When friends ask me my favorite vegetarian curry, my answer is always the same — it’s eggplant curry, known by South Asians as baingan or brinjal bharta.
I grew up in a Pakistani household which could only be described as aggressively carnivorous. As a family, we ate a lot of meat, in fact, one of my most traumatic memories is the first (and last) time I unknowingly tried Paya curry, or sheep’s trotters – which I was assured is a Pakistani delicacy.
Despite this, my favorite comfort dish has always been a very simple vegan curry made with eggplant, known as baingan or brinjal bharta.
According to my mom’s recipe, the easy dish only uses three vegetables and spices you most likely own already. To make baingan bharta, all you need is:
- 2 large eggplants.
- 3 medium or 2 large tomatoes.
- 1 large onion.
- Generous amounts of sunflower oil.
- 1 teaspoon of red chili powder.
- Half a teaspoon of salt.
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin powder.
- Fresh cilantro to garnish (optional).
Add generous amounts of sunflower oil to your pan until the base is covered by a depth of around 2 centimeters. Then slice the onion and quarter discs of both eggplants.
Start by adding a generous amount of sunflower to your pan, ensuring it covers a 2-centimeter depth. If like me, you’re initially worried that it looks too oily, rest reassured that the vegetables will soak this up later.
As the oil heats on medium heat, slice the onion. Cut the eggplants into thick discs and quarter each disc until you have a bowl full of wedges.
Once the oil is heated, add the onion and eggplants and stir. Add a teaspoon of chili and half a teaspoon of salt before turning the heat to a low-medium level.
After a few minutes, the sunflower oil should be hot enough to add the chopped onion and eggplant.
Stir the mixture so that the vegetables are coated in oil. Immediately add a teaspoon of chili and half a teaspoon of salt and stir before turning the heat to a low-medium level. Allow this to cook with a lid on for 15 uninterrupted minutes.
While the mixture cooks, chop two or three tomatoes depending on their size.
Using the 15 minutes that it takes for the eggplant and onion to soak in oil, chili powder, and salt, half two or three tomatoes. Slice these halves until they look like those in the images above.
Add the tomatoes to the baingan mixture so far and stir them in.
Once the 15 minutes is up, add the sliced tomatoes into the mixture and stir until they are fully submerged with the rest of the ingredients.
Before replacing the pan lid, add a teaspoon of ground cumin powder and stir gently but thoroughly.
Whenever I add a teaspoon of cumin to any recipe, I often wonder how something that smells so bad can taste so good. But it’s definitely worth it.
Everything you need to do is now complete. Replace the pan’s lid and let your stovetop do its thing.
When I said it was an easy recipe, I really meant it. After the tomatoes and cumin have been added, simply replace the pan lid and let it cook on low-medium heat for a further 15 to 20 minutes.
The aim is to allow heat to soften the eggplant until it forms a dip-like mush that tastes phenomenal but, in reality, required very little effort from you.
Now put your feet up and take credit for cooking when you’ve actually done the bare minimum. As the saying goes, don’t work hard, work smart.
After 15 to 20 minutes of further cooking, the eggplant should have formed a paste with the remainder of the ingredients.
Once your timer goes off, stir the curry a few times to make sure everything melts together nicely and empty the contents of the pan in a serving bowl.
As I learned the first time I made my mom’s chana masala, or chickpea curry, the dish should be served with a cilantro garnish.
I tend to place cilantro in the center of a bowl and stir this in when adding a portion to people’s plates.
Since learning how to make baingan bharta, I have cooked it for 10 friends. It’s all I serve when people come over now because it appeases every dietary lifestyle choice but people haven’t yet figured out that I’m doing it because I’m a lazy chef.