Begun bhaja ~ Pan toasted eggplants

Begun Bhaja ~ Pan Toasted Eggplants

I did a secretarial course years back that taught me several things. I thought it was staid and did not opt for such a course voluntarily. My parents forced me. They believed that I needed to qualify as a typist and stenographer, whatever field I picked, and so, within a month of graduation, I was enrolled into a secretarial course. I suspect that my father, knowing my flare for being a thoughtlessly forthright person, connived me into thinking that this was just a course but it was in fact meant to teach me a whole set of social skills. In short I learned to listen , to talk less and talk sense in a formal gathering, to be less opinionated and not to confuse being rude with being frank! Not many will agree I listen or talk less but you must ask my Mum and she will tell you how much I have improved. The grooming did benefit me in many ways. When I see my husband strain himself and type slowly with one finger I realise that a secretarial course is definitely an advantage! Now you know why my posts are long.

I am digressing from today's topic! The bonus of joining the course was getting to know a lot of Gujarati girls. Gujaratis love their food and go out of their way to make each meal a a complete satisfaction. Have you noticed during train journeys that some people lay elaborate meals, complete with starters, mains, sides, desserts and pickles. Most likely that the group is made up of Gujaratis or Rajasthanis. They are usually generous. Smile and you will be welcomed as one of them and probably be invited to partake of luscious food. The Gujju girls in my class were no exceptions. I soon became familiar with delicious entrees such as dhokla and khaman, sides such as undhiyo and dal dhokli and a variety of gluten free flatbreads as well. Like typical food lovers who did not have real spending power we would go about sampling the dosa wallah outside our college, the sandwich wallah opposite and make a visit to Lenin's pav bhaji stall at Khao-gali once in a while. I had never had such gastromic adventures before.

One of these girls, whose name I am unable to recall brought prettily stacked deep purple circles one day and she offered me one round piece saying it was 'begun bhaja'. I hated baingans (aubergines/eggplans/brinjals) back then and politely refused. But you know how friends can be. She forced me saying these were delicious. "Ek toh try kar yaar," [Try at least one, dear] she pressed and I could see my other friends asking her for more by then. It was etiquette that made me try one and am I glad I did. It changed my mindset forever! My Gujju friends influenced me in other ways too. They taught me to explore cuisines other than Indian.

Though you will find several exotic recipes that expound usage of various spices for this recipe, the best is the simplest. It is original and has a rustic taste and is made with ingredients readily available in any kitchen. Do you have turmeric and chilli powders stocked in your pantry? Then nothing should stop you. Just buy some eggplants and get on with this quick recipe for a tasty accompaniment to your lunch or dinner, or have it just for the kick. The best suited are the oblong fat brinjals that one uses for begun pora or bharta, or thick long purple variety. I prefer the latter.

How to choose eggplants?
Since these are just sliced eggplants spiced lightly, it is best to use those with few seeds. But then, how do you decide whether the one you take has less seeds? That is easy and practical. The eggplant that weighs light but looks large contains also less seeds. Hold the eggplant in your palm and try to use your judgment to decide whether it is light enough. You could probably try handling two eggplants of the same size on each palm. That should make it easier in the beginning.

Dish: Begun Bhaja / Baingan Bhaja / Pan Toasted Eggplants
Serves: 3 persons

3 Eggplants, if using thick oblong variety
1 if using the fat big variety
3 tsp. red chilli powder
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Juice from 1/2 a lemon

Wash and pat dry eggplants. Cut into thick round slices about half a centimetre in thickness.

Mix the spices together with the salt well. Rub the spices over the sliced eggplants on both sides. What I do is rub very little oil into the spices and spread on a wide plate. I pat the eggplants lightly on both sides over the spice mixture and set them aside stacking them up in another plate.

If only all sweating happened while resting!

Let them sweat for five minutes.

Heat a griddle and brush oil. Lay the slices the eggplants all over and toast both the sides till crispy, pouring a drop of oil on each when you turn them. See that the spices do not burn.

You must ideally fry them but I could not bring myself to do that. These are great for me.

Serve with rice and dal or just flatbreads. Eat them up as they are. They taste good while hot.

I love it best with Indian stewed rice - Khichdi. I wanted a trip to Heaven so I made a vegan version of gatte ki kadhi. After returning back to earth I made walnut brownies. In my next post I will give you the recipe for gatte ki kadhi. There is a story behind the kadhi. One that is set in Manali.

Khichdi, Gatte Ki Kadhi aur Begun Bhaja
(Clockwise from the top) Khichdi, Gatte Ki Kadhi and Begun Bhaja

My Bengali friends make it slightly different. They do not add chilli powder but I just made mine as how my friend told me her mum made it and it tasted so good. You know I cook in the present but each dish has a past. I could not bear to change the flavour or taste of the food that came with a memory attached.

Just to clarify - mine is still a twist to the genuine recipe which does not include chilli powder and is a deep fried delicacy. You can check out the Bengali version at the links below:

Sharmila of Kichu Khon in her early posts of how to put together a Bengali lunch.
Sundeepa of Bong Mom's Cookbook does the same with rice, mator dal and bhaja.

Rejoining work tomorrow! Wish me luck!

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