Sometimes when a recipe is truly great, I find I have little to say other than “Make this.” So, if you like Indian food in general and Baingan Bharta in particular, make this. It’s as good as or better than what you’ll find in a restaurant but without a lot of oil or, possibly, butter and it’s certified delicious by my resident eggplant-hater.
Before you run off to the kitchen, let me admit that yes, I made baingan bharta and basically added chickpeas to it. Laziness is the reason, my usual desire to get vegetables and protein all into one dish so that I don’t have to make side dishes. In this case, I could have used some sides because this dish was so mouth-watering, so appetite-inducing, and yet so light that we were all three still hungry after we’d polished off the 4 average-sized servings. So plan to either double the recipe or make some side dishes. I suggest Red Cabbage and Peas with Cumin and Mustardseed, Baked Spinach Kofta, Palak Tofu, Bhindi Masala, or any of my Indian recipes.
Finally (boy, I just can’t shut up), I really need to point out that you can get all of the essential ingredients at almost any supermarket, but if you have an Indian grocery store nearby, you’ll be able to find asafetida and ginger paste there. Neither is a necessity, but I find the ginger paste to be a big time-saver, as well as a recipe-saver when all my fresh ginger root seems to have become dried up, gnarled, and downright scary in my fridge. You’ll also find fresher garam masala in an Indian store than you will in a supermarket, but not as fresh as if you make it yourself; see the end of the recipe for ingredients before you head out on your shopping trip.
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted preferred)
2 teaspoons ginger paste or minced ginger root
1/2 teaspoon cayenne or other hot red pepper (less or more, to taste)
1 15-ounce can (or 1 1/2 cups) cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup minced parsley or cilantro
1/4 teaspoon garam masala (start with less and add more to taste)
Preheat oven to 400F. Prick eggplant with a fork several times and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until eggplant is sunken and soft all the way through. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop the eggplant flesh.
Heat a non-stick skillet. Add the onion and cook until it begins to turn golden. Add the bell pepper and cook for a few more minutes. Clear a spot in the center of the skillet and sprinkle the cumin seeds directly on the hot surface. Stir and toast them for about a minute, until they become fragrant. Stir them into the onions and peppers and add the coriander, turmeric, asafetida (or garlic), tomatoes, ginger paste, and red pepper.
Add the eggplant and cook over medium heat, pressing eggplant with the back of a spoon to break up large pieces, for about 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and enough water or chickpea cooking liquid to keep the mixture moist, cover tightly, and turn heat to low. Cook for at least 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until sauce has thickened and flavors have blended. (You can hold this dish on low for up to 45 minutes while you prepare the rest of your meal, but add additional liquid as needed and don’t forget to stir, scraping the bottom.)
Just before serving, add parsley (or cilantro), garam masala, and salt to taste. Serve with rice or Indian bread.
I used freshly-made garam masala, which is more flavorful than most store-bought blends; depending on your spice blend, you may need to add more to get the right flavor. Garam masala recipes vary, but my current favorite is to combine [b]1 tablespoon black cardamom seeds, 1 cinnamon stick (about 2 1/2 inches long), 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon whole cloves, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns.[/b] Grind in coffee or spice grinder until powdered. Heat a small, dry pan. Add spices and toast just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and allow to cool. Once cool, store in a sealed jar for future use.