BHARTHA & BITTER MELON

June 21, 2012

This happens to me a lot: things that I never ate/couldn’t stand the sight of as a kid become my favorites as an adult.  Please see: avocadoes, pie, oatmeal, and both of the dishes below.

{blistered eggplant cooked with tomatoes, fava beans, & yogurt}

{caramelized bitter melon with onions & fennel seeds}


There’s a fair chance that few of you will make or are interested in making either one of those things—but I am at the mercy of this bossy but admittedly accurate tweet.  So I set about remedying the recent lack of Indian food posts on this side.  In doing so, I noticed that I have not  posted my method for “proper Indian girl rice” before, nor have I covered any Indian breads or my (sorta) famous Indian stuffed okra.  Forgive me; I’ll get right on that!

I don’t mind requests (er, demands) at all, because I love knowing that I am posting something that someone, even if it’s just Misha, will actually make, and hopefully enjoy.

BAINGAN BHARTA, MY WAY

This is one of those nearly ubiquitous dishes, North Indian in origin, that finds its way onto lots of Indian food menus.  Luckily, it’s quite easy to make at home and very adaptable to your tastes—I’ve made it here with raw fava beans, because I LURVE them & they are in season now, but you could use good ole fashioned frozen peas (the way my mom made this dish all growing up) or substitute any fully cooked pea or bean (lima would be nice).

Also, you can cook the eggplant a couple of different ways.  Note: I tend to use conventional “globe” eggplants (American, Italian, & Indian all have a similar shape, though vary in size) for this recipe, not the longer, skinny Japanese or Asian eggplants.  Not to say it wouldn’t work with those, I’ve just never tried.

•    Halve the eggplant(s) and coat with vegetable oil.  Place cut-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet and slide the baking sheet onto a rack in the top third of your oven.  Set the oven to broil and allow the eggplant skins to char for approximately 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your eggplants.  Wearing gloves, carefully check to see if the inside flesh of the eggplant has become very soft.  If not, cook longer until the flesh is scoop-able with a spoon.  Cool the eggplants before handling.

•    If you have a charcoal grill, you could do something similar to the above broiling method, without heating up your house; halve eggplant, coat with oil, and wrap in foil, allowing the eggplants to smolder on the grill until the flesh is soft.

•    If you have a gas grill or a grill pan, you can slice your eggplant into rounds, coat with oil, and grill the slices until they are soft.  Alternately, you can start the eggplant on the grill or in the grill pan to achieve some char, and then transfer to a 400° oven until the flesh yields easily when poked with a fork.

•    If you have a gas stove (lucky duck), I’m betting you could char the eggplant directly over a low flame, turning carefully with tongs until the skin is charred.  But this is simply an educated guess, so if you try it, let me know how it turns out!

Once your eggplant has been cooked and cooled, carefully remove the skin and mash the flesh with the back of a fork—doesn’t have to be smooth, just try to homogenize a little.  It will all work out when you cook it, I promise.

Now for the actual recipe.  You’ll see that my recipe calls for some smoked paprika or chipotle chili powder—not exactly conventional Indian ingredients, but either will add smokiness that works well with the eggplant.  If you happen to have smoked salt, you could use that instead.

ingredients:

approximately 2 cups’ worth of eggplant flesh
-I usually get enough from one big giant eggplant or two smaller ones
1 cup of chopped red onion
3 small-to-medium tomatoes, cored and chunked
-OR 1 small can tomato sauce
½ cup plain yogurt, preferably full-fat
½ cup shelled fava beans
¼ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
¼ cup fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small Serrano or other hot green pepper, minced
-AND/OR ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional—for heat!)
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. smoked paprika OR chipotle chili powder
salt, to taste
vegetable oil

In a deep saucepan, heat a few tablespoons of oil on medium until it just starts to shimmer.  Add the cumin seeds and immediately turn down the heat a bit, swirling the pan to keep the seeds from burning.  The seeds should sizzle and start to crack, but if they don’t you’ll need to try again (otherwise they will taste bitter).

