Begun bhaja ~ Spiced Pan toasted eggplants, my version of a traditional Bengali recipe

Begun Bhaja ~ Pan Toasted Eggplants

I did a secretarial course years back that taught me several things. I thought it was staid and did not opt for such a course voluntarily. My parents forced me. They believed that I needed to qualify as a typist and stenographer, whatever field I picked, and so, within a month of graduation, I was enrolled into a secretarial course. I suspect that my father, knowing my flare for being a thoughtlessly forthright person, connived me into thinking that this was just a course but it was in fact meant to teach me a whole set of social skills. In short I learned to listen , to talk less and talk sense in a formal gathering, to be less opinionated and not to confuse being rude with being frank! Not many will agree I listen or talk less but you must ask my Mum and she will tell you how much I have improved. The grooming did benefit me in many ways. When I see my husband strain himself and type slowly with one finger I realise that a secretarial course is definitely an advantage! Now you know why my posts are long.

I am digressing from today’s topic! The bonus of joining the course was getting to know a lot of Gujarati girls. Gujaratis love their food and go out of their way to make each meal a a complete satisfaction. Have you noticed during train journeys that some people lay elaborate meals, complete with starters, mains, sides, desserts and pickles. Most likely that the group is made up of Gujaratis or Rajasthanis. They are usually generous. Smile and you will be welcomed as one of them and probably be invited to partake of luscious food. The Gujju girls in my class were no exceptions. I soon became familiar with delicious entrees such as dhokla and khaman, sides such as undhiyo and dal dhokli and a variety of gluten free flatbreads as well. Like typical food lovers who did not have real spending power we would go about sampling the dosa wallah outside our college, the sandwich wallah opposite and make a visit to Lenin’s pav bhaji stall at Khao-gali once in a while. I had never had such gastromic adventures before.

One of these girls, whose name I am unable to recall brought prettily stacked deep purple circles one day and she offered me one round piece saying it was ‘begun bhaja’. I hated baingans (aubergines/eggplans/brinjals) back then and politely refused. But you know how friends can be. She forced me saying these were delicious. “Ek toh try kar yaar,” [Try at least one, dear] she pressed and I could see my other friends asking her for more by then. It was etiquette that made me try one and am I glad I did. It changed my mindset forever! My Gujju friends influenced me in other ways too. They taught me to explore cuisines other than Indian.

Though you will find several exotic recipes that expound usage of various spices for this recipe, the best is the simplest. It is original and has a rustic taste and is made with ingredients readily available in any kitchen. Do you have turmeric and chilli powders stocked in your pantry? Then nothing should stop you. Just buy some eggplants and get on with this quick recipe for a tasty accompaniment to your lunch or dinner, or have it just for the kick. The best suited are the oblong fat brinjals that one uses for begun pora or bharta, or thick long purple variety. I prefer the latter.

How to choose eggplants?
Since these are just sliced eggplants spiced lightly, it is best to use those with few seeds. But then, how do you decide whether the one you take has less seeds? That is easy and practical. The eggplant that weighs light but looks large contains also less seeds. Hold the eggplant in your palm and try to use your judgment to decide whether it is light enough. You could probably try handling two eggplants of the same size on each palm. That should make it easier in the beginning.

Recipe: Begun bhaja ~ Spiced Pan toasted eggplants, my version of a traditional Bengali recipe
Serves: 3 persons

3 Eggplants, if using thick oblong variety
1 if using the fat big variety
3 tsp. red chilli powder
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Juice from 1/2 a lemon

Wash and pat dry eggplants. Cut into thick round slices about half a centimetre in thickness.

Mix the spices together with the salt well. Rub the spices over the sliced eggplants on both sides. What I do is rub very little oil into the spices and spread on a wide plate. I pat the eggplants lightly on both sides over the spice mixture and set them aside stacking them up in another plate.

If only all sweating happened while resting!

Let them sweat for five minutes.

Heat a griddle and brush oil. Lay the slices the eggplants all over and toast both the sides till crispy, pouring a drop of oil on each when you turn them. See that the spices do not burn.

You must ideally fry them but I could not bring myself to do that. These are great for me.

Serve with rice and dal or just flatbreads. Eat them up as they are. They taste good while hot.

I love it best with Indian stewed rice – Khichdi. I wanted a trip to Heaven so I made a vegan version of gatte ki kadhi. After returning back to earth I made walnut brownies. In my next post I will give you the recipe for gatte ki kadhi. There is a story behind the kadhi. One that is set in Manali.

Khichdi, Gatte Ki Kadhi aur Begun Bhaja
(Clockwise from the top) Khichdi, Gatte Ki Kadhi and Begun Bhaja

My Bengali friends make it slightly different. They do not add chilli powder but I just made mine as how my friend told me her mum made it and it tasted so good. You know I cook in the present but each dish has a past. I could not bear to change the flavour or taste of the food that came with a memory attached.

Just to clarify – mine is still a twist to the genuine recipe which does not include chilli powder and is a deep fried delicacy. You can check out the Bengali version at the links below:

Sharmila of Kichu Khon in her early posts of how to put together a Bengali lunch.
Sundeepa of Bong Mom’s Cookbook does the same with rice, mator dal and bhaja.

