A Feast Of Flavors

There are some words that are iconic. One of those is “curry”. It is almost a gastronomic description of India, so synonymous are the two! A few years ago, on a visit to South Africa, a friend of ours expressed his love for curry. We discussed the curry powders available in the local market. But to an Indian, there is no generic curry or curry powder. It is a vast country with as many different curries as there are people – which today number more than 1.3 billion! Okay, so that is a bit of an exaggeration. But not by more than a few zeroes at the end of that figure.

Wikipedia bears me out here.

Curry (plural curries) is a variety of dishes originating in the Indian subcontinent that use a complex combination of spices or herbs, usually including ground turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, and fresh or dried chilies. Curry is generally prepared in a sauce … may be spiced with leaves from the curry tree.

There are many varieties of dishes called ‘curries’. For example, in original traditional cuisines, the precise selection of spices for each dish is a matter of national or regional cultural tradition, religious practice, and, to some extent, family preference. Such dishes are called by specific names that refer to their ingredients, spicing and cooking methods. Spices are used both whole and ground, cooked or raw, and they may be added at different times during the cooking process to produce different results. The main spices found in most curry powders of the Indian subcontinent are coriander, cumin, and turmeric. A wide range of additional spices may be included depending on the geographic region and the foods being included (fish, lentils, red or white meat, rice, and vegetables).

I’d like to share with you the recipe for BAGAARA BAINGAN! The dish is a well known part of Hyderabadi cuisine. Introduced a few centuries ago by the Mughal empire into this city in the south-centre of India, it is indeed a royal addition to any menu.

This particular curry ticks most of the boxes in the Wikipedia explanation! Apart from the incredible taste – a veritable feast of flavours, one reason I put this on my top three favourites is the sheer number of ingredients. It makes me feel like a professional chef just to list them all out! Then there is the life-span. It does not spoil easily. In fact, it is one of those foods that got packed for long train journeys during the hot summer holidays! In fact, once I had some leftover when I finally arrived home and put it into my freezer. And I kid you not, I discovered it an year later. YES – I did clean my freezer many times during that year – but the lid of this box was so tight, I had been unable to open it and over time I simply forgot what it contained! Well, I finally opened the box and stuck a spoon in to check it out. It was heavenly! And, nobody got sick eating it either! That decided me – the lazy cook. I needed to put it in my “I know how to make this” list. The third reason is the number of people who today – thanks to my persuasive skills (read nagging!) –  eat and love this vegetable when they claimed to hate it!

I know there are as many recipes for this as there are cooks (and I accept these definitely do not number in the billions!) – but this one I call mine. The original recipe was given to me by my aunt. But it tasted and looked “different” from what my mother made. So on my next visit home I asked her what made hers so different and … well, she used the fresh version of a lot of the condiments and spices along with the dried version, the proportions of some of the ingredients were different and the method was slightly different too! And thus was born my hybrid recipe. And it has proved a hit!

This version has a greenish hue when cooked to perfection – something my father absolutely insists on! All the hundreds of recipes that Google will throw at you will show you a reddish gravy. This is another reason this dish makes it to the top 3 for me. It is a NON-RED Indian curry!

The name – bagaara – refers to the tempering of the baingan – brinjal, in oil. Plenty of oil. If you get stingy here, you will lose the essence of this dish!

Ingredients (and the list is super long!)

Oil – 1/2 tea cup
Small round brinjal – 1 kg
Turmeric – 1 tsp
Bay Leaf – 2 or 3                                                                                                                                                 Jaggery – marble size ball
Salt to taste

Grind to a paste the following :-

Dried Coconut – 1/2 grated
Fresh coconut – 1/4 grated
Groundnut – 2 Tbs roasted
Sesame seed – 2 Tbs roasted
Shahjeera / Caraway  – 1 Tsp
Jeera / Cumin – 1 Tsp
Cloves – 2-3
Cardamom – 4
Badi Elaaichi / Black cardamom – 1-2
Cinnamon – 3”
Black pepper – 1 tsp
Poppy seeds – 1 tsp (This is optional, but adding it gives that final flourish!)
Red chilly – to taste
Green chilly – to taste
Ginger – 3”
Tamarind – lime sized ball
Onion – medium – 3-4
Cumin powder – 2 tsp
Coriander powder – 2 tsp
Green coriander – 1 small bunch

Method

Since this cooks for a long while, the brinjal tends to disintegrate into the curry. To keep it whole there is a trick to the cutting. Remove stem from the brinjal. Slit till 3/4 way down. Turn it upside down. Keeping the cut side down, twist it 90º. Once again, slit it 3/4 way down. This way the brinjal opens up to allow the gravy to seep in but does not fall apart while cooking!

Heat oil. Temper with turmeric and bay leaf.

At this stage, you can shallow fry the brinjals first. I prefer to pour the ground paste into the hot oil and then add the raw brinjals. Add salt.

Simmer on low heat till done. The gravy should be reasonably thick. Often it can get too dry. Simply add a little more water and simmer for a few more minutes. This time watch the pot!

Serve with white rice, pulao, roti, jowari roti, bajra roti or rice.

Notes :-

It is very difficult to make a smaller quantity of this curry since there are so many ingredients that go into the making of the gravy. 

If you want an extra-long shelf life, avoid using fresh coconut. The curry freezes very well. But I really do not advise you to forget about it!

Brinjal / aubergine / egg plant is the best choice of vegetable. But if you absolutely hate it, (I still advise you to give this version a try before you decide!) you can replace it with firm ripe tomato or tendli / tindora / kovakkai / ivy gourd.

I prefer to use a large wide mouth pot with a perforated lid / splash guard to cook this curry as it tends to splatter while simmering.

Bon apetit!