Tag Archives: brunch

Baingan Ka Bharta

baingan ka bharta

Baingan ka bharta, smoky eggplant cooked with onions, tomatoes and garam masala

As summer draws to a close and the days shorten, I’m sometimes at a loss as to what I want to eat. Something cooling or something warming? Something light or comfort food? In a few more weeks, this won’t be a problem. In a few more weeks, I’ll be wanting Daal or a hearty stew almost every day. Till then, I want to enjoy what’s left of the sun before it disappears from Seattle skies for another eight months. Till then, I want something light and comforting.

That’s where this brilliant dish comes in. Once you make it, it’s up to you to eat it piping hot, scooped up in warm naan or eat it cold mixed with a swirl of yogurt and a bit of rice. It can be made into a light meal or a substantial one. It’s also great for weekend brunches as you can spread some of that smoky eggplant goodness on crusty slices of baguette and top off with gruyere.

In this Punjabi dish, the eggplant is traditionally smoked by placing it whole in a fire or on hot coal. At home, I roast the eggplant in the oven. You could also use the broiler.

Baingan ka bharta is easily one of my favorite eggplant dishes. I love eggplant. I have an unabashed and unapologetic desire for it’s taste and texture. If you’re not sure about this glorious vegetable, be warned, this recipe might not be for you!

And finally, here’s the recipe after the pictures.

Oven roasted eggplant

Oven roasted eggplant, shriveled up but oh so tasty

peeling the oven roasted eggplant

Peeling the oven roasted eggplant

 

Roasted eggplant curry served with pita bread

Roasted eggplant curry served with pita bread

pita bread with baingan ka bharta

Baingan ka bharta in pita! Served with a side of roasted cauliflower for a delicious vegan meal.

 

Baingan Ka Bharta

(Printer friendly recipe for baingan ka bharta)

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggplants
  • 2 teaspoons + 4 tablespoons high heat oil
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 inch ginger, grated
  • 3 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
  • Roughly 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/2 a lime or to taste
  • Cilantro for garnish
  • Tomato slices for garnish

Recipe

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Rinse and dry the whole eggplants. Smear them all over with high heat oil. Place the eggplants on a tray lined with foil or parchment paper. Bake for 40 minutes or till the eggplants are wrinkly and shrivelled up. Don’t worry, they’ll taste all smoky and rich! Broiling them should speed it up but unfortunately we have an old gas oven and the broiler is inconsistent. You can roast the eggplants ahead of time and refrigerate them if you like.
  2. Once the eggplants are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and cut the ends. You can remove the seeds if you dislike the bitterness of eggplants. Chop roughly.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pan or wok over medium heat. The oil is hot enough if a cumin seed thrown in sizzles.
  4. Sizzle the cumin seeds for just 10 seconds before adding the onions, garlic and ginger.
  5. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently or till the onion is slightly brown.
  6. Add all the spices, tomatoes and 1/2 glass of water. Cook for another 10 minutes or till the tomatoes are mushy and the oil has separated.
  7. Add the eggplant, cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes.
  8. Salt to taste and squeeze half of a fresh lime. Garnish with chopped cilantro and slices of tomato.
  9. Serve with naan, pita bread, spread on baguette or with rice.

Have a glorious weekend!

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Going Beyond a Single Story: A Trip in My Backyard, Ethiopian Food and Marqqa

Vessels to store/pour beverages

Like Ethiopian food? I love it! The spongy injera bread at the end that has soaked up the flavors of the spicy is my favorite part. I learned recently though that there is much more to Ethiopian cuisine than injera and stews. The cuisine of the Oromian region of Ethiopia for example is quite different as I found out and actually has a lot in common with Indian food.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I went on a day trip to area code 98118, ten minutes away from downtown Seattle. The trip was organized by Crooked Trails and the Horn of Africa Services to create “a cross-cultural journey connecting Seattle residents with immigrants and refugees from Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia to meet, share and learn.”

