Onions are such a staple in my flavor universe that I often for get to single them out as a unique component in my cooking. However, they are essential and their flavor dimensions vary based on color and type and of course how they are incorporated into the recipe. For example, the most classic of onion flavors are carmelizing them to a soft rich flavor base and then of course, they can be eaten raw and there is everything in between. I began focussing on the color and flavor of the onion, after I was specifically asked why I chose red onions. Interestingly enough, I began picking out red onions, when I first started my own shopping because that is what I had always seen used by mom.
It was much later that I observed that the spicy and stronger taste was indeed what I wanted for most of my cooking. I do use other varieties, especially the sweet vidalias depending on the dish but the staple is the red onion. Now, the origins of the onion are unclear, some saying they started in Central Asia and others attributing their start to Iran or West Pakistan. They have however been used for over 5,000 years for their flavor and medicinal properties. There are paintings and other references that suggest that onions were considered objects of worship in Egypt and the pilgrims actually carried the onion with them on the Mayflower. On their arrival, they did find that there were several strains of the wild onion that already grew in America.
As I write this, I realize that the season has officially changed, and we have commenced fall. If like me you have kids who are back to school, I sure hope you are coping with the change in pace a little better than me. I share with you a simple and very authentic dish, the Baigan Bhartha. This is essentially a dish that uses char roasted eggplants, mashed with seasonings. This is where it gets tricky, because the seasons like everything else in Indian cooking vary based on the region and of course the cooks preferences.
My recipe throughs in some finely chopped green bell peppers for good measure, this is something that I do often in fall, because the eggplants and the bell peppers grow in happy harmony. Actually, the cayenne and hot chili peppers are also still going strong.
This dish, is a no fuss dish, and it is naturally a light tasting dish. I mention this, because it has been ruined by some heavy handed interpretations by certain chefs, and as I say folks, reserve the cream for the kormas and butter chicken do not add this to a bharta. The one thing that is very helpful for a bharta is a gas stove, because it makes it easy to actually cook the eggplant to the point, its skin chars. Now, if you do not have one, bake the eggplant until it is soft usually 25-30 minutes in a 350 degrees often and then place under a broiler to char the skin.
In summer, of course the grill works perfectly, place this in a corner and you can grill your eggplant and eat it too.
So, now onto the recipe,
- 2 medium sized eggplants
- 3 tablespoons oil
- ¾ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 1 small red onion, finely diced
- 1 small bell pepper, very finely diced
- 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
- 2 tomatoes, blended into a puree
- 2 green chilies, minced
- 2 to 3 tablespoons minced cilantro
- Place the eggplant on an open gas flame on a corner of the grill if you are grilling. If neither of these are options then place the eggplant in a 350 degree oven and bake until soft and then broil until the outer skin is charred. Back to the open flame eggplant, cook until it is soft and the outer skin is completely charred. Set aside to cool.
- Heat the oil on medium heat for about 1 minute, and add in the cumin seeds and when they begin to sizzle, add in the red onion and bell peppers and sauté lightly until the onion softens and wilts and finally gently turns pale golden in corners.
- Add in the ginger-garlic paste and sauté lightly until the paste is somewhat dry and begins to turn fragrant.
- Add in the tomatoes and the chilies and begin to cook this mixture to allow the tomatoes to turn into a thick fairly dry sauce, you should begin to see the oil leaching again from the edges.
- While the tomatoes are cooking, peel and discard the charred skin from the eggplant and mash lightly.
- Add into the tomato spice mixture and mix well.
- Stir in the cilantro and mix well.
- Enjoy with your choice of bread or rice.
Rinku Bhattacharya is a daytime financial professional, who spends the rest of her time immersed in food. Rinku is the author of the blog, Cooking in Westchester, where she shares her life experiences, original recipes that combine Indian spices with produce from her backyard and local farmers markets. Rinku is blessed with a gardener husband, who always surprises her with a prolific and fresh supply of produce to keep her creative instincts flowing. Rinku has been teaching recreational cooking classes for the past six years, and has found her classes a great way to teach and learn.