot surface. Stir and toast them for about a minute, until they become fragrant. Stir them into the onions and peppers and add the coriander, turmeric, asafetida (or garlic), tomatoes, ginger paste, and red pepper. Add the eggplant and cook over medium heat, pressing eggplant with the back of a spoon to break up large pieces, for about 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and enough water or chickpea cooking liquid to keep the mixture moist, cover tightly, and turn heat to low. Cook for at least 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until sauce has thickened and flavors have blended. (You can hold this dish on low for up to 45 minutes while you prepare the rest of your meal, but add additional liquid as needed and don’t forget to stir, scraping the bottom.)
  3. Just before serving, add parsley (or cilantro), garam masala, and salt to taste. Serve with rice or Indian bread.
Here is how ours turned out.

Our verdict?  It was a great dish, but not exactly like the Baingan Bharta I know and love.  John thought the seasoning called for in the recipe was too light, and that it needed more spice and salt.  All that said, I do like it because it gives me another use for one of my favorite vegetables and blends that perfect eggplantish texture with warm spices, nutty chickpeas and bright herbs.

Also, the Red Cabbage and Peas with Cumin and Mustard Seeds were quite possibly our favorite part of dinner.  Soooooo good!  Do yourself a big favor and make this dish.  You will love it.  It's delicious, colorful, beautiful, filling, and full of fiber and vitamins.

One last note, as it IS Farmer's Market season, please get out there and support your local growers by buying their eggplant!  The varieties that can be found at these markets is astounding, and well-worth the trip.  It is also much cheaper than buying hothouse grown stuff at the supermarket.

Here is one last flat-out adorable eggplant photo for your viewing pleasure. 

 Bon Appetit!


  1. Looks delicious and I love how easy to follow the recipes are. Would love to try it out.
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