Once the spluttering dies down, add the onion, garlic, and ginger (plus green pepper if you’re using it), cooking over medium-low until the onion has softened and everything smells fantastic.  Add the eggplant pulp and stir well, adding the ground spices and a little bit of salt to start.  Cover and cook down for approximately 5 minutes.

Remove the lid and add the tomatoes/tomato sauce and fava beans.  Cover and cook another 5 minutes.  You’re not going to over- or under-cook at this point, since the eggplant is already “done,” you’re just looking for the elements of the dish to become combined and incorporated—just make sure the flame is low so your bhartha doesn’t burn at the bottom.

Okay, you’re almost done!  Turn the heat to low and stir in the yogurt and cilantro.  Check for salt and spice, and adjust accordingly.  Once everything has warmed through, you are ready to serve!

serve with: rice, naan or the bread of your choice, even crackers (it makes a fine baba ghanouj-esque dip!)

CARAMELIZED BITTER MELON WITH ONIONS & FENNEL SEEDS

There are a couple of different varieties of the aptly named bitter melon, or karela:  Chinese bitter melon, which is longer and paler green than its Indian cousin, covered with gentle bumps and ridges.  The Indian melon is more bitter, darker green, & incredibly bumpy.  You can use either for this dish—find one or both varieties at your local Asian grocery store, or maybe even your local Farmers Market (summer is the season for bitter melon!)

Fair warning: bitter melon requires a bit of advanced preparation.  For this recipes you must first peel or scrape off the outer green skin.  Some other bitter melon recipes, particularly those in which the vegetable is fried, claim you can leave the skin on, but I’ve never done this.

After peeling, slice the melon into thin rounds—keep the seeds, they’re delicious!  Place the slices in a shallow bowl or dish and cover with generous amounts of coarse salt.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.  Rinse the bitter melon to remove the salt, then squeeze to remove excess moisture and allow the slices to dry on paper towels.  Now, you’re ready!

ingredients:

approximately 2 cups of prepared, sliced bitter melon
-from, say, 3 of the larger Chinese melons or 4-5 of the smaller Indian variety
2 cups sliced red onion
1 tsp. fennel seeds
pinch asafetida
pinch cayenne pepper (optional, for heat)
pinch amchur powder (optional, for a little sourness)
vegetable oil
salt

In a wide skillet, heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  After a few minutes, add the asafetida—it will sizzle in the pan.  The asafetida adds a very distinctive flavor which I love, but a little goes a long way, so be careful.  Toss in the fennel seeds and just a pinch of salt.  (Do not salt to taste now!  Because the mixture will reduce down considerably during cooking, the salt can become intensified and overwhelming, ruining the dish.)

Immediately add the onions and cook them until they begin to soften, a few minutes.  Add the bitter melon and stir once, then leave the pan alone and let the onions and melon brown over medium to medium-to-high heat.  Walk away from the pan!  If you stir, there will be no browning.  Check back in about four minutes.

Okay, do you see any browning?  If yes, then you may stir a little.  If no, walk away again.  Repeat this cycle, adjusting the heat as necessary, until everything—onions, melon slices, melon seeds—is a nice, dark brown.  The amount of “stuff” in the pan will have reduced a great deal as well, at least by half.

Now do a little taste-test for salt.  Add some if it’s needed, and then add cayenne and/or amchur, if using.

serve with: This dish cries out for cucumber raita—the cooling yogurt dish tempers the strong flavor.  You can also just use plain yogurt, if you’re feeling lazy.

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2 Comments »

  1. It’s not just Misha! I am SO EXCITED to have these 2 recipes that I might have to cook them both this weekend.
    Of course, it will remind me of eating them at your house, which will make me sad, but then they will be so yummy that I will be happy again, and there I will be, swinging wildly between missing-you sad and eating-yummy-things happy.

    Comment by Courtney — June 21, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

  2. How timely! We do a combined summer birthday dinner with two close friends each year. We have decided to include one or more eggplant dishes this time, because another friend said that every
    Turkish bride must know at least 65 eggplant recipes – or is it 72?
    Our friends’ daughter spent many months in Turkey and enjoyed lots
    of eggplant. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Also looking forward to “proper Indian girl rice” recipe.

    Comment by carolyn truedell — June 21, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

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