LAKE PALACE HOTEL’S BAIGAN ACHARI (an Indian recipe, aubergine cooked in the pickling style, for six)
“Right in the center of a lake in the formerly royal city of Udaipur is a summer palace, now converted, as most Indian palaces seem fated to be, into a spectacular hotel. This recipe comes from its master chef, Shankerlal, and its finished effect is not unlike a spicy ratatouille. It is an exquisite dish. While kalonji – black onion seeds – do give this dish its special “pickled” taste, you may use cumin seeds instead.” Madhur Jaffrey
1 inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 fluid ounces water
1-1/4 pounds aubergines (large or small variety)
12 fluid ounces plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon kalonji or cumin seeds
12 ounces tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1/3 teaspoon cayenne (more if you like)
about 1-1/4 teaspoons salt
- Put ginger and garlic into the container of an electric blender or food processor. Add the water and blend until fairly smooth.
- Cut the aubergines into slices or wedges that are ¾ inch thick and about 1-1/2 to 2 inches long. Set a sieve over a bowl.
- Put 4 fluid ounces of the oil into a deep 10 to 12 inch frying pan or saucepan and set over medium high heat. When hot, put in as many aubergine slices as the pan will hold in a single layer. Let them turn a reddish brown color (about 2 minutes). Turn them over and brown the opposite sides (another 2 miutes). Remove the slices and put them in the sieve. Add another 4 fluid ounces of oil to the frying pan and heat it. Brown a second batch of aubergine slices just as you did the first. You will probably need to do 3 batches, adding fresh oil to the frying pan each time.
- (You may now turn off the heat under the frying pan ant let the aubergines drain for about 1 hour, or you may proceed with the next step. The idea is to get rid of some of the oil. You will achieve this end either way, though I think it helps slightly to get rid of the oil at the earlier stage.)
- Put 3 tablespoons oil into the frying pan and set it over medium heat. When hot put in the fennel seeds and kalonji or cumin seeds. As soon as the fennel seeds tun a few shades darker – this takes just a few seconds – put on the chopped tomato, the ginger garlic mixture, coriander, turmeric, cayenne and salt. Stir and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, breaking the tomato pieces with the back of a slotted spoon. Turn the heat up slightly and continue to stir and cook until the spice mixture gets thick and paste like.
- Now put in the fried aubergine slices and mix gently. Cook on medium low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring very gently as you do so. Cover the pan, turn heat to very low and cook another 5 to 10 minutes if you think it is necessary.
- Oil will have collected at the bottom of the frying pan. Use a slotted spoon to life the aubergine out of this oil when you serve.
- You could also serve this dish cold, almost as if it were a salad. In that case, store it with all of its oil in the refrigerator. Take it out of the oil only when you serve.