Here again I post another recipe involving baigan (eggplant, aubergine, melongene etc), even though, to be honest, baigan isn’t actually something I love. I don’t think I am unique in this attitude to baigan, my culinary blogger friend Cynthia talked about that in a recent post and column. I love apparently, many recipes using baigan. I love its versatility in vegetarian recipes, and like the way it pairs well with beef and cheese.
But growing up, I hated hated baigan. I hated baigan choka, the smell, the mushy grey glob, the sliminess in curried beef…this was not something I ever imagined I would be recommending that other people eat. To the point of writing up recipes and attempting to take mouth-watering photos! What happened to me? Well, I guess I grew up. And my tastes matured, or at least I was able to appreciate that baigan doesn’t always have to taste like baigan choka (because I still don’t like baigan choka and only eat it in curry beef if it’s melted to the point of invisibility).
One thing in particular I grew to love, that I always spurned as a child, is baigani. Baigani is essentially an eggplant fritter, that is one of our Indo-Trini delicacies (also made in Guyana I believe). Traditionally, baigani is made from sliced eggplant rounds, and makes a regular appearance on iftar or aftari (breaking of the fast) menus, and at food stalls and vans selling “Indian Delicacies”. Serve it with some mango or tamarind (or pommecythere or anything else we use) chutney, either as a dip, or slice the baigani open and slather it inside. Some of these street vendors have progressed to making the baigani out of spears of baigan (cutting the baigan lengthways in sticks of about one inch thick) dipped in the batter, so that when fried, it becomes a big long pie, like aloo pie, that is more amenable to cutting open and filling with some curry channa in addition to the chutney.
So although as a child I often wished ill upon those who brought baigani to the communal iftars, when they could have just as easily brought pholourie or kachorie, I now enjoy these fried treats alongside those other favourites. The combination of seasoned batter, deep frying and chutney masks any lingering dislike of the taste or texture of baigan. While I used a batter consisting primarily of yellow split pea flour, you can adjust this to your tastes by adding more regular white flour, or using chickpea (or gram) flour depending on what’s available to you. And so, as we are in the month of Ramadan, I made baigani for iftar, and now offer the recipe.
2 small baigans (or 1 larger one, I used 5″ baigans)
1.5 cups yellow split pea flour
2 tbsp plain flour
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp ground geera (cumin)
1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
salt and pepper to taste
1-1.5 cups water
oil for frying
(Feel free to add more spices and seasonings to your taste)
1. Slice baigans into rounds about 3-5 mm thick. Sprinkle about 1 tsp salt over the baigan slices and spread evenly on paper towels, or a wire rack. Leave for about an hour, then pat the slices dry. This step is important, as if the baigan is not salted and drained, the texture of the slices will be too wet and slippery for the batter to stick to it properly.
2. Mix the flours with remaining ingredients (except the oil of course) and enough water to make a thick batter, like the consistency of a thick pancake batter. The batter must be able to coat the baigan slices and not slide off, leaving a relatively thick even layer of batter around the baigan.
3. Heat a heavy pot with oil about 1.5 inches deep. Dip slices into batter, one at a time. You may need to move the batter around with your fingers to get even coverage. Place carefully into the hot oil, one at a time. When the baigani floats up and the top looks set and a little darker, turn the baigani, and fry until golden brown. Remove from oil and place on absorbent paper towels.
4. Serve hot with chutney of your choice. (Although my sister did successfully reheat these on a grill pan so that they were still crispy and not overly oily).
Notes: I used a variety of baigan found in Guyana that is usually used for choka, because it has less seeds than the normal varieties. To my surprise I find that I preferred the slices with more seeds, as they melted better into the batter and made for a better baiganee. I could see using these baigans for my Stuffed Eggplant recipe though! That would be great.
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