Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Packed to the rafters

Bharli Vaangi (Stuffed Brinjals)

Packed to the rafters !

That’s what Mother says every time we talk of getting new pots and pans on visits to India. Why buy new ones when we have so many! 

I am showing her my latest shopping – an anodised tava and langadi and a non-stick handi I bought to bring back to Australia. 

But mum, look at these new ones – they are better designed, ergonomically shaped and one needs minimal oil to cook in them. They look better and are easier to clean and maintain. I go on and on extolling the virtues of the new pots without actively denouncing the old brass and copper plated utensils sitting forlorn and forgotten in their wraps in the lofts in Mother’s home. 

Let’s sell them as scrap, you get a good rate for brass. No, Mother says. No utensil from my house will be sold, she declares firmly. 

Old fashioned, I think, but respect her sentiment. Perhaps I would have done the same.

She wants to give them to “Apala Ghar”, a home for children orphaned in the Latur earthquake of 1993, run by Panna Lal Surana Ji, an  old colleague of my freedom fighter grandfather. That’s an excellent idea, I say, but start worrying about the logistics of sending them over –Who will deliver them? How? I really don’t have time in this short visit…

Why don’t you take some with you, mother asks. 

To Australia! No way! I interject, almost unthinkingly- except in that split second I am thinking - Who will scrub clean the vessels with tamarind and ash to shine them? Where can I get a kalhaiwala to periodically coat their insides with tin to prevent food poisoning? And how will I ship these behemoths without booking container space!

The easiest thing to do is to cast the idea and the pots aside for the time being. 

At least let them see the light of the day – er, clean them once, mother urges.

So down come all the lofty gang- the kadhai (wok), patella (sauce pan), gundi (round bottomed casserole) parat (shallow mixing bowl), langdi (wide, shallow flat-bottomed pan), rowli (colander), mother’s first cooker – a tall stock pot with a domed tight fitting lid in which rice and dal could be cooked in separate containers at the same time) phirki cha tambya (portable water container with a screw top with a handle) kadicha daba (billy can)…

Mother and I are lost in the world we have brought upon ourselves. Each vessel has their antecedents engraved on them, who gifted it to who, whose proud possession it was (funny how many of those pots had the names of the male heads of family!) in which city it had been bought, whose trousseau it was a part of, who it was inherited from…

Each pot and pan has a memory of the dishes that were made in them. Each dent evokes irritation for the silly maids or butterfingered daughters or in-laws who had brought on the disfigurement. Some painful grouses of irreplaceable sets separated by stealing wenches are aired. 

OMG! I think – we are talking about these vessels as if they were people! 

But I end up realising these brass behemoths as I called them, are actually our family elders who had proffered us condolence and succor in mourning, fed our festivities and joy and nourished us at normal times. 

More than just vessels, these repositories of our culture and traditions watch us even now, as silent sentinels from their lofty perch - leaving us packed to the rafters with rich legacy.

I did bring the anodised langadi and tava with me – and someday would like these inanimate objects to bring history alive to my progeny and theirs. 

The dish I made in the langadi had to be bharli vaangi, for obvious reasons. And also because I am sending it to my blogger friend Preeti's  Ruchira Giveaway Event !

Bharali Vaangi


12-14 small brinjals 

For the masala 

1 cup finely minced onion 
½ cup roasted and coarsely powdered peanuts 
¼ cup toasted and coarsely ground sesame seeds
¼ cup grated coconut (fresh or desiccated) lightly toasted
1 tsp poppy seeds, toasted and crushed  
3-4 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves 
2 tsp red chili powder, or more
1 tbsp Maharastrian goda masala or Badshah undiyu masala or garam masala
2 tbsp grated jaggery 
1 tbsp amchur powder or a little tamarind concentrate
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
¼ tsp hing
½  tsp turmeric
1 tbsp oil 
Salt to taste

For the tadka 

1 tsp mustard seeds 
A pinch of turmeric
A pinch of hing
3-4 tbsp oil


Heat the oil in a small pan and add mustard seeds to splutter then add the turmeric and hing. Keep this aside.

Wash and dry the brinjals. Trim the stalk and calyx (trimming calyx is optional) and cut each brinjal from the base, stopping just short of the end so you’re cutting it into half without severing it. Then from the calyx end, give a similar cut, but at 90° or perpendicular to the first cut, going all the way just short of the end. This way the brinjal is cut into quarters, but doesn’t open up completely and therefore retains the stuffing even during the cooking. This trick is a valuable heirloom trick passed down by my grandmother. Cut all the brinjals in this fashion and keep aside.

Mix all the ingredients of masala and pack the brinjals with it from both the ends, so you’ll be able to pack in more masala, spreading its goodness right into each brinjal – and keeping it there!

Keep aside any remaining masala. You can add a few tablespoons of water to make a light watery mixture and use it to braise the brinjals. 

Arrange the brinjals like in the picture in a wide, shallow and flat-bottomed non-stick pan, like my anodised langadi or a Teflon coated paella pan. Pour the tadka on the top. You can be more generous with the oil if you wish. 

Start the heat, first high and then on medium so the bottom of the brinjals get lightly browned. Flip each brinjal carefully with a spoon without letting it break. Then pour the watery gravy mixture carefully all over the brinjals and lower the heat. 

Cover the pan with a tight lid. I used a water bath – a shallow steel plate with some water in it.

Cook for about 8-10 minutes on very low heat. When the water in the water bath starts to steam lightly, remove the cover carefully, making sure you don’t spill any water into the brinjals.

Check each one for doneness. Flip them around if required, this time with more caution as cooked brinjals fall apart very quickly. 

Switch off the heat when done and let it rest covered for 15-20 minutes at least before serving with chapati, bhakri or rice and dal.

These vaangis (brinjals) actually taste much better the following day! 


  1. I so agree with you regarding the vessels at home wrapped at my aai's and in-law's place. During my last visit to my in-law's I was so drawn towards the bamba..heating our bath water. I even asked R..if we could have a miniature one to bring back. Loved your writing as usual and bharli vangi and the masala looks so inviting. What did you have it with?

    1. Yes, Preeti, these vessels are repositories of our culture and traditions. How can we abandon them!

      We had these vaangis with saadha varan and bhaat! :)

  2. Absolutely luscious preparation. Yummy and droolworthy.
    Inviting you to visit my space at your leisure,

    1. Thank you Sanoli. I will surely visit your page ! :)

  3. I love the utensils my Mom has, in fact, I feel sad when I think of how they sold, donated my Aaji's and even Panji's old stuff, those kind of utensils (quality and durability) are not found these days:(

    I am not a vangi person at all, but I love the masala! I will gladly eat that.

  4. So true Manasi - and the older these utensils , the better their quality - these days we get such tapra ones...

    And try the vangi - just for the masala... there is more pleasure and satisfaction in eating rice that has mopped up residual masala and oil from a pot in which masala baingans or bhindis are cooked !

    As kids we used to fight over who was going to get to "wipe the kadhai" !!

  5. Actually revisiting! My mouth waters as I read the bharli vangi recipe. I keep a lookout for good brinjals worthy of *this* masala and make it. Was feeling nostalgic about my mother's cooking hence the re visit. Thanks Shruti. Enjoying the birthday?

  6. Awww... I hope you find those brinjals soon! :) And wonder who you are - anonymous! :)


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