Vangyachi bhaji: Of fishy vegetables and other aversions!


You know what you’re eating is a fish, don’t you?” teases the older brother. The victim is his six-year old sister – my mother-in-law.

“Eeee… “ and she runs screaming from the room. Brought up in a very orthodox vegetarian household, where even eggs are anathema, the idea of eating fish makes her distinctly… queasy!

It’s been some seven decades after that but she still runs screaming (mentally , of course!) at the idea of eating eggplant – which is what the original seventy-years-ago dish was! My father-in-law, on the other hand, was a lover of the eggplant in any form and there was always a tussle about the number of times eggplant appeared on the menu – he would have happily eaten it everyday and she would have comfortably dispensed with it more than once a month!

Since hers was the hand that cooked and he wouldn’t have known what to do with an eggplant other than stare at it longingly hoping it would give up its delicious secrets, he needed to get her in a really good mood before the dish could be broached! She did, I must say, overcome her aversion enough to cook it for him but would always make something else for herself!

This bargaining is true of almost every household where the husband and wife have different ideas of what constitutes haute cuisine… or maybe even what constitutes edible food! During the early days of my marriage, I was horrified at the number of things hubby thought were not fit for the table – from capsicums to cauliflowers to omelettes with paranthas (my top favourite breakfast!) to jaggery to his very favourite peeve – garlic! In the beginning I took these seriously, thinking he really had a problem with the veggies. Then one day, at a Chinese restaurant, our man polishes off two bowlfuls of sweet garlic sauce, insisting it had no garlic!

I go back home and all pretences to avoiding this and that are dropped – I learn to sneak in podfuls of garlic in arrabiata sauce without our pal being any the wiser!

Me? I’d been brought up by a dad who was strict about us not expressing any dislikes of food – we could have preferences but we were definitely not allowed dislikes – which in effect – translated to ‘just eat what’s put in front of you’! And if you fussed, a stern “Mingu” (Swallow that!) took care of any fuss – down it went – food, salty tears and all!

I tried bringing up my kids on the same principles (without the ‘mingu’ business though!) and while they are not fussy eaters, Arch now insists that she has developed food preferences and I’d better watch out – she will no longer eat cabbage! Haha, I can live with that, I tell her… but what she doesn’t know yet is that I wasn’t born yesterday and have many more years of sneaking things into things without their knowing anything about it!

This one though, doesn’t need any sneakiness – it is by itself one of the most delicious ways of eating eggplant – the Maharashtrian way, which I have adapted slightly.

 

VANGYACHI BHAJI/EGGPLANT CURRY

 

  • Small, tender brinjals – 250 gm. Cut into cubes or slices
  • Peanuts – 1 tbsp
  • Sesame seeds – 1 tsp
  • Dry coconut/copra – 1.5 tbsp
  • Red chilies – 4
  • Saunf/aniseed – 1/2 tsp (optional)
  • Jeera/cumin – 1/2 tsp
  • Green chili – 1- chopped
  • Onion – chopped – 2 tbsp
  • Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  • Tamarind powder or paste – 1/2 tsp
  • Jaggery – 1/2 tsp
  • Asafoetida – 1 pinch
  • Curry leaves – a few
  • Salt
  • Any vegetable oil – 1 tbsp

 

Roast the peanuts, sesame, red chilies and aniseed separately in a dry pan. Cool and powder roughly.

 

Heat the oil in a pan and add the jeera. When it splutters, add curry leaves, asafoetida, green chili and onions. Fry till golden and add the turmeric and brinjal (eggplant) pieces. Add salt and tamarind and mix well. Cover and cook for about 7-8 minutes on a low flame till tender. Add the peanut powder, jaggery and mix again.

 

Cook for a further five minutes. Garnish with chopped fresh coriander and serve with rotis or rice as a side.

 

Promise people will run screaming towards this dish!