Though a very popular side dish/snack sold by many road-side vendors in Trinidad and Tobago, our only encounter with these tasty treats came yearly. Our mom’s cousin would always invite us to her home for Divali, where she would have a buffet of Indian influenced dishes and treats waiting for us. I can still remember that distinct scent of coconut oil burning in the deyas and the lovely aroma from the variety of dishes she prepared earlier in the day. Cousin Ivy is no longer with us (sadly), but the wonderful memories we have of her and the influence she’s made in my culinary journey will never be forgotten.
As part of the ‘party food’ theme for the month of November, I know you’ll be greeted with rave reviews after serving up a batch of these.
* In Trinidad and Tobago eggplant is sometimes called baigan.. maybe that’s where we get baiganee from?
I large eggplant (baigan.. about 1.5 lbs)
1 cup split peas powder/flour
1 clove garlic (crushed)
1 teaspoon salt (for eggplant)
1/4 teaspoon salt (for batter)
Pinch curry powder
1/4 teaspoon tumeric powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup allpurpose flour
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 scotch bonnet pepper (minced)
Water (see notes)
2 cups veg oil
Notes: I ended up using close to 1 1/2 cups of water in making the batter. You may have to adjust this slightly as the flours you’ll be using may be a bit different than the one I had. I used 2 smaller eggplant as I wanted them to be somewhat slim so the slices would not be like huge tires.
Wash, trim and dry the eggplant (cut off the stems and discard). Then cut into wheels about 1/4 inch thick.
The eggplant (baigan) usually has a sort of bitter aftertaste and contains a lot of moisture, so we need to remedy this. Line a cookie sheet or cutting board with paper towels (or tea towel), then arrange the sliced eggplant one layer thick. Now sprinkle the 1 teaspoon of salt over the cut surface (press into it), then flip over and do the other side. Allow this to sit for about 1 hour. You’ll have soaked paper towels and beads of liquid on top of each slice of eggplant. Using a towel or more paper towels, blot (press) and soak up this moisture.
Set aside and lets make the batter. Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl and give it a good whisk, to incorporate everything. Start adding water and whisk until you have a thick, well mixed batter. It’s important that the batter is thick (but runny enough) so it can coat each piece of eggplant.
It’s very important that the slices of eggplant are dry for the batter to really hold on to them. Tip: You can certainly dust each piece in flour before placing then into the batter if you wish. Heat the vegetable oil on a medium high flame, then set up a sort of frying station. You’ll have the slices of eggplant, the batter, the heated oil and a basket (or bowl) lined with paper towels to soak up the excess oil after they’re fried.
Dip each slice into the batter and coat evenly. Shake of excess batter and gently place into the hot oil. Cook for a minute on one side, then flip and cook for another minute. Cook for a minute or two after and flip for an even golden colour. They will float as they cook and will only take about 3-4 minutes to fully cook. Fish out with tongs and allow to drain on the paper towels.
Depending on the size of frying pan you use, only fry about 3 slices at a time. Try not to over-crowd the pan, or you will alter the temperature of the oil and end up with soggy baiganee. These are best served warm and with a spicy dipping sauce. On the recipe index page, there’s the mango chutney, tamarind sauce and other spicy condiments you can serve these with.
After further thought I think our mom never made these at home since we were not fans of it as children… oh how that’s changed over the years. This is a wonderful vegetarian treat to pass around during the holiday season and if you’re having guests over for Divali (or have no friends to invite you these days like me), you can whip up a batch of these… they’re sure to be a hit.