When I heard about this trip, I was reminded of Chimananda Adichie, a writer from Nigeria who gave a TED Talk about the cultural misunderstandings that arise from knowing only a single story about a person or culture. The single story that we hear about Africa is one of poverty, famine and aid. I wanted a broader and deeper look into the lives of East Africans with whom I already had in common the immigrant experience. The trip also promised cooking with host families as part of the itinerary! There was no way to resist that.

Cooking together in our Ethiopian/Oromo host's kitchen

I wanted to share a couple of things that I learned from my 98118 experience. After a big group session with all participants, we were divided into smaller groups and sent off with our hosts. My group of five people were hosted by an Ethiopian Oromo family. Almost anything that I’ve read about Ethiopia focuses solely on the Amharic culture. The Oromos are actually the largest tribe in Ethiopia and have their own distinct language and culture. Sadly, the Ethiopian government represses the Oromo politically and socially. The Oromo do not have the freedom to learn or speak their language.

Our lovely hosts showed us how to make marqqa or marka (cooked barley dough with a spicy ghee sauce), chapathis and chai.  The chapathis and chai are an influence from the Indians taken to East Africa as indentured labourers and it was so much fun for me to trade techniques on the easiest way to roll out the dough!  It also struck me how similar marqqa is to “ragi mudde”, a cooked dough dish made in some parts of the South Indian state of Karnataka where I’m from.  Ragi or finger millet, is a highly nutritious grain that is originally from Ethiopia and used extensively in South India. It was an unexpected reminder of how much more we have in common with people from other countries than we think.

While the musician in the group brought out the guitar and played us soft cooking music from his perch on the colorful, sectioned couch, others took turns making chapatis, washing dishes, and checking how the chai was coming along. I’d never met any of these people before and I felt so much at home.

I feel compelled to share this simple recipe for marqqa which is the perfect dish for gloomy fall weather. And as I write this, I’m making elaborate travel plans to Ethiopia in my mind. Sadly, I know they will not come to fruition any time soon.

Barley flour, sifted and ready to use to make Marqqa

The consistency of the cooked barley flour dough or Marqqa

Warm Marqqa with ghee and berbere spices

Recipe

  • Roughly 2 cups barley flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons ghee
  • 1-2 teaspoons berbere spice blend

Bring 4 cups of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add the salt. Have a wooden spatula handy.

While the water heats up, measure out 2 cups of barley flour. When the water boils, remove about a cup and put aside to add back as needed later. Slowly add flour to the hot water while stirring the water with a wooden spatula. This helps avoid clumps of uncooked barley and makes for smoother dough. You may not need all of the flour. Add till there is no water left and it is hard to stir the cooked dough. If there is uncooked flour or if the dough is too hard, add some of the boiled water you had put aside earlier. Use the tapered edge of your spoon to cut through the dough as you move the spoon back and forth.  Remove from heat when the dough starts sticking to the pot.

Heat 4 tablespoons ghee (or butter) for 30 seconds in the microwave. Add 1-2 teaspoons of Berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend.

Transfer the cooked dough into a serving bowl. Pour the ghee sauce over it and mix it up. You could also serve the ghee sauce separately and let people mix it with the dough on their plates. We were served homemade yogurt with this dish.

I loved the utter simplicity of this dish. The barley dough ball tastes wholesome and the ghee sauce with the berbere is very flavorful. I went back for seconds and then thirds, not knowing of the rest of the food that we had yet to make and eat!

This experience not only gave me the chance to hang out with my neighbors in a different part of Seattle but also changed my single story of Ethiopia, its culture and its cuisine. I hope you’ll give this dish a try!

Making chai

Steaming cups of spicy chai - with cardamom, ginger and cloves

Ethiopian chapathis

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Expert tips for making the perfect dosa batter

Veena's Market Dosa kit (Picture by Christopher Bachmann)

If you’ve ever tried to make your own dosa (South Indian savory crepes made with rice and lentils) batter, you know that it is really hard to get them nice and crisp like in the restaurants. It is possible but takes some time, patience and experimentation. I recently came across this very informative blog post by Sala Kannan of Veggie Belly on how to make the perfect batter for dosas and idlis (South Indian rice cakes) and had to share. I found the FAQ very helpful.

