Pickling as we all know is a process of preserving or marinating the fruits or vegetables in a brine or vinegar based solution, but in India which can be easily called as land of pickles, here pickling is not water based but oil based which is infused with lots of aromatic spices and set to maturer for months in large porcelain jars which we called barni.
As the culture and tradition in India varies from one region to another, so as the kind of pickles with its distinct aroma and taste. And it is always possible to distinguish a North Indian achar from a South Indian one, while the former prefers to pickle in mustard oils and the latter in sesame or ground nut oil. The western and Eastern regions both have an undying affinity towards little sweetness, so we have mitha nimbu ka achar or chundo (sweet and sour mango pickle) and Bengali sweet mango pickle with jaggery.
This affection towards pickles has been carried forward to the gourmet world where it pushed its limits to engulf paneer, chicken, okra, eggplants and potatoes in its spicy and tangy realms. So we have a tantalizing trail of achari paneer, achari murg / chicken, achari bhindi / okra, achari aloo / potato and achari baingan / eggplants, list does not ends here…many more to be joined soon.
Achari baingan / eggplant is one such recipe where pickling spices are used to flavor the eggplants and then curried in a rich tomato base. There is no hard and fast rules to make this, it all depends upon the kind of pickles you prefer, mine is based upon North Indian pickles. Some prefers to marinate, some do not, choice is yours but I suggest to marinate it so that spices will get some time to be absorbed in the vegetable.
I also has a penchant for small or baby eggplants specially the small purple variety, as they are easy to work with and also looks good for presentation purposes and for small servings which I prefers.
Baby or small eggplants : 6-8
Tomato paste : 2 tbsp
Dry Red chillies for tempering : 1 -2
Mustard oil : 1 cup for pickling and 1 tbsp for making curry
Salt to taste
Mango powder / amchur : 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder : 1/2 tsp
Cumin powder ; coriander powder and red chilli powder : each 1 tsp
Ginger-garlic paste : 2 tsp
Pickle spices includes a teaspoon each of Cumin seeds, nigella seeds / kalonji, methi / fenugreek seeds, fennel or saunf seeds, mustard seeds
Warm water : 1/2 cup
Shorten the stalk of eggplant if you wish and wash them in cold water. Pat them dry with a kitchen towel and make four slits perpendicularly (make a +) in the center from the base of each eggplant to its stem. Soak the eggplants in salt water for few minutes to retain its deep purple color. Remove from the water and pat them dry.
Heat a griddle or pan, and add cumin seeds, nigella seeds / kalonji, methi / fenugreek seeds, fennel or saunf seeds, mustard seeds. Roast them lightly. Take them out and keep it aside. Now heat a cup of mustard oil slightly, not up to its smoking point. It should be warm and not hot.
In a large bowl which can accommodate 6-8 small eggplants, add the warm mustard oil and the roasted spices. Add salt and mix them thoroughly with your fingers. Poke the eggplants with fork so that it can absorb the spices well. Keep it in air tight container and let it marinate for 6-8 hours or overnight.
Heat some mustard oil in a pan up to it smoking point and temper it with dry red chillies. Place the marinated egg plants carefully in hot oil and braised or fry for 5 minutes on each sides, till it becomes tender and get a brown hue. Once the eggplants are fried and evenly browned, take them out with a slotted spoon and keep them separate.
In the same oil add the ginger and garlic paste, fry them for a while and add thick or concentrated tomato paste (which has little moisture or not watery). Fry them and add cumin powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder and little bit of turmeric powder. Mix them well and fry for couple of minute until it changes the color. Add the braised or fried eggplants, coat them well with spices, add amchur or mango powder and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes.
Add half cup warm water and simmer further for few minutes until tender and well cooked.
Serve the hot achari baingan with kulcha or paratha or anything of your choice.
Enjoy and have a great weekend