Hyderabadi eggplant curry (Bhagare baigan)
When we think of Hyderabadi cuisine Biryani pops to mind. But several other dishes are also iconic, coming to this blog soon, and Bhagare baingan is one of these classics. This is a dish that arrived with the Mughals and is a legacy of the importance of eggplant in Muslim culture. Although this dish is strongly associated with the Mughal influence on the cuisine of this region, this dish is in reality a perfect merging of Mughal and Rayalseema cuisine. Poppyseeds and poppy seeds travelled with the Mughals invaders and blended with tamarind, peanuts, chillies and coconut from the local Deccan kitchens to make this absolutely stunning dish.
I choose to make this dish very healthy, with none of the floating layers of oil, no more fried eggplant pieces and a stunning contemporary presentation, all without giving up on the flavours. The dish is slow-cooked, this is the essence of bringing the flavours together, not the layers of oil as is believed.
This is a complex flavour profile. The sourness from the tamarind, spice from the chillies, and nuttiness and richness from the coconut, sesame, and poppy seeds come together beautifully. The sauce should be bold and packed with flavour. In my mind, the sauce should carry the dish, and the eggplants are there just for the great photograph.
Pratibha Karan started her career as an IAS officer, and after a successful career migrated to authoring cookbooks. She has published a couple of cookbooks, and her work as the Secretary of the Ministry of Food Processing prepared her for this new role. This cookbook is her opus on Nawabi Hyderabadi cuisine, she brings to your table the distinct dishes of the era and culture. From the classic Dum ka biryani to the other lesser-known dishes that she has resurrected, this book is filled with recipes that shine on the table.
For more recipes from this book, click here.
For the curry paste:
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
4 tablespoons powdered desiccated coconut
1/4 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
6-8 dried red chillies
3 large onions, thinly sliced
5-6 garlic cloves, left whole
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon jaggery
2 tablespoons ginger paste
2-3 tablespoons tamarind extract
3-4 tablespoons water
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
4 tablespoons oil
15-20 curry leaves
Salt, to taste
7-8 baby eggplants, quartered
Pepper, to taste
Cilantro, minced, to garnish
In a large frying pan dry roast coriander, cumin, sesame, poppy, coconut, fenugreek, and dried red chillies individually until lightly toasted and aromatic. Cool and grind to a fine powder in a spice mill and set aside.
In the same pan dry roast the onions and garlic till they are browned and charred in spots. Cool. Combine the roasted onions, garlic, spice powder, turmeric, jaggery, ginger, tamarind, half the peanuts and water in a small grinder and blitz till you have a granular paste. Add the remaining peanuts and blitz again briefly till you have a chunky paste, think chunky peanut butter which makes a great substitute. Do not grind to a smooth purèe, the sauce needs to have a granular mouth-feel.
Heat the oil in a large wide pot and add the curry leaves and fry for 20 seconds. Add the spice paste and salt and turn the heat down to medium-low. Fry slowly stirring often till the spices are cooked and the oil begins to separate on the surface in small bubbles, about 20 minutes. This is a slow process and sautè on a low flame or you will burn the masala, the sauce needs time to caramelize and the flavours need to come together. The sauce will dry out but that is okay.
Preheat the oven to 375° F.
Meanwhile, spray the eggplant quarters with oil and sprinkle some salt and pepper on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes till the eggplants are mushy and browned on the surface. Remove and set aside. It is best to do this step right before you serve the dish so the eggplants are fresh.
To serve, heat the sauce, adding a touch of water to get a smooth consistency. Layer the sauce on a wide shallow platter and place the eggplants decoratively on top. Garnish with cilantro and serve with naan, sheermal or rice.