The term Thali ka baingan is not unfamiliar for those familiar with Urdu language; the term refers to those who are indecisive and waver from one side to another, while in humour, anything that is devoid of any quality is called bai-gun.
But baingan is not bai-gun (devoid of any quality). Baingan, brinjal, aubergine or eggplant, call it whatever you may, is a diverse vegetable and can be cooked in a variety of ways and is always tastes great to the palate. Brinjal is widely used in Indian cuisine, like sambhar, dalma, chutney and achaar. Roast, skin, mash and mix with onions, tomatoes and spices and then slow cook to make the famous baingan ka bhurta.
In Iranian cuisine, brinjal dips or appetisers are made by blending brinjal with whey to make kashk-i-bademjan, or with tomatoes for mirza ghasemi; or made into stew as khoresh-i-bademjan. Perhaps the best-known Turkish eggplant dishes are imam bayld (stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes, simmered in olive oil, and served at room temperature) and karnyark (with minced meat). It may also be roasted in its skin until charred, so the pulp can be removed and blended with lemon, tahini and garlic, as in the Arabian baba ghanoush.
And how can we forget the king of all, the Hyderabadi bagharay baingan, a speciality of Hyderabad Deccan in India. Bagharay baingan is almost synonymous with Hyderabadi cuisine: think of Hyderabadi cuisine and you recall bagharay baingan; think of baingan and you think of Hyderabadi cuisine. According to Hyderabadi tradition it is impregnated with oriental condiments, spices and digestants that give it its unique taste.
Not only are they delicious, nutritious and versatile, aubergines can even help you quit smoking
While brinjal is generally considered a vegetable, it is actually a fruit; the brinjal plant grows just like tomatoes as vines, but for its utility in the kitchen or rather, for cooking purposes, it is considered a vegetable.
The raw fruit can have a somewhat bitter taste, but becomes tender when cooked and develops a rich, complex flavour. Many recipes advise salting, rinsing and draining of the sliced fruit, to soften it and to reduce the amount of fat absorbed during cooking, but mainly to remove the bitterness. The fruit is capable of absorbing large amounts of cooking fats and sauces, making for very rich dishes, but salting reduces the amount of oil absorbed.
Just as other colourful veggies, brinjal too has a host of health benefits. It is low in proteins, carbohydrates and fats and have very few calories — 100 gm of brinjal contains only 24 calories which makes them great for weight loss — but contributes about nine per cent of recommended daily allowance of fibre.
High fibre content helps in promoting the feeling of satiety, i.e. eating a small serving fills you up and prevens overeating. It contains many essential vitamins such as vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin K, niacin (vitamin B3). These vitamins are essential for metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrate. It is also a good source of copper, manganese, potassium and folate.
The antioxidants in brinjal can prevent the free radical damage which can cause the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines on our faces as we age. Also its high water content flushes toxins from the body giving the skin a nice and healthy glow.
Apart from other benefits, brinjal is also known to have nicotine and thus helps in quitting tobacco by providing you with a nicotine substitute. However, you’ll have to eat 10kg of the vegetable to get as much nicotine into your body as a cigarette.
Medicinally brinjal is a diuretic, expectorant, reduces swelling and also acts as a laxative. Brinjal is, however, not recommended to be eaten by people suffering from haemorrhoids (piles). White coloured brinjals are recommended to be eaten by diabetics to keep their blood sugar at the desired level. In tibb-i unani, it is recommended that after eating brinjal one should take a sprig or two of green coriander leaves and curd to neutralise the after effects of brinjal.
When buying aubergines, go for healthy looking, firm fruit with smooth and shiny skin that feel heavy and solid. Make sure there are no patches on the skin. Take a close look at the stalk; if it is stout, firm and green that means the fruit is fresh.
Avoid those shrivelled, soft in hand and with wrinkles, surface cuts or bruise as they are old and taste bitter and, therefore, unappetising. It is advisable to choose a fruit with lesser seeds. Always check the blossom ends of the eggplant. If it has a larger scar it would have lesser seeds.
At home, they can be kept in cool place for use in a day or two but ideally should be stored inside the refrigerator set at high relative humidity, where they keep fresh for few days.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 15th, 2015
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