This divine chilled soup instantly transports me back to the laid back elegance of Fort Ahilya, and the al fresco lunches under a peepultree upon which monkeys and Indian ringnecks chattered.
The key to this soup is infusing it with a hazy, smoky quality by smoke-roasting the aubergines.
Here is Richard’s version.
Bharta Soup – Serves 8
In this dish, we take the well-known Indian eggplant preparation, bharta, and turn it into a very western chilled soup. Very little in the way of non-traditional ingredients, but much in the way of fusing East and West.
A piece of lit charcoal is an essential element in the making of this soup.
1 large brinjal (eggplant)
2 Tblsp oil
1 pinch asafetida (hing)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion
1 Tblsp chopped ginger
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp green chillies
1 cup finely chopped tomato, seeds, skin and juice removed (blanch to remove skin)
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 litre chilled chaash or watered buttermilk (must be light, largely bereft of milk solids)
1 Tblsp toasted sesame seeds
½ cup coriander, well washed, stems and leaves chopped fine
1 Tblsp very finely minced ginger
Roast the aubergine over a high gas flame, turning, until skin is crinkled and the flesh is soft. For an electric oven, use broil feature. Cool in cold water, then peel and mash.
In a large Dutch oven with tight-fitting lid, heat oil, uncovered. Add hing and cumin seeds and fry till brown about 1 minute. Add garlic, fry 30 secs. Add onions and cook, stirring, until soft (about 5 minutes). Stir in ginger and green chillies and cook another minute. Add mashed eggplant. Season with chili powder, turmeric and garam masala. (Question from Lynn: Shilu, wouldn’t spices be added before the eggplant? – so they get the benefit of frying? – answer: spices are tempered mostly for meat dishes and dals, not vegetable ones to avoid overpowering the taste.)
Smoke the dish by creating a hollow in the middle of the eggplant mixture. Place a 6×6 inch square of aluminium foil into the hollow. Onto the foil, place a piece of burning charcoal, a couple of cloves, and some ghee. Cover with a tight fitting lid. Leave for 15-20 minutes.
Remove the foil and its contents. Chill the mixture. Whizz mixture in blender until smooth and pour back into cooling container. Now comes the tricky part – you’ll have to experiment to see what meets your taste. Into the chilled chaash (buttermilk), add the finely chopped tomatoes (kept raw to give the soup two textures). Start spooning in the liquefied eggplant bharta. How much to add is to your taste: a thicker or a thinner soup will result. Adjust seasoning.
Serve in chilled soup bowls, garnished with the chopped green coriander, minced ginger and toasted sesame seed.