Here is a simple dish where eggplants are sauteed and cooked in a sweet and sour sauce with tamarind and raisins.
This is a traditional Bengali dish. However for some reason I have no recollection of any food memories related with this. Either this is too simple, too insignificant a dish or it was not made often enough in our home. Yet I am conversant with the flavors, the procedure as simple and common and as familiar.
The simple things in life bring unspeakable joys. One of them being cooking with home grown vegetables. The fruit of labor (my dad’s since he is the one taking care of my plants) brings that satisfaction, the tingling sensation of achievement when you hold the firm, and fresh vegetables in your hands and then prepare to cook with them. Then comes the repeated announcement on the table that the eggplants came from our yard.
Why I suddenly thought of cooking this dish with the eggplants I do not know. Probably because I had harvested only two eggplants and could not think of making anything with it which would suffice for all of us. This is more like a condiment than a side and one does not need in a bigger quantity. Or it could be that something in my subconscious reminded me of the dish when I held the firm, almost seedless shiny purple eggplants.
Tok (pronounced as “Tawk”) in Bengali refers to a dish that is sour and sweet at the same time and this line of recipes are usually served at the end of a meal, as a round up or culmination of all flavors. For me it does another thing. The little taste of sweet in it stops me from craving dessert after the meal. “Chutney” and Tok falls in the same category. The Bengali Chutneys end the meal and are usually a little more thicker consistency than the Tok, a bit more sweeter – a lot like a preserve. The sweet and sour flavors, and particularly the raisin along with the eggplant reminds me of the Italian Caponata. There is a perfect balance and it makes me think that I should try to make jam or preserve with eggplants and raisins. The texture is just so right!
One thing leads to another for me. I must give the eggplant preserve a try. Coming back to this Tok, a sprinkle of poppy seeds is used for a light crunch to the dish. I have never ever had this with any kind of herbs. But I have a treasured tiny plant of Golden Lemon Thyme which I heart. The flavors seemed so perfect for this dish that I had to use it. No regrets at all.
Begun-er Tok: bengali Style Sweet and Sour Eggplant Chutney
Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)
- 2 long and tender Chinese/Japanese eggplants, cubed (you can use any other kind of eggplants, but make sure they are not too ripe and there are not too many large and tough seeds)
- 3-4 tablespoon raisins or adjust to taste
- 1.5 tablespoon oil
- 1 teaspoon Panch Phoron (use equal portions of mustard, nigella, fenugreek, cumin, and fennel seeds)** or just mustard seeds
- 1 dry red chili pepper + 1 hot green chili pepper, slit (optional)
- 1 teapoon tamarind paste ( I used the concentrated Tamicon paste) – adjust amount to taste and also if you are using dried tamarind
- 1 tablespoon sugar or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- salt to taste
- 1/2 tablespoon poppy seeds (optional)
- Lemon thyme (Optional: this addition is unpardonably non traditional.No herbs are used here. But I love the lemony flavor of this herb and it compliments this particular recipe so well, lending a fresh aroma and lightness to this dish. )
** NOTE: Description and photos of Spices.
Wash eggplants and cube them. Sprinkle some salt and the turmeric powder on them, toss them well and allow them to sit for about 15 minutes. Wash the poppy seeds in a fine strainer and set aside.
Heat oil in a pan and add the Panch Phoron and dry red chili peppers (or just the mustard seeds and the dry red chili peppers). When the seeds starts to pop and sizzle add the eggplants and the one green chili pepper if you are using the pepper and toss them quickly for the spices and oil to coat them and then cook them at high to medium heat until they start to brown at the corners and they will also get tender.
Combine the turmeric powder, tamarind paste, sugar and salt in one cup to one and a half cup of water and add the mix to the pan. Add the raisins. Cook/Simmer until the eggplants are tender but not mushed, and the sauce gets thick. (add more water if you want the sauce to be like a thin soup). Adjust salt, sugar and the sour taste. (Simmer off liquid to make it more concentrated closer to a jam).
Add the poppy seeds and the lemon thyme (rub them between your fingers to release the flavor) and simmer only for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat.
This dish is usually served in a small bowl at the end of the meal in a traditional Bengali meal. More like a pre dessert course, ending the meal with the combined flavors. But you may serve it as a side or condiment or whatever way you wish.
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty Level: Very Easy