Begun Pora is one of those dishes that every Bengali has encountered at some time or the other in their life time. Like most vegetarian preparations of Bengali cuisine this is another exceptionally simple recipe that's big on flavour and taste, and therefore enjoys cult status.
Years ago when my Didin's sisters cooked on 'koyla'r unoon' or coal fed clay ovens the begun pora was made frequently. That flavour, of course, simply cannot be recreated on a gas stove, and even less in an electric oven. Still, for apartment inhabiting urban dwellers like us the only way to get a relatively good smokey begun pora is to roast it on the open gas flame. Yes, cleaning up after the roasting is a pain but then - no pain no begun pora!
There are many variations to the basic theme of roasted eggplants spiced up and served with rotis or parathas, across Indian cuisines. Some add a medley of spices, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and even curd. The version I like best, probably because that's what I grew up eating, is where the roasted eggplant is simply mashed up and mixed with raw onions, green chillies, fresh coriander, salt, and of course, mustard oil. There is no further cooking beyond roasting the eggplant till it is charred and the flesh is translucent. The smoked flavour dominates, the chillies add punch, the onions give crunch and texture, the coriander makes it fresh and vibrant, and the mustard oil stamps it as clearly Bengali.
1 large 'bharta' Eggplant
1 medium onion, chopped
2 green chillies, chopped fine
A few sprigs fresh coriander leaves, chopped fine
Wash and dry the eggplant and then make four cuts from the tip to the base, leaving the stalk in place. If it's a really large eggplant make a few stabs in the four quarters just to help it roast quicker. Take a little mustard oil in your palm and coat the eggplant inside and out with the oil. Do this carefully so you don't break off any quarter from the stalk.
Roast the eggplant slowly over the gas flame. It took this one around 20 minutes to roast - I reduced the flame often so it would cook right through and not just burn on the outside. Make sure you monitor the roasting process - Not only can the eggplant burn, the gas flame might also go off because of the juices dripping from the eggplant. So pay attention and NEVER leave it unsupervised. Check the eggplant occasionally by inserting a knife into the flesh to see if it is cooked. The flesh should change colour and become translucent till right inside.
Once it's done take it off the flame and leave it in a plate or wide vessel to cool. Once it's cooled enough to handle peel off the charred peel of the eggplant.
Now add salt, a hefty slug of mustard oil, the chopped onions (chop the onions smallish - not too fine but not coarse either or they will be a little jarring as you eat), chillies, and coriander leaves and mash it up all up and mix well.
Break up the eggplant flesh as much as you can. Once it's all mixed just have a quick taste and adjust salt if required.