Baigan Methi

I may not like summer heat, being as I tend to wilt when temperatures soar above eighty degrees, but I sure love summer.

Why?

Because of all the delicious locally grown produce, of course.

Especially heat lovers like eggplant, known in Hindi as baigan.

Look at those gorgeous little Asian eggplants up there: shiny dark violet skins enrobing spongy greenish flesh with very few seeds and absolutely no bitter juices. I love them. They are luscious to look at and luxurious to eat, so rich, so sweet and so easy to cook. You just cut them and go–with the smaller eggplant varieties, there is absolutely no need to salt them and squeeze out the bitter tears that weep out of them. There is no waiting. They are nearly instant food.

I am going to tell you–I love eggplants cooked any way they can be cooked. I like them in Mediterranean recipes such as rich pasta sauces and moussaka, and I love them in Middle Eastern classics like baba ganoush. And I like them cooked in Thai curries, too. And I like them in Chinese stir fries and braised dishes, even if I haven’t written about those recipes yet.

But my absolute favorite ways with lush sexy aubergines are the recipes from the varied kitchens of India. Oh, how I love baigan bartha, rich with tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices. I also adore the little ones stuffed with a mixture of shredded vegetables, keema sookh and rice, then steam baked, and served with raita or a mango chutney on top.

When I bought these little lovelies at the farmer’s market, I intended to cook them southern Indian style, with a tempering or tarka of chilies, mustard seeds, cumin and curry leaves.

Alas, however, I was sad to find that I had used the last of the curry leaves in my freezer and had forgotten to replenish my supply. Woe!

Necessity, however, is the mother of invention. What I lacked in curry leaves, I made up for in the bunch of fresh methi I had just bought from the farmer’s market. Methi is the greens of the fenugreek plant which gives us fenugreek seeds, an important spice in Indian cookery. The leaves have a very musky, somewhat bitter flavor that also has a sweet, hay-like fragrance.

I had been planning on aloo methi, but taking a long sniff of the fragrant leguminous leaves, I decided that the bitter-sweet flavor of the fresh greens would be just as good as curry leaves with the eggplant–just different.

So, instead of using an established recipe, I went with my own initiative and worked out a recipe myself. I used mustard oil, onions, a wee bit of garlic (garlic and eggplant go together like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in my kitchen–they dance together on the tongue with light and airy steps, leaving behind joy) chili and ginger, and a sprinkling of cumin, mustard seeds and methi seeds. Salt, the methi greens, and of course, a tiny bit of water, made up the rest of the ingredient list, and so, I began cooking.

I cooked it all simply, over high heat, browning the onions deeply first, then adding the whole spices, the garlic, ginger and chili. When these ingredients took on color and fragrance and the mustard seeds popped, in went the eggplant, which I stirred like mad. I added a tiny bit more oil, as eggplant will soak up oil like a sponge, and then I turned the heat down slightly and let the eggplant begin to brown. As it shrank and browned, I threw in the finely minced fresh methi, and sprinkled about a quarter cup of water over it all.

The water simmered away, and then I started to stir, letting the methi leaves cook down and release most of their liquid, and get a tiny bit crispy in places.

With a sprinkle of salt to taste, it was all done: a fragrant medley of flavors, spicy, sweet, musky and hot all at once.

Morganna loved it, and she and I pretty much finished up the entire pan of it last night, with a bit of help from Kat, who also appreciated the complex flavors of the dish. A little tiny bit was left over that I am going to grind up today into a thick puree and freeze in small cubes to use as food for Kat’s lunches and dinners when we are eating things which are not really good for yet, like eggs, curries with nuts and other such baby-unsafe dinners.



Baigan Methi

Ingredients:

4-6 tablespoons mustard or canola oil (mustard oil gives incomparable flavor and fragrance, if you like it)
1 cup of thinly sliced yellow onions
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic (about three large cloves)
1 fresh green cayenne pepper, thinly sliced (or to taste)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon methi (fenugreek) seeds
1 pound of small Asian eggplants, stalk trimmed off and cut into 1/2″ dice
1 cup moderately packed methi leaves (large stalks removed), finely minced
about 1/4 cup water
salt to taste as needed

Method:

Heat the smaller amount of oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet. (Cast iron is great for this.) Add the onion, and sprinkle with salt. Cook, stirring, on medium high heat, until the onion is a medium golden brown. Add the ginger, garlic, cayenne, and spice seeds. Cook , stirring, until the onions are a deeper brown, the garlic and ginger have taken on color and the mustard seeds have popped.

