Someone once told me that eggplant/ brinjal is called begun in Bangla (baingan in Hindi) because it lacks any gun or good qualities. I don’t know if it’s an old wives tale or if there’s any truth to it. According to this website though, eggplants are recommended for those interested in losing weight! That’s a bit of a surprise because the two ways that I really like my eggplants – deep-fried or in lamb moussaka – are both loaded with fat. Then there’s this blog that suggests that perhaps the veggie loses its value when cooked. Whatever be the case, I quite enjoy my begun.
This dish was/is one of Papa’s favourites and one of the few times he enjoyed a parantha. Papa has always been more of a chapatti man. Mamma used to make this as Sunday brunch, usually along with thick-gravied chicken/meat as the non-vegetarian dish for the day. While growing up, the only way I liked my eggplant was as begun bhaaja (thick slices of eggplant, deep fried). I never appreciated the sheer magic of this simple dish. Surprisingly now, it’s one of my favourites.
I was quite surprised to discover that eggplant is quite a staple in Australia. Folks even have grilled eggplant in their sandwiches, though I daresay am not exactly partial to begun in my sandwich. You can call it a mental block or cultural difference.
I’ve shared this particular recipe with a lady here – Partner’s school friend’s wife – and she loved it. Recently she told me she cooked it for her in-laws and they loved it too. Being ever sceptical of compliments, I had politely smiled when she’d given me the feedback. However, I was duly chastised later when I happened to bump into her sister-in-law who mentioned that she had tasted one of my recipes and had completely loved it. Moral of the story: Cynicism is not healthy when cooking eggplants.
Note to self: Call Mamma and thank her… Thanks Mamma!
Aloo-begun (Potatoes and eggplant with fennel)
Cooked on: Low heat in covered pan/wok
Accompaniment: Salad of your choice
Try this with: Paranthas
Mustard oil (preferred) or canola (any vegetable) oil: 1 TBS
Fennel seeds: 2 TBS
Potatoes, old*: 2 big, peeled and diced
Brinjal/ aubergine/ egg plant: 2 big (6-8 long ones), diced
Green chilli: 1-2, optional
Salt: to taste
Turmeric ground: 1 heaped TSP
Coriander ground: 1 heaped TSP
Red chilli ground: 1 level TSP (or as hot as you want)
Sugar: 1 TSP
Ginger: 1”, grated
Water: 2 TBS
Coriander: fresh, enough to garnish, optional
TBS = tablespoon; TSP = teaspoon
- Brinjal cooks faster than potatoes; therefore use older potatoes as they cook faster than tougher, new ones.
- Brinjal and potatoes turn black when left in open air. Cut vegies right before you start cooking. To prevent potatoes from turning black, keep diced potatoes soaked in a bowl of water with 1 TSP salt in it. Drain water when cooking.
- While both potatoes and brinjal are diced, the potatoes will be diced slightly smaller than the brinjal. The texture of both vegetables is different; therefore cooking times are different. In order to prevent either your brinjal overcooking or potatoes remaining undercooked, please ensure you cut them as mentioned.
- Always keep your spices, salt etc handy so that you’re not opening-closing cupboards to find them.
- The vegies in this dish are cooked mainly by steaming so you will need a wok/ deep frying pan with a tight-fitting lid.
- Please wear an apron! If you are anything like me, the potatoes will have a tendency of (in)frequently flying out of the pan and landing on your tee shirt. Turmeric splatters are tough to remove from clothes.
- Heat the (mustard) oil in the deep frying pan on low heat till it starts smoking (keep your exhaust on).
- Once oil smokes, add the fennel seeds; they should start spluttering in a minute.
- Now add the potatoes and sauté for 5-7 minutes. You’ll need to mix the potatoes and fennel so that the fennel does not burn (horrid taste) or the spuds don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Once potatoes turn slightly golden, add the brinjal/eggplant. Mix well so that both potatoes and brinjal are coated with the fennel seeds. Again, ensure fennel does not turn black. Cook for 5-7 minutes, mixing intermittently.
- Once brinjal turns brown, add salt, turmeric, red chilli and ground coriander and mix well so that vegies are well-coated with spice mixture. Increase heat to medium and cook open for 3 minutes, mixing well. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and cook covered for another 5 minutes.
- Remove lid, mix vegies again, sprinkle the sugar and mix well for another 2 minutes. You will notice that spice mixture begins to start sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add 2 TBS water, grated ginger, mix well and cover the pan. Cook for 8 minutes.
- At the end of cooking time, the vegies should be giving off a brilliant spuddy-fennelly (oh well) aroma. Uncover the pan and check the potatoes with a fork. If they break/can be cut easily with a fork, your vegies are ready. If not, mix well, sprinkle a little more water – do not drown the vegies! – and cook covered for another 5 minutes or till done. Usually you don’t need the second round of covered cooking.
- Finally, remove lid and cook open for another 2 minutes, scraping off the caramelised spices at the bottom of the pan and mix well with the vegies.
- Turn off the gas and allow to cool slightly while covered. Transfer to serving dish, garnish with coriander and serve with paranthas/puris.
PS: If you do try this, please let me know how it turns out and if you liked the dish.