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On the Streets of Egypt

I have Egypt on my mind. While Egyptians have risen up like a tsunami that will not abate until it has destroyed the Mubarak regime in its wake, all I can do is follow the news. While history is being made on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, all I can do is write about my favorite Egyptian street food. But Egypt is also on my mind for another reason. The pictures below are from three weeks ago when my Egyptian friend Yasmin invited a few of us to lunch to learn how to make Koshary just a few days before she was about to leave for Egypt for a month-long vacation.  A few hours ago, she posted a quick note on Facebook to let us know that she is fine. Relieved, it struck me how today events around the world affect me in a much more personal way than even ten years ago. And in my small way, writing this post inexplicably makes me feel closer to the people of Egypt.

Koshary is one of the ultimate street foods. Just like Egyptians from many walks of life have come together to create the perfect storm of a protest, the many layers in this humble dish come together to make a very satisfying dish. It is affordable, filling and fairly healthy though loaded with carbs. While the various ingredients take time to assemble, it is simple to make. Rather than the pyramids or the sphinx, this dish is one of my favorite things from my trips to Egypt.

There are many recipes for Koshary and some include toppings that others don’t. It is up to you to decide which of the toppings to include although I highly recommend keeping all of them. Koshary is typically served with a tomato sauce and a garlic sauce. Yasmin combined the two sauces for ease. This recipe serves 4. The various ingredients could be prepared ahead of time and brought to room temperature or warmed before serving.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup short grain rice
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 1 cup elbow macaroni or dittalini
  • 2 large onions (or store-bought fried onions if you’re feeling lazy)
  • 4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 dried red chili of medium heat (or 1/2 teaspoon of crushed chili flakes)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin, freshly powdered
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar (or cider vinegar)
  • 5 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Salt to taste (roughly 1.5 teaspoons)
  • 1 can of chickpeas, thoroughly rinsed and drained

Recipe (Steps 1-3 can be done in parallel)

1. Place rice in a pot. Rinse the rice 3 times and drain. Add 1 and 3/4 cups of water. Bring to boil, lower heat to medium-low and cover pot with lid. Cook for 20 minutes or till rice is soft and tender. Keep lid on for another 5 minutes.

2. Place the lentils in another pot. Rinse and pick out stones or other impurities. Add 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and cover pot with lid ajar. Cook for 20 minutes or till lentils are cooked and soft but still retain their shape.

3. Follow manufacturer’s instructions on pasta package to cook it.

4. Slice the onions very thinly (thinner than in the picture). Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt (helps to cook the onions faster). Stir occasionally. Turn the heat down to medium once the onions start browning. Saute till nicely brown and well caramelized. This step takes some time and requires patience. To speed this step up, consider dividing the onions and cooking in two skillets.

5. Peel and mince the garlic. Break the red chili into 3 or 4 smaller pieces. Grind the garlic and red chili using a mortar and pestle. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the crushed garlic, chili and the cumin powder. Stir regularly while sautéing for 30 seconds to release all the flavor. Add the tomato paste and stir for another 30 seconds. Add the vinegar and 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes. Add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon salt or to taste. Keep in mind that the sauce should be a bit on the saltier side as it will provide the flavor for the rice, pasta, chickpeas and lentils.

6. Place all the ingredients into individual bowls. Make your koshary by adding the ingredients in layers on your plate or bowl. Start with the rice and macaroni, and then add the chickpeas and lentils and finally garnish with the onions. Sprinkle sauce over your dish. Mix it all up or enjoy the various textures of this amazing dish separately.

Notes

1. Although the texture will be different, you could substitute brown rice for the white rice. Many recipes call for long grain or basmati rice.

2. Use what rice you wish but the more traditional recipes seem to call for short grain rice. If you use a different rice, please note that the ratio of water to rice will vary.

3. If you find legumes difficult to digest, add a piece of kelp seaweed or kombu while cooking. The kombu softens the legumes and makes them easier to digest. Even if you use canned chickpeas, soak them in some water and kelp before draining and using.

Finally enjoy this dish with family and friends.

Keeping my fingers crossed for a smooth transition to a government of the people in Egypt.

Peace,

Veena

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