Baingan Bharta is an extremely common Indian dish. There are countless variations of it, depending on the region of origin, and a stunning number of different names: baingan bharta, ringra nu orro, ringna no olo, ringan no oro, ringan nu Bharthu, fire-smoked eggplant, eggplant curry, Gujarati-style eggplant, Punjabi eggplant….. It’s popularity is no surprise, since it’s the perfect dish for using the end-of-summer eggplant and tomato bounty, and also, because it is utterly fabulous. Only after making the “smoky spiced eggplant” from the Food of India did I realize I’d picked one of my favorite Indian dishes. Now that I know how simple it is to make at home, I certainly won’t be paying $9.99 to order it out again.
There aren’t that many eggplant dishes I like, mostly because of the texture. Since the eggplant is virtually (or actually) pureed in this dish/dip, there’s no concern over the texture. Instead, this smoky spiced eggplant dip tastes sinfully rich with its smoky depth from the charred eggplant, the sweetness from the ripe tomatoes, and the perfect balance of spice. Everyone is going to love it, even people who say they hate eggplant. I promise. Also, it’s vegan, so it’s perfect for entertaining a group with different dietary needs.
Another winning feature of this smoky spiced eggplant? It is so simple and easy to make. Set your eggplants under a broiler, set a timer to turn them occasionally, and burn them on purpose. While you let them cool, start your spices blooming in the oil in a dutch-oven or another deep pan, then add the onion to soften and caramelize it. While that’s going, chop up your tomatoes, and don’t worry about uniformity, because it’s all going to be a luxurious dip soon. Also, there’s no need to pay strict attention to the exact amount or weight of eggplants and tomatoes. Have a little extra or a little less? The dip will still be great.
Get your tomatoes reducing, while you take care of whatever cleaning you’ve been putting off in your kitchen (*ahem*) or do whatever suits your fancy, as long as you remember to check on your tomatoes and stir every once in a while. They’ll take about 10-20 minutes to reduce, maybe more if you have particularly juicy tomatoes. The eggplants should be cool enough to handle now, so remove the blackened skin, and don’t worry if you leave a few pieces of char behind. It’ll only add to the smoky flavor. Roughly chop the eggplant flesh, and toss it in with the tomatoes, onions, and spices.
After another 10-20 minutes, your smoky spiced eggplant is ready to either serve, or puree into glorious silky smoothness, and then serve. With a huge pile of naan, preferably, but I can also recommend rice, Fritos, tortillas, chips, poached or grilled chicken, eggs, any bread — even zucchini-quinoa bread (if you happen to have made a ton of it during an overly ambitious recipe testing session, only to discover it’s not very great…. but it’s healthy! and this dip completely masks the boring flavor of that failure).
- 2 eggplants (600 g / 1lb 5 oz)
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1 inch (2.5 cm) fresh ginger, chopped
- 1 green chili, chopped
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) oil (I used avocado oil)
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 5-6 ripe tomatoes, chopped
- optional: 3-4 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
- Poke the eggplants with a fork several times to prevent them from bursting while blackening.
- Blacken the eggplants by holding them over a medium gas flame or heating them under a broiler on a rimmed baking sheet. Keep turning until blackened on all sides and soft. Under a low broiler, this should take 40-60 minutes, turning the eggplants every 15-20 minutes. Let cool.
- Once cool, peel off the charred skin and discard. Roughly chop the eggplant flesh.
- Combine the onion, garlic, ginger, and chili in a small blender or food processor. Pulse until chopped together but not a paste. Alternatively, chop very finely with a knife and mix together.
- In a deep frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion mixture and cook until browned.
- Add all the spices, including the salt and pepper. Stir for another minute.
- Add the chopped tomato and simmer until liquid is reduced, about 10-20 minutes.
- Add the eggplant to the pan and mash everything together with a wooden spoon. Continue simmering for 10-20 minutes, until the eggplants are soft and the spices are well distributed.
- For a chunky dip, stir in the chopped cilantro leaves, if using, and serve.
- For a smooth dip (my preference), blend everything together in a blender until smooth. (If you don't have a high-powered blender, it may to difficult to fully process the eggplant seeds.)