Eggplant Chutney/Phanthao Shaphinyaba

Shongdima, Dimasa food, phanthao naphlam, bakhor
Eggplant chutney with fermented fish & serrated coriander

Every year around this time, our newspapers include pictures of grass blooms that herald the onset of autumn. The grass, Saccharum spontaneum, is known as kohua in Assamese and kans in Hindi. It won’t be too long before our planting season starts, the soil will no longer be soggy, and we’ll wake up to misty and dewy mornings. Looking forward to tomatoes and leafy greens from my small gardening space. Comforting thoughts…

On the front page of The Assam Tribune this morning

Across the world there are recipes of mashed eggplants in some form or the other. It’s the additions that make them unique to that particular cuisine. Baingan bharta and baba ganoush come to mind. In our region the simple mash of roasted eggplant with the usual seasonings and a drizzle of mustard oil tops the list. Another way that I often make is a chutney of roasted and mashed eggplants with the addition of fermented fish. I know this post should have come with a warning…acquired taste!!

Ingredients: This serves 4
450 grams tender medium-sized eggplants
1 onion, peeled and sliced thin
6-7 green chillies
2 whole large-sized fermented fish
4-5 serrated coriander leaves, chopped fine
1/2 tsp alkali 
Salt to taste

The mashed vegetable, onions, roasted chillies /fish& serrated coriander

Cut off the tops of the eggplants. Prick with a fork in a few places and rub oil on them.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 30 minutes or till a skewer inserted offers no resistance.
Remove and cool so that the skin can be easily removed from the vegetable.
Mash with the back of a ladle or a potato masher.
Heat a tawa and place the chillies on it. Make a slit in each chilli or else they will burst in the heat. Cook till they are done and turn them around a couple of times during the cooking process. The skin should be charred in places.
Remove them and set aside to cool. In the same tawa, place the fermented fish.
Roast on both sides till done. This will take a couple of minutes. Set aside.
Transfer the cooked fish to a bowl and add the alkali. This will enable you to mix the roasted fish well. Mix with the back of a tablespoon. Season with salt.
Add the mashed eggplant and the sliced onions. Chop the chillies and add them too.
Lastly add the chopped herbs and mix again. You can scatter more herbs on top before serving.
This is best with rice. Other servings could well include dal, alu sabji and fried fish.:)

Alkali is made from the ash of certain plants like banana, sesame or black lentils

The eggplants looked tender but as soon as I handled them I saw that the seeds were already mature. So I blitzed the flesh for a minute just to make it smooth and creamy. For tender ones, the back of a ladle is a tool that is good enough.
Traditionally, eggplants are steamed in a colander or roasted on hot coals. The latter has a smoky flavour that takes the dish to another level. But since I use my oven so often, I like baking them before they are made into this chutney.
As for the garnish, coriander leaves as well as the leaves of bahanda, a variety of basil that goes so well with dishes that include fermented fish.

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