Sunday, 24 February 2013

Banarasi, baingans

Banarasi Kalonji Baingan (Eggplant Benares Style)

Coming home from his morning constitutional the other day, the husband bought a cartload of these tiny eggplants (the third time in two weeks) along with a few kilos of Italian eggplant. One look at his face and I knew he had been up to some mischief.

It seems, he said quite timidly, he had bought the big ones before he sighted these glorious small ones in a Vietnamese stall in the Victoria Market. Who knows we might not get these again this season, he thought as he handpicked those succulent little, baingans, each so much better than the one already bagged, that he ended up packing a few kilos!

His timorous explanation is a little farce, for he knows very well how much I love baingans, too! So much so that I made huge amounts of bharli vaangi twice and took some over to my brother’s place, used some in sambar, the girls used some in a pasta, and I still had this last batch of brinjals to bring to justice... er, I mean to do justice to.

Then I remembered having seen this video of a nice eggplant dish called “Kalonji Baingan” by Seema Vaid on Mohit Balachandran’s Food Maestro on YouTube. Kalonji (nigella seeds) and baingan (eggplant) are two of my most favourite ingredients and the dish and the combination captured my imagination. 

Apparently, 'kalonji' in benarsi cuisine refers to the spice blend made of the panch phoron seeds- fennel, feugreek, mustard, nigella and carom seeds and  not just to kalonji which is what nigella seeds are generally called elsewhere in North India.

Simple, easy to make, yet flavourfully spicy – like the city of its origin - Banaras! Anything with a prefix Banarasi has to be exotic, flamboyant, sassy, interesting and special – and so was this dish!

More so, as there were so many unusual elements in this bhaji for us- the mustard oil, the panch foran, the lack of a tinge of sweet, which is so characteristic of Marathi and Gujarati cuisine.

This was also an opportunity to make something out of the square, and shake off the shackles of the seed-and-nut-triumvirate (peanut, sesame and coconut) that rule the Marathi eggplant scene.

But imagine not taking poetic liberties with a dish that belongs to the land of the beautiful thumri and the exquisite banarasi saree!

So my two cents bit was in the hing and sugar to compliment the “khattas” of the amchur!

Banarasi Kalonji Baingan (eggplant with nigella seeds)

For the masala

1 tbsp coriander seeds
½ tbsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds

Dry roasted in a pan and ground coarsely in a spice grinder

12 small eggplant, cleaned and cut into quarters held together
2 tbsp mustard oil
1 tsp panch foran (nigella seeds, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds and cumin seeds)
A pinch of hing (asafetida)
A pinch of turmeric
¾ tsp red chilli powder
Amchur (dry mango) powder to taste
Pinch of sugar
Salt to taste
Chopped coriander to garnish

Heat oil in a pan to smoking point and then lower the heat and add the panch foran to splutter. Add the prepared brinjals and stir well till the oil coats all the brinjals. Add the turmeric and hing. Cook covered on low heat for 7-8 minutes. Add the chilli powder, the prepared coriander, cumin and fenugreek powder, amchur powder, salt and sugar. Move the brinjals around gingerly (so as not to break them) to coat them with the spices. Cover if required.

I added a few tablespoons of water to braise the brinjals and prevent the masala from burning.

Remove from heat when done - the brinjals should’t get too soft.

Serve garnished with coriander, with hot chaptis.


  1. Love love love it :) Too bad we don't get these in Perth.

  2. Awww - come over to Melbourne to have these baingans! :)


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