Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Zen of Choka

The most delicious baigan choka I ever tasted was at a special dinner made by my Aunty Shairoon many many years ago. The colour was amazing - pale jade - and translucent in the bowl. The flavour was smoky from the roasting over an open fire, and the pepper flavour was infused, not painful.  
essence of baigan choka: smoky, peppery, translucent jade

Every time I cook baigan choka, I remember my aunt's quintessential version and reach for it. This has led to a study of choka that now extends to selecting the best baigan - full, but not old. You want baigan that is young enough not to have "seeds" that have darkened. It is hard to tell this when you pick up the plump fruit in the produce section. You press the smooth opaque purple skin. If the baigan is young, there will be some give. It could be old or young, but how long since it was cut would determine whether it has dehydrated slightly. Taut firm skin suggests it has not lost any of its water content. Is the stem end still green - evidence of recent picking - or browned and hardened?

In the end, making good baigan choka is an art, not a recipe. You try to select the best ingredients, fresh firm but young baigan; good sweet onions and a sharp hot scotch bonnet pepper! You will only achieve the smoky flavour over flame, never by baking the whole melongene in the oven. The skin must sear and even burst into flame while the fruit inside cooks quickly in its own juices.

Chunkay the pieces of hot pepper (without seeds), diced onion and mashed garlic in sizzling hot oil (olive oil is the best) - do not allow the seasonings to brown. Scoop the hot insides of the baigan into the sauteed seasonings,. Salt lightly. Use a fork to beat the mixture so that the everything combines into a smooth pale jade paste. If you have strands of baigan, you could use a knife to help break them up.

Serve with sada roti, "buss up shot" roti or pita bread; as a side with rice and curries, or with Crix.
Pita bread or sada roti for baigan choka

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