Beguni (Bengali Eggplant Fritter) and a tribute to my Dadubhai4:44 AM
I have talked about my dida on my blog and I often refer her for her legendary culinary skills. But later I realized am not doing justice to her better half, my Dadu (grandfather) who was the sole inspiration for her cooking. Before my marriage the saying that way to a man’s heart is through his stomach never made any sense to me. But I understand it now.
Dadu was a complete foodie and he always inspired and supported his wife for whatever she wanted to do. He had a very busy job and responsibility of a huge family but always took time to enjoy the smallest pleasures of life. I still remember his smiling face when we all used to gather during our vacations and every morning would request for something or the other. The requests were small but he would put the effort to go to the market and buy the things. We specially looked forward to his trips to the nearest Town in the beginning of every month to collect his pension. As it meant rare treats like pastries or Kwality ice creams for us. though he was very gentle and level headed but my mother claims he was very strict during their growing years. If anything to go by her stories we always found ourselves fortunate not to witness that side of his persona.
He loved food and every aspects associated with that. Early morning after having tea he will take the bajarer thole (market bag) and his cycle and will go the market. He knew what goes well with what. So a purchase of bottlegourd will always be accompanied by kucho chingri or tiny shrimps. He remembered everyone’s choices, however small it is. So if beej kala (Banana with big seeds, a rare fruit but sweeter than normal bananas) happens to appear in the market that will definitely make way to his bag as a treat for his eldest grand daughter. Dida often stated that she never had to ask him to buy anything. Somehow he always realized if anyone is in need of anything, whether it’s a cream for winter, powder for summer or a regular wear blouse, it always came home with his daily trips to the market.
When we grew up and entered collage we used to tease them and tried to keep them apart just for fun. But hardly this happened and they stayed away. But never in our dreams we imagined that they will follow each other on their journey to heaven. Dadu died of cancer and within 3 months Dida followed him, suffering from the same disease at the same place and in the same condition.
I was not there when Dadu took his last breath in Kolkata. Nobody informed me this unfortunate news as I was living alone in Delhi but that same day while coming back from office I saw someone like my dadu in the bus. He looked so similar and for some unknown reason it made me very disturbed. Though that morning itself the Doctor’s confirmed that he was better and could be taken home soon still I got down at Kalkaji Mandir. Prayed for his quick recovery, came home, called my father and heard everyone crying….I am not superstitious but thinking of that incident still gives me goosebumps. For a longest time I was in denial of the fact that they are no more. Even now whenever I visit that house the first thing that I expect to see is Dadu sitting in the verandah at his favourite spot and greeting us with his happy smile…I know that will never happen. But for a person who grew up expecting them to be around always, its very difficult to accept the fact that the best things in life are not meant for ever.
He last visited our home in Santiniketan in 2003 during Monsoon and stayed with us for a whole month. During that time often he made me go to a specific shop near our bus stop for some specific type of telebhaja or deep fried fritter. This said person had a small shop and early morning he would make many types of fritters, among which Dadu’s favourite was eggplant fritter and pumpkin fritter. We used to joke if eggplant fritter is called beguni (begun is eggplant in Bengali) then pumpkin fritter should be called Dinglani, Dingla being the local name of kumro or pumpkin. The fritters from this person were very famous as he would take the biggest piece of pumpkin and eggplant and slice it lengthwise in a razor thin manner. I still remember how we were fascinated with the huge fritters, some even 10”-12” long.
I don’t make deep fried stuff much at home and they are very rare treats for us. Somehow this Sunday I just remembered all those experiences and wanted to make it just the way dadu loved it. long thin pieces of eggplant with a crunchy coating and softer inside, not to forget with a extra sprinkling of black salt and a cup of ginger tea…
Eggplant: 1 medium, try to use the Indian variety as they are thick and long
Chickpea flower/ besan: 3/4 cup
Rice powder: 2 tbsp
Chili powder: ½ tsp
Nigella seeds: 1/3 tsp
Bi-carb of soda: 1/5 tsp
Oil for deep frying
Water: ½ cup (approx.)
Wash and remove the stem of the eggplant. With a long sharp knife slowly slice it lengthwise. The thickness should not be more than ¼-1/5”. Place them on a kitchen towel and dab to remove the excess moisture.
In a deep flat bowl place the besan, rice powder, chili powder, nigella seeds, salt mix everything together with little water to make a thick batter. The batter should be thick yet of pouring consistency, so do not add all the water in one go. Keep adding and mixing and check the best consistency.
In a kadhai or heavy bottom pan heat enough oil for deep frying. Once the oil is hot use a serving spoon and take out a spoonful of hot oil and mix to the batter. This is a very good tip to make the beguni crunchy for a longer time. (Am following it from a very senior chef Ajoy who blogs wonderful recipes at Thoughts from Ajoy). Using a whisk or a fork mix everything together for a smooth batter. Beat it for a couple of minutes and finally add and mix the soda.
Take one piece of eggplant, dip it into the batter to coat both sides with it. using your finger tips take it out from the batter and let the excess batter drip for a couple of minutes and then slide them in the hot oil. Keep the flame on medium and fry till both sides are golden brown. Take out and soak the excess oil on absorbing kitchen paper.
Serve immediately with an extra sprinkling of black salt. This is a treat in itself for Monsoon accompanied by cup of hot masala tea.