I make absolutely no claim to the Hellenic qualities of this in any way whatsoever. Far from it. “Baigun bortha” is a classic Bengali mash-up of flame-roasted aubergine-flesh, coriander, lemon, garlic, mustard oil, cumin, chilli and salt.
As a major keema fan I was always going to love this. The idea of making it has been teasing me for ages, and this spate of gloomy weather was the perfect excuse for its execution. Fragrant spicy lamb layered with smoky roasted aubergine, smothered with a creamy Gruyere-flecked sauce; and then baked in a hot oven until the flavours “get together” in a way that would make my dear old Grandma blush.
My idea of heaven.
I know, I know. Fusion food is more often than not a bad idea, but this is something special. Seriously. It’s one of those inventions that’s so utterly delectable you can’t wait to make it for everyone you know (a salve for my poor bruised arms/ego, following my recent sojourn into the hellish world that is home-made mayonnaise).
Apart from the topping, it’s really quite healthy as the aubergines are mashed with only the merest slick of mustard oil. I’ve used the keema recipe from the brilliant Madhur Jaffrey’s “Quick and Easy Indian Cookery” but with less oil, no peas and a touch of curry powder.
For the keema:
115g (4oz) onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 cm (2 inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
5-6 large cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp curry powder
200g (7oz ) tomatoes, chopped
4 tbsp natural yoghurt
560g (1 1/4 lb) minced lamb
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 fresh, hot green chilli, chopped
6 tbsp coarsely chopped coriander
For the aubergines:
2-3 fat aubergines
1 tsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic, crushed
A good squeeze of lemon juice (tamarind is a nice substitute)
½ tsp mustard oil (go easy with this as the flavour can be v.overpowering)
1 tsp Maldon salt
½ tsp sugar
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp curry powder
2 tsp toasted and roughly ground cumin seeds
½ finely chopped fresh green chilli
For the bechamel topping:
85g/3oz plain flour
85g/3oz parmesan, grated
115g/4oz gruyère, grated
2 egg yolks
- Smear the aubergines with the olive oil and then place directly over a low gas flame (or in my case an electric hob) for about 20-30 minutes, turning now and again until the vegetables are on the point of collapse and have charred all over.
- Place to one side until cool to the touch.
- Make the keema. Place the onions, ginger and garlic in a blender or food processor and finely chop.
- Put the oil in a wide, non-stick pan and set over a medium-high heat.
- When hot, put in the finely chopped mixture of onions, garlic and ginger.
- Stir and fry until lightly brown.
- Put in the chilli powder, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, curry powder and turmeric. Stir a couple of times and add the tomatoes and yoghurt.
- Stir over a high heat until the tomatoes have softened, put in the meat, salt and garam masala.
- Stir breaking up any lumps for a couple of minutes. Add 250ml (8fl oz) water. Stir and bring to a simmer.
- Cover, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 25 minutes.
- Add the lemon juice, green chilli and coriander. Stir and simmer. Cover and cook for a final 10 minutes.
- Flake away the charred skin of the aubergine (this should come away easily).
- Mash the smoky interiors with the crushed garlic, the mustard oil, lemon juice, salt, sugar, cumin, coriander, chilli, garam masala and curry powder. Set aside.
- Make the topping. Melt the butter over a low heat. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon.
- Remove from the heat and gradually add the milk.
- Stir continously until the mixture thickens.
- Return to the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cheeses and season to taste.
- Cover the bottom of a casserole dish with one third of the keema mixture. Follow this with a layer of the aubergine mixture. Continue layering until all the keema and all the aubergine is used up, making sure you end with a layer of the keema on top.
- Pour over the sauce and grate a final sprinkling of Gruyere over the top.
- Bake in a hot oven (220C/ 428F/Gas Mark 7) for about 15 minutes or until golden and bubbling on top.