How to make the perfect baingan bharta – recipe
A recipe on perfect baingan bharta – recipe
Bharta (also written as bhurta, vorta, bhorta and bartha,
among other variations) is a happy family of spiced, crushed vegetable
dishes particularly popular in northern India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Cooked with charcoal: Meera Sodha’s baingan bharta. Thumbnails by Felicity.
Aloo ka bharta uses potato, shalgam ka bharta turnip, while today’s subject, baingan ka bharta, is an aubergine mash rendered smoky by flames. Mallika Basu calls it “the mother of all bhartas”, while Romy Gill says in her book Zaika
that baingan ka bharta with dal and roti “would be my ultimate desert
island dish”. Silky, tangy with tomato and onion, and with a deliciously
burnt edge, it is, as Maunika Gowardhan notes, a deceptively simple
recipe, and “home cooking at its best”.
reckons the secret of baingan ka bharta’s magic is “the way the
aubergines are cooked. Charring them over an open flame means that a
smoky, earthy flavour develops and lingers”. In her book Indian Kitchen: Secrets of Indian Home Cooking, she recommends blackening them over an open flame for best results, as do most people, with Saira Hamilton suggesting a barbecue as an alternative in My Bangladesh Kitchen, and Rick Stein a very hot overhead grill in his India book.
Basu bakes her aubergines in a hot oven before charring them on a gas
flame, which is less fiddly, but more energy-intensive, while Meera Sodha
fries them and then smokes the finished result by popping in a hot
charcoal with a little oil poured on top and leaving it to infuse for a
couple of minutes.
single one of them is enjoyable, but the most emphatically smoky
results are from those done on a barbecue or over a gas flame. If you
don’t have either of those things (or don’t fancy cleaning them
afterwards), I’d recommend an overhead grill as the next best thing. If
you don’t have one of those, then do as Meera does in Fresh India,
though you will need to beg, borrow or steal a piece of charcoal first
(please don’t steal it).
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor
advises that “it is easier to remove the charred skin of a roasted
eggplant if it is dipped in water just after roasting”, though Roopa Gulati recommends leaving on a few flecks of skin “for extra flavour”, a tip echoed by Harneet Baweja in the Gunpowder cookbook,
and which, as a naturally slapdash cook, suits me fine. (Baweja also
cautions against throwing the seedy core of the aubergine away. If this
is something you do, you may wish to consider not doing it, though I’ve
never heard of such a thing.)
Very simple: Sanjeev Kapoor’s bharta.
way you go about it, the aubergines need to be soft enough to mash with
a fork or spoon, and, ideally, thoroughly blackened and blistered on
the outside, so they look more like charred remains than something you’d
like to eat. Smaller examples will cook through faster, so go for those
if there’s a choice.
The supporting cast
aubergines get the big billing, chef Kapoor explains in his book How to
Cook Indian: “this north Indian dish is as much about the sweetness of
onions and the tanginess of tomatoes as it is about the smoky taste of
roasted eggplant”. His version uses far more onion than the others I try
– for each aubergine he uses five red onions (which approximate the
sweetness of the Indian pink onion better than the harsher yellow
variety)Far from overpowering the aubergine, they make a great contrast
to its mellow bitterness, as well as to the more acidic taste of the
tomatoes. (Sodha calls for white onions, which, again, are milder than
the yellow variety, presumably for the same reason.)