Add in the eggplant, and cook, stirring, until the eggplant just begin to brown. If you need to, add a little bit more oil at this point.

When the eggplants have softened and are browned on all sides, add the methi leaves and sprinkle the water over all. Turn the heat down and allow the methi leaves to wilt. Then stir, cooking off all of the water, until some of the leaves brown a bit and crisp slightly.

Taste for seasoning, and add salt as needed.

Serve with rice, raita and dal for a complete meal, or stuff into chapati for a snack.

10 Comments

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  1. Baingan Methi sounds great We usually make Aloo Methi.
    Fenugreek leaves with it’s slightly bitter taste compliments most veggies.Enjoy.

    Comment by Asha — July 16, 2007 #

  2. yum! I love it. I make it too. I have methi peas and mushrooms, methi prawns and mushrooms and methi chicken on my blog.
    did you guess, i love methi!

    Comment by Saju — July 16, 2007 #

  3. great combo barbara, I always make potato and methi but now i am gonna try your version as its looks amazing

    Comment by padmaja — July 16, 2007 #

  4. I admit to being pretty ignorant about Asian foods, so… what’s methi?

    Comment by Zoe — July 16, 2007 #

  5. Thank you everyone for your comments.

    Zoe–methi greens are the leaves and stems of the fenugreek plant, which can be bought fresh, dried and frozen in Asian or Indian markets. Fenugreek is a spice that is widely used in Indian food in the form of the seeds–it is what gives curry powder its characteristic scent.

    Methi is just the Hindi name for the greens–they taste somewhat bitter and musky with a sweet, savory scent like newly mown hay. As a country girl who loved haymaking season, the scent of methi made me fall in love with it at first smell.

    Look for it in Indian markets. It is well worth trying out, and is full of vitamins and minerals as well.

    Comment by Barbara — July 16, 2007 #

  6. Thanks Barbara! I don’t know of any Indian markets around me, but there is an Asian one (Chinese, I think) about 30 minutes away that I’ve been wanting to check out some time.

    Comment by Zoe — July 17, 2007 #

  7. It’s funny – here in CA this is always, but always referred to as methi. I have never seen it sold as “Fenugreek Greens.” Even my favorite Hmong farmer at the farmers market knows it as methi. I think that’s because 99.9% of the people buying this green are South Asian, and that’s the name they know it by. I wish it were more widely known, as it is a lovely green. Maybe it will eventually make its way into mainstream US food culture. One can only hope.

    In the meantime, I mostly enjoy it as aloo methi, but I will give this a shot one of thse days…

    Comment by Diane — July 17, 2007 #

  8. Hi, Barbara –

    This looks delicious, but for the fact that I get sores in my mouth when I eat eggplant. I think I’ll try substituting zucchini — we’ve got scads of it right now. Do you know if the moisture content of baigan is significantly lower than zucchini? I’m a little concerned that it will come out mushy to cook zucchini this way, so if you have suggestions about how to prevent that I’d like to hear them. Thanks!

    Comment by Kristi — July 18, 2007 #

  9. Kristi–I would cut up the zucchini differently. First, I would use smaller, younger ones–the larger ones are bloated with much more liquid than the smaller ones to start out with, so you will end up with less mush if you start with a younger vegetable.

    Secondly, I could cut up the squash differently-because it is a different texture than eggplant. I would cut young zucchini into thin slices on a slight diagonal so that the slices would be ovoid, rather than round.

    I would dredge them in a tiny bit of regular flour, besan (ground chickpea flour) or chapati flour, before frying them. This would give them a crisper texture and it would help the outside of the vegetable brown effectively. This would give a great flavor to the squash that would go beautifully with the spices and the methi.

    It would not need to fry as long as the eggplant, if cooked in this way, so adjust the cooking time accordingly. You may need to fry the squash in batches–so start out with the oil, fry the squashes until they brown on both sides–turning once or twice, and then drain them on paper towels. Then, cook your onions, spices and the like as directed in the recipe above, and then, when the onions are nice and brown, add the squash to heat it up, and then add the methi, and continue cooking as directed.

    It will take a slightly longer cooking time, and an extra step or two, but I really think that this dish would be very worth it. So much so, that I think I am going to try to make this this weekend.

    I will let you know how it tastes!

    Comment by Barbara — July 18, 2007 #

  10. Great, Barbara! Thanks so much for the adaptation advice, I’m looking forward to giving it a try. Do let me know how it works out if you try it this weekend. :)

    Comment by Kristi — July 20, 2007 #

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