Begun Basanti. I don't remember where I encountered this dish for the first time but the name lingered in my mind. I only encountered it online, mentioned on someone's post on Facebook or in a food group or some such random location. The name had me hooked. Compared with 'begun bhaja' 'begun pora' 'neem begun' etc., which are bare descriptions of the dish, begun basanti was mysterious and romantic and deicious all at once!
Today a close friend was coming for lunch and these days, whenever someone comes over for a meal I try to cook something new or special, something I haven't cooked a zillion times already. I had a bunch of lovely green long brinjals in the veg drawer in the fridge and since Bengalis love brinjals I knew I was cooking something with these babies. I remembered Begun Basanti and thought of making it finally.
A trawl through the Internet and a glance through my Bengali cookbooks threw up quite a few recipes with many variations - some had curd, some had coconut, while others had posto (poppy seeds), and some had combinations of these, while the common ingredient was mustard paste. I figured out a basic recipe from my reading and proceeded to make my version of Begun Basanti.
6 - 8 long green brinjals
2-3 green chillies
1 inch fresh ginger
1/2 packet Sunrise Mustard powder
4 tbsp curd, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
Wash the brinjals and cut them into long pieces. I cut the brinjal into 4 inch pieces and slit each piece lengthwise.
Sprinkle salt and turmeric on the cut brinjals and leave aside for 10 minutes.
Soak the mustard powder in a little water to make a runny paste and let it sit for 10 - 15 minutes.
Pound the ginger in a mortar to make it as fine as you can.
Heat mustard oil in a wok or kadai and fry the brinjals till soft. Let the cut sides brown but don't burn the brinjals. Remove the fried brinjals to a plate.
In a bowl combine the mustard paste with the beaten curd, smashed fresh ginger, salt and turmeric. Make a smooth mix. This will form your gravy.
In the same oil chuck in the kalonji followed by the green chillies. You can slit the chillies for extra punch.
Now pour in the mustard-curd paste and stir well. Add some chilli powder and jeera powder. Let this cook for a few minutes till the oil separates out again.
Add the fried brinjal pieces and a good pinch of sugar. Stir gently to coat the brinjal pieces with the gravy. Be careful not to squash or break the brinjal pieces. Let it cook for 3 -4 minutes.
Now add half a cup of water, stir and let it simmer for another couple of minutes. Reduce the gravy to a consistency you like.
Add salt if required.
Remove to a nice serving bowl and garnish with fresh chopped coriander.
This is great as a side dish on an elaborate dinner menu and also as the star of a light dinner paired with simple rotis.