Begun Bhaja (Baingan Bhaja – Bengali Fried Eggplant)

1 piece large brinjal (eggplant)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
a pinch red chilli powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp flour (atta)
~80 g mustard oil (for frying)

Wash the brinjal and chop off its stalk. Cut the vegetable along the cross-section into discs, 2 cm thick. A large brinjal should yield about 6 slices.

In a mixing bowl, combine the turmeric powder, red chilli powder, salt, sugar, and atta.

Add the brinjal slices to the bowl and coat them with the spices.

Cover and let them rest for at least 15 minutes. During this time, the salt and sugar will draw out the water from the brinjal slices and soften them up. The moisture generated will also help all the flavours mingle nicely. So, don’t skip this step.

Now, heat mustard oil in a skillet till it starts smoking lightly. For even frying, the depth of the mustard oil in the pan should be at least 1 cm.

Lower the marinated brinjal slices into the oil one by one and fry them on each side, for about 3 minutes, till they are golden. Make sure that the pan is set on medium-low heat; we want to cook the brinjal slices from the inside while allowing them to develop a nice crust on the outside. Also, keep a close eye on the pan, as the sugar in the marinade may burn.

When golden, lift the begun bhaja from the oil. Hold them against the side of the pan for about 20 seconds to drain out excess oil, or use paper towels to soak it up. Serve hot with rice and plain masoor dal.

Alternative version:

Ingredients
1 eggplant large – 350 to 375 grams, (baingan or aubergine)
1 teaspoon kashmiri red chili powder or paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (ground turmeric)
1/2 teaspoon sugar – optional
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala – optional
1 teaspoon dry mango powder (amchur powder) – optional
salt as required
5 to 6 tablespoons Rice Flour or gram flour (besan)
6 to 7 tablespoons mustard oil for pan frying, you can also use sunflower oil

Rinse the eggplant (baingain) well in water. Pat dry with a kitchen towel.
Now slice the eggplant in 1/4 inch thick rounds.

Optionally you can soak these slices in salted water for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the water, remove and pat dry all the slices with a kitchen towel.

Now sprinkle turmeric powder, kashmiri red chilli powder, salt and sugar on the eggplant slices. You can also use garam masala powder and dry mango powder if you prefer.

Mix the ground spices, seasonings evenly all over the eggplant slices.

Set aside to marinate the eggplant slices for 5 to 7 minutes.

Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons mustard oil in a shallow frying pan or skillet. Take rice flour in a plate. Dredge and coat evenly each slice with rice flour. Dust off the extra rice flour.

Gently place the dredged eggplant rounds in the medium hot mustard oil. Do not overcrowd the pan with the slices.

Pan fry until crisp and golden brown on both sides on medium heat. Flip them a couple of times for even cooking.

Once they becomes nicely crisp and golden then place the begun bhaja on paper towels so that the extra oil is absorbed.

Serve baingan bhaja hot with yogurt or any yogurt dip and some bread or roti or with dal rice or khichdi. They can also be stuffed between bread slices and had as a snack.

For best taste have them hot as soon as they are pan fried.

Notes:

Slice the brinjals into rounds that are neither too thin or too thick. The thicker slices will take more time to cook and there are chances that the center is not cooked fully. Thin slices will get browned fast.

Brinjal slices absorbs oil while frying. So, it is always better to coat the slices with some flour. Here in this recipe I have used rice flour. It serves two fold benefit – firstly, the Brinjal slices does not absorb much oil and secondly, rice flour makes the coating crisp from outside. So from outside the Brinjal slices are crisp whereas from inside they are soft.

You can also use chickpea flour or besan (gram flour). If you are not worried about being gluten-free then you can even dredge with all purpose flour or semolina (cream of wheat or sooji).

Brinjal slices discolors quickly once it is chopped. Hence, you can put the chopped slices in a bowl of water or use it right away.

Not all brinjal are bitter. Some of them can be very sweet. However, it is better to put the slices in salted water as one cannot come to know by its look or appearance if it is bitter or not. As a general rule, while buying bigger eggplants, the eggplant should be light with a firm skin.

I have used mustard oil, but you can use any good vegetable oil for frying with a high smoking temperature.

You can either shallow fry or deep fry the baingan.

The recipe can be doubled or tripled.

To bake or air fry – Bake the eggplant rounds at 190 degrees Celsius (380 degrees Fahrenheit) on a parchment lined baking sheet for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden and crispy. Air fry at 190 degrees Celsius (380 degrees Fahrenheit) for 15 to 20 minutes or until the eggplants are crisp and tender. For both methods be sure to flip the slices halfway through the cook time. Also brush the slices with some oil when they are half done.

This recipe uses one large brinjal. When shopping for the vegetable, be sure to select a specimen of the male variety as it is likely to contain far fewer seeds than its female counterpart. You can identify the type of the brinjal by looking at the indentation on its bottom. If the indentation is elongated and deep, it’s a female brinjal. And if it is round and shallow, that’s the seedless, male brinjal.

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