The Baingan Bharta, a fire roasted twice-cooked eggplant curry is India’s version of Baba Ganoush. A truly rustic celebration of the whole fruit, both dishes follow a base cooking method of roasting a whole eggplant with only a few small differences. Typically the Indian smoked eggplant curry is created by roasting a whole eggplant on a naked flame, scooping the flesh out and then stir-frying the smoked flesh in a pan with spices. It is then served with flatbread. Some variations require you to prick the skin of the eggplant prior to roasting, but I have never done that. Fire roasting imparts the dish with that signature smoky flavour and it was the method I saw my mum adopt throughout my childhood and teen years. It was how I cooked this dish when I moved to Singapore in the early 2000s.
When we moved to Australia, we didn’t have gas cooking. Which meant not having access to fire for cooking. We eventually rectified that by buying a small and cheap camping stove (which sits on a bench in my kitchen and is used for quick corn roasting sessions or making rotis and naan). But before we did that, I devised a quicker and safer (for those spooked by the thought of cooking over a naked flame) method of making this delicious smoked eggplant dip. Grilled in the safe confines of the oven and then pan cooked.
The curry is smoky enough but sometimes I want it to be even more fragrant along the lines of a curry served at a dhaba (roadside restaurants prevalent along highways and serving as truck stops where food is rustic, local, flavourful and cooked on coals). On days like that, I often hold a piece of natural charcoal in a flame till it is red hot, then place it in a metal bowl inside the pan holding the curry. Once I drizzle a tiny amount of oil on it, the charcoal starts to smoke. I then cover the pan with a lid for a minute and let that smoke infuse the curry and impart a world of exotic flavour. This is known as the Dhungar smoking technique and was made famous in ancient India during the rule of the Mughals. The spices and quantities used in this recipe are bold simply because eggplant demands it otherwise it runs the risk of being quite bland. If you cannot tolerate too much spice, go easy on the garam masala or skip it completely.
This recipe makes about 250g of the dip and it freezes beautifully. I often make a big batch with 6 or even 8 eggplants and then freeze 3-4 small containers of it for easy mid-week meals. Often when I am shooting and have nothing prepared, I will re-heat this and eat with a wrap or smear on a tortilla and grill for a few minutes till crispy. So much yum!
If you love the romance of smoked eggplant as much as I do, you will also love this textural salad that I have shared in the past. Have you smoked eggplant and made something amazing out of it? I would love to try out your recipe! And if you make this one and love it, please rate the recipe below! Thanks x
- 1 large / or 2 medium-small eggplants (600g)
- 2 tablespoons ghee/olive oil + extra for rubbing
- 2–3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 large ripe tomato, diced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon red chilli powder (optional, if you like it spicier)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes (or to taste)
- handful of fresh chopped coriander leaves
- extra virgin olive oil, nigella seeds, chilli flakes – to garnish
- Pre-heat oven to 210C (convection)/190C (fan forced). Line a large rimmed baking tray with foil. Wash and dry the eggplant. Rub a bit of olive oil all over the eggplant and place in the prepared tray.
- Roast The eggplant in the top quarter of the oven (closer to heat source) for approximately 35-40 minutes until the skin is falling apart and starting to char.
- Remove from oven and cool completely. Gently part a section of the skin and scoop out the flesh in a bowl using a spoon. It is okay to get some charred bits of the skin with the flesh.
- Heat ghee/oil in a small chef’s pan/sauté pan on medium. Add the garlic, ginger and onion. Cook for a couple of minutes until onion starts caramelising. Add tomato, eggplant flesh and all the spices. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes mashing the flesh occasionally to get a dip with a lovely silky consistency. Adjust seasoning.
- Remove from heat, garnish with fresh coriander, top with nigella seeds/chilli flakes/olive oil and serve hot with flatbread or crackers.
If roasting on an open fire (I use camping stove), don’t rub oil on the eggplant. Just wash, pat dry and roast on a medium flame, turning every 10-15 minutes over a period of 1 hour. Cool slightly, peel the charred skin and scoop the flesh in a bowl.