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Meatless Monday: Punjabi eggplant curry

A roasted eggplant with a fragrantly spiced sauce.

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**Recipe note: If your spices are relatively old and not as pungent, try adding more of them to this recipe. I found that the eggplant really just sucks up anything that is added to it and I ended up adding a few more pinches of all of them. Taste along the way and, as always with cooking, adjust seasoning to your liking.

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Baigan Bharta of Punjabi Spiced Eggplant Curry
Serves 2-4

2 large eggplants or 3 medium ones
2 large onions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons ginger/garlic paste (or mash in mortar/pestle one 2 inch piece of peeled/chopped ginger and 2 cloves of garlic) or follow this link
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 chiles (for spice) or 1 teaspoon ground hot red pepper
2 very ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
3/4 cup of peas
some chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 lemon

The first and, to me, most unique thing about this dish is its smokey flavor. In order to achieve this, you really must roast the eggplants over an open flame. I did not have a grill, so I chose to use the flame of my gas burner – it worked like a charm. If you do not have a grill with an open flame or gas burners, then try roasting the eggplants in the oven. If roasting on an open-flame, you can wrap the whole eggplant in foil or just put it whole on the burner to roast, allowing the skin to char from the flame (about 4 to 6 minutes per side). Using tongs, keep rotating till eggplant is charred on all sides and has collapsed like a deflated balloon. BE CAREFUL because it is filled with molten-hot deliciousness. Allow to rest on a plate for a bit to cool before you try and scoop the flesh out. When it is cooled, use a spoon to remove softened flesh or try and peel away charred skin. Keep flesh in a bowl until later.

Heat pan and add cumin seeds – allow cumin seeds to dry roast for 20 seconds, swirling the pan to make sure they evenly roast. Add some oil and throw in all the onions. Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow to slowly cook down. The slow-cooked onions really bring flavor to the dish (a sweetness). This could take 20 minutes, but give it the time it needs – I am convinced the dish would’ve been different if the onions didn’t slowly cook down. You can add a tiny bit of water or some more oil if you think the pan is getting too dry.

Add the ginger/garlic paste and allow to cook for a minute. Stir it into the onions.

Add the chiles (if using) and allow to cook for a minute or two

Add the chopped tomato and stir. Cook for 30 seconds.

Add all the spices and stir.

Now add the mashed eggplant and stir everything together. Allow this to cook with everything for about 10 minutes. Stir every 45 seconds or so so it evenly cooks (almost folding it as you stir).

Add the peas in the last 2 or 3 minutes of cooking. Check for seasonings and add salt to your liking.

Squeeze a bit of lemon into the final product and stir. Sprinkle with freshly chopped cilantro and serve with some naan and/or basmati.

Related post: Cheese and Peas Curry

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