Rejoining work tomorrow! Wish me luck!

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Have your say

  1. 'The past' that each of you dish has makes the post more interesting and engaging too.

    Roasted eggplants looks delicious.

  2. Looks awesome …and yummy platter …gr8 pics

  3. i was looking for sidesish for todays dinner 🙂 and now i knw wht to prepare,..:-)

  4. Thanks SM for the link

    Begun Bhaja is an originally Bengali dish, the name itself says that. Every one from all over India has their own version of this classic fry and I have seen ones loaded with amchoor and such too. They are sadly not exotic, it is the actual simple begun bhaja fried in mustard oil with turmeric powder and salt which is exotic.

    I mean isn't the basic rasam the best, I could load it up with spices and drizzle with Mustard Oil and have a Bong version of Rasam. But that wouldn't beat the original simple taste.

    I like your Bhajas though 🙂

  5. Sundeepa, I have mentioned for that very reason that my Bengali friends do not add chilli powder and deep fry, and I included your link as well as Sharmila/s. And I know what you mean! I have had times like this when people actually tell how rasam or thogayal should taste and even suggest adding jaggery in both! It is irritating when they don't accept that they have made a twist which is alright as long as it is not claimed to be a genuine recipe. I have now included a clarification too:). Glad you liked my bhajas as well!

  6. You know, speaking of variations, us Maharashtrians and Konkanis dredge the eggplant circles in rava and call it vangyache kaaf. And I can relate to friends and colleagues hooking you on to different cuisines and veggies. In my case it was baingan bharta and methi sabzi.

  7. You have a lovely Blog SM!
    The bhaja looks yummy . I also use some chilli & amchoor after frying to make it tangy!.However not on the ones served to my Bengali husband!

  8. wow bgun bhaa looks super tempting …love the platter served with khichidi …yummy …my favorite combo ..


  9. Looks awasome… and Delicious!!

  10. I too somehow can't get myself to deep fry .. these look very good. I made begun bhaja once & it tasted great but it sadly didn't look as great as yours (thatz why its not on my blog as yet)

  11. Hey I luv this. We call it 'Vangyache Kaap' in Marathi.

  12. Thanks SM. Your explanation is perfect. Twists are perfectly ok, I myself do it every time.

    I might try the chili powder acually 😀 And you know the mustard oil in which we fry the baingan, we will mix that a little with rice and green chili…and it tastes oh so good 😀

  13. wow, these looks so good..not a real fan of brinjal but love these..

  14. Thanks people!

    Jaya, that is done with potatoes too, isn't it? I like that too. In fact I tasted cutlets dredged in semolina for the first time only in Mumbai!

    Deesha, thanks! That is some compliment:). But I do think your pictures are so nice!

    Sundeepa, Ha ha! I know the oil thing. My neighbour, Sabita Aunty used to do that and she would serve it with boiled potatoes sprinkled with a little salt. Tastes so good! I don't understand why my kids haven't developed a taste for such things. Maybe they should grow up a little.

  15. Looks awesome & deliicous …..

  16. Begun Bhaja is straight from Bengal unless the Gujarati word for fried is Bhaja and brinjal is Begun:-)

    well this is a nice twist too and we have begun bhaja with khichuri as well.

    I make a simple baingan subzi just like u did, except I cut it in smaller pieces.

    Soma –

  17. Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal

    That is one delicious thali you got there. I love begun bhaja. I remember eating it at mt Bong friends' places. Will surely give it a try 🙂

  18. Soma, did not mean the bhaja to turn into 'bheja fry'! And anyway the chilli powder makes it good while toasting makes it healthy if not genuine.

    Priya, Priyanka and Vidhya tried it too. Tell me whether you like the little twist.

  19. At the risk of repeating myself. Fantaaaastic photos. I think I will stop putting photos up myself after this 🙁

    Befun bhaja has to be had with bhaat and mushuri or moog daal with a twist of lime and a green chilli

    Go ahead and add your twist. You have to feel happy. I, for example, never use the Bengali mother lode of mustard oil.

  20. Kalyan, thanks again! I am actually motivated everytime I read comments that say that the pictures are good:). And please go to one of my early posts and you will see some horrible pictures as well! I love masoor dal and though I am a Tambrahm I absolutely love mustard oil esp. for masoor dal, tuvar dal, and for North Indian subzis!

  21. This is awesome…

  22. hey…came here after a really really long time and I was smitten by ur content -both writing and those fabulous photos…..there's something nice and captivating about the way u write….loved it :)equally loved ur styling and clickin too 🙂

  23. A very well written intro….makes me want to try out all those that you have talked about in the beginning.

  24. Thanks, Vanamala, Mishmash and Jayashree:). Always a pleasure to hear from you people!

  25. these look amazing and tantalizing!!!

  26. This looks yummy , there’s a maharashtrian version of this dish too ,which is a little elaborated but tastes good.

  27. Do you mean the one that is patted on rava and roasted?

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