Beguner tel Jhal
Aubergine in a spicy curry from Bengal
Everything has a meaning. So you see the part of India I belong to, a state nestled between the somber Himalayas and the beautiful Bay of Bengal has one of the most elaborate cuisines of the country. Even today many a household serves a good 5 course meal which is mostly unheard of in most parts of India.
The way the cuisine is segregated with many a terms has never seized to amaze me so you have your soupy curries called "jhols" then the spicy thick ones as "jhals" and the vegetarian section has a whole lot of difference such as the "Ghontos" "dalnas" "chorchoris" "chechkis" etc etc.
Nevertheless in a Bengali's regular dining habit a meal without fish is something which shall probably make most Bengali mothers faint. The usual curries are segregated as either the "jhols" your soups fish curry or "jhals" a bit spicy and thick curry. Of course there is the "Kalia" for special occasions but that will be for another post.
Now the most basic of spicy thick gravy is a very simple recipe which simply uses mustard paste and is tempered with nigella seeds. The spicy strong flavour of mustard is a very popular dish in all of Bengal East or West.
Now my in-laws from down South are green people as I call vegetarians. So I couldn't understand why they should not get a flavour of this delightful comfort food and so I simply used aubergines to create "Shorshe Begun Jhal" which can be translated as "Aubergines in mustard sauce" . Now "jhal" translates to hotness of a dish and the kick in this dish is gotten from that delightful flavour of mustard. Now use of mustard oil is a must for the true blue flavour to come out but in case you do not have access to it you might use refined oil.
What I need is very simple
3 medium sized aubergines (Using the violet ones help)
4 tbsp yellow mustard seeds soaked in 6 tbsp water.
1 tsp nigella seeds
6 green chilies
Salt as per taste
1 dried red chili
Start by soaking the mustard seeds in the water and leaving it to soak for about an hour. Now check after Half an hour and if you find all the water to have been absorbed by the mustard seeds then add a little bit of extra water. Now in usual Bengali homes they use the black mustard seeds which bring in a greater punch but for first timers I suggest using the yellow ones and in case you are a brave heart try half an half. In the meantime slice the aubergine but it must neither be too thick nor too thin since if it is too thin it shall break when being cooked in the gravy and if its too thick it shall soak up too much oil when it is fried and it takes too much time. Now make a smooth paste with the mustard seeds , 2 green chilies adding more water if required.
Now heat mustard oil and fry the aubergines on medium to low heat but do not make them crispy. Just cover and cook till its cooked. Now use 2 tbsp mustard oil and add the nigella seeds and when they splutter add dried red chili and the mustard chili paste but only through a strainer else you end up with a terribly bitter curry. Add the bit of water and strain as much liquid as you can till you have a crumbly dried residue. Add this strained yellow liquid to the pan and add 350ml of water and bring to boil and add salt and then simmer till you have a slightly thickened gravy and add the aubergine slices. Cook for another 7 to 8 minutes till you see a layer on top and enjoy with hot fluffy rice.