As Bengali hosts, there are always a few classic dishes that expected when we have guests at home. For example, Shorshe Maach, the mustard fish preparation or the popular Bengali dessert Mishti Doi, the sweet yoghurt.
These require a fair amount of culinary expertise. They are justified in their presence on the coveted list of a traditional Bengali menu.
It’s beyond me however, when a simple preparation like Begun Bhaja or fried eggplant becomes an oft-requested dish and enters the ‘Hall of Fame’ of Bengali cuisine. In fact, Begun Bhaja is also one of the few dishes that I always like to use as a showstopper. It’s so easy and it beguiles everyone, especially my non-Bengali guests.
It’s like making the perfect egg, it’s simple and easy. Yet, not everyone can make it!
While Begun Bhaja complements any dal or lentil preparation during an elaborate or simple Bengali meals, my fondest memories of it is a perfect accompaniment with Luchi or deep fried flatbreads made from refined, white flour. When fluffed up hot Luchis are served with Begun Bhaja, off the pan, even a simple food combination becomes a culinary delicacy.
Shall I fry some eggplants?” is perhaps a very regular question asked at my in-laws’ and my parents’ homes in Kolkata, when no vegetables have been cooked to be eaten along with dal. A mere smearing of turmeric and salt on eggplant slices and then frying them in mustard oil is all it takes.
My father-in-law enjoying a Sunday breakfast of the same, all the while sitting cozy on his bed, may seem shocking for many. For me, it brings back happy food memories - of times and moments that honour simple home cooking and savouring it.
“Shall I fry some eggplants?” is perhaps a very regular question asked at my in-laws’ and my parents’ homes in Kolkata, when no vegetables have been cooked to be eaten along with dal. A mere smearing of turmeric and salt on eggplant slices and then frying them in mustard oil is all it takes.
“You surely aren’t going to serve your guests such simple Begun Bhaja, are you?” my Ma would express concern over our WhatsApp conversations.
My mum-in-law always adds a bit of rice flour to the eggplants before frying. It gives them a crispier texture. Her penchant for watching cookery shows has inspired her to make delicious tweaks. One such adaptation is her making a creamy yoghurt sauce and pours it on top of the fried eggplant. Another time, she started adding fried chopped garlic as a garnishing on top, an inspiration courtesy of her favourite Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor.
Begun Bhaja has evolved further in our home kitchen in Chennai. An ode to the varied culinary profiles serenading my family and me currently, the recipe is a perfect union of flavours across two regions. Begun Bhaja or fried eggplant prepared in the Bengali style and garnished with a tempered yoghurt inspired by the regional cooking of South India, has become the perfect showstopper on our dining table.
The simple tempering with fresh curry leaves, mustard seeds and whole chillies - both red and green, is truly versatile. Adding it to any dish can enhance its taste and make it flavourful. I have been plucking off curry leaves fresh from our garden - which is indeed a blessing.
The thing that I like about this recipe of fried eggplant in tempered yoghurt - it also tastes wonderful once it has been refrigerated. It’s unlike Begun Bhaja cooked in the traditional Bengali way, which tastes best only when served piping hot.
If there is any oil left over after frying the eggplants or after the tempering, I add a few green chillies in the hot oil. The moment they start to splatter, I remove them off the pan. The resultant Lonka Bhaja or fried green chillies have become another beguiling conversation starter at our dining table, just like my Begun Bhaja in its brand new avatar!
Fried eggplant in tempered yoghurt
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
1 big eggplant (around 425 gms)
3 green chillies
1 red chilli
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder (optional)
1/2 tsp rice powder (optional, to make the eggplants crispy)
1/4 tsp black mustard seeds
10 curry leaves, fresh
2 tbsp mustard oil
1 tsp white oil
200 gms yoghurt
Sugar, a pinch
Salt as per taste
Slice the eggplant into half-inch thick rondelles.
Sprinkle turmeric powder, cumin powder, salt and rice powder on the slices. Rub it in gently.
Heat 2 tbsp mustard oil in a pan and place the eggplant slices on the pan, and fry them on both sides until they turn brown and crispy. Place them on a flat serving dish.
Stir in salt and sugar in yogurt and whisk it finely. Set aside in a glass or a bowl.
Heat any vegetable oil in a tempering pan. Add the mustard seeds. Once they start spluttering, add dry red chillies, green chillies and curry leaves. Take off the flame after a short while before the chillies start to burn. Pour over the yoghurt. Mix.
Drizzle the above yogurt mixture on the eggplant slices. Serve hot or cold after refrigeration.