Monsoon has arrived in Bangladesh. The skies are sulky and grumpy, prone to sudden teary outbursts as the grey clouds float sombrely by. The environment has taken a matted ash tone and movements are slow. We trudge through muddied paths, slipping and swimming in mire, wait in long, snaky traffic that makes us sympathize with Lizzie Borden, and cancel plans because of sudden torrential rains. I hate the monsoon season. I also hate Dhaka summers and winters. I am not a pleasant individual and I admit that.
Life is difficult, yes, but perhaps the worst of all this is the existence of a certain group of people who decide to write verse regarding the 'beauty' of Dhaka rain. I am often alternately amazed and repulsed by the optimism of these people, who find such so-called beauty when there aren't any, these poets of Facebook who ponder on the exquisite delights of having a steaming hot cup of tea while listening to the gentle pitter-patter of rainfall outside. I cannot help but despise them, unfortunately.
One good thing that has borne from the mud of the monsoon season is the desire to undertake more cooking experiments. For the last few weeks, I have been scouring Pinterest (a.k.a the greatest place on Earth), hoping to unearth rare and hidden culinary jewels. I have a soft spot for Indian cuisine. Their use of spices and oils and experimentation with taste and flavor is curious and interesting. Plus, the fact that they use more or less the same ingredients as us makes my grocery shopping cheaper and easier. After days of endlessly browsing Pinterest, mouth hung open, wondering why I look at pictures of food when I'm hungry, I found a dish that really got my goat going (sorry).
Eggplants are the Ryan Reynolds of vegetables. They are so wonderfully diverse, playing dual roles as both a side-dish and a main dish. They can soak in the spices, be the perfect companion to even the most difficult of foods so beautifully that it's a wonder they haven't been proclaimed the mistress of all food already.
My fan-girling of eggplants aside, I present to you my Hyderabadi Begara Begun. I won't lie and say that making this was easy. Tempers were flared, fights occurred, their were some tears. However, in the end, my cook and I pulled through, resolved our inner differences and created a dish that was alternately sweet and sour, spicy and nutty, with smoky eggplants, resplendent in all their glory, lying
The Lazy Brown Girl's Take on Hyderabadi Bagara Begun.
1. 2 medium-sized round eggplants.
2. 1 tsp poppy-seeds
3. 1 tsp white sesame seeds.
4. 1tsp fenugreek seeds.
5. Slightly less than 1/2 tsp cumin
6. 1 tsp coriander seeds
7. 1 tsp red chili powder
8. Slightly less than 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder
9. Salt to taste
10. Sugar or jaggary to taste
11. 4 tbsp onion paste
12. 1 1/2 tsp garlic paste
13. 1/2 tsp ginger paste
14. Juice of handful of tamarind paste
15. Coriander leaves and chopped green chilies
1. In a kadai, dry-roast the peanuts, poppy-seeds, sesame seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin, coriander seeds, red chili powder. Next, grind them to a fine paste (add a little water to ensure a rich thickness). Mix it with two tbsp of onion paste and some salt.
2. Wash the eggplants thoroughly. Make a cross-wise slit along them (take care to keep the stalks intact, otherwise the eggplants will break). add a portion of the paste in the slits. (This is an annoying process and will take time. You might want to hurl the eggplants across the kitchen during this time. Don't.)
3. Once the slits have been filled, and your hands and face are a spicy mess, rub oil on eggplants. In a pan, add a bit of oil and place the eggplants there. They need to be roasted to a smoky tenderness before they can be cooked.
4. Once the eggplants have turned soft (poke them with a fork), heat oil in a kadai over medium-high heat. Add the rest of the spice mixture, along with the rest of the onion paste. Stir and make sure they are not burning. Add some more red chili at this point if you have a fiery spirit.
5. Add the roasted eggplants and stir. Pour water until it just about covers the eggplants. Cover and turn the flames on high. Stir from time to time to ensure the spices don't get stuck to the kadai.
6. After about 25-30 minutes, the water should reduce, the eggplants should be softer and the gravy thicker. Add the tamarind juice and sugar. Taste and adjust and add a bit more salt if needed. We a sweet and sour spicy dish with a nutty base.
7. Add the garnish, stir a final time and serve immediately with a steaming bowl of white rice.
Notes: You can make this dish more exciting and add 2 large chopped tomatoes to the gravy, along with the spice paste as well. The tomatoes will make the gravy red and tangy. However, you'll need to adjust your tamarind paste and sugar so that the dish isn't to sour.
This dish is a tricky one. Eggplants, although delicious, are deceptive creatures and need to be monitored regularly. So, have patience and you'll find a beautiful Indian curry in front of you, one that will be enjoyed by all family members (except for the weird ones who don't like eggplants. And let's face it, do we really need such negative forces in our lives?)