Prasadam - Brinjal, Part 2


Aug 01, 2016 — CANADA (SUN) — A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.

Brinjal is a member of the Solanaceae family of flowering plants, which contains a number of important food crops like the potato, tomato, and capsicum (chilis). It also includes many toxic plants, nearly all of which are consumed as mood-altering substances, like tobacco, jimson weed, mandrake, and belladonna.

Although the brinjal, potato and tomato contain several anti-nutritional substances such as steroidal alkaloids, they still provide a great deal of nutritional benefit, what to speak of eating enjoyment. Regardless, their association with the 'deadly nightshades' family has caused various inhibitions about consuming them, and these are reflected in a number of brahminical restrictions on the foodstuffs.

The Kashyapiyakrishisukti, an 8th century Sanskrit treatise on agriculture, states that the white brinjal is poisonous. The Dharmasindhu, another Sanskrit text written in 1758 by Kashinath Upadyaya, states that Brahmins of the Vaishnava sect are forbidden from eating brinjal. Brahmins in other sects consider brinjal to be forbidden during Chaturmasya and on every tryaodashi.

Some Vaisnavas consider brinjal to be a tamasic food because it is relished by Shiva. In the Chandimangala by Mukundaram Chakravarti (Bengal, 1589), it states that brinjal mixed with bitter neem leaves is dear to Lord Shiva. But as we read in yesterday's segment, the same preparation -- brinjal and neem -- was often served to Sri Chaitanya by His associates.

In a study entitled "Antiquity of the Cultivation and Use of Brinjal in India, authors R.V. Bhat and S. Vasanthi describe an interesting historical event involving a unique variety of brinjal known as Mattu gulla, which is grown in the Udupi district of Karnataka state. The pastime involved members of Sri Madhvacarya's line, who resided in the Udupi mathas (eight in total) established by Madhvacarya in the 13th century.

Vadiraja Swami's deity of Lord Hayavadana, Sode Matha

In the 16th century, Vadiraja Swami was the head of Madhva's Sode Matha at Udupi. (Vadiraja's travelogue comments on Mahaprabhu taking brinjal at Navadvipa were mentioned in yesterday's segment.) As described by authors Bhat and Vasanthi:

    "It has been recorded that Saint Vadiraja used to offer a special sweet confection called hayagreevav (or maddi) to the golden icon of Lord Hayavadana; the Lord used to emanate in the guise of a white horse to eat the offering, leaving a little behind as prasadam for Vadiraja. Some people began to doubt this divine occurrence, and decided to test it by secretly mixing poison into the confection. An unsuspecting Vadiraja offered it as usual to Lord Hayavadana, who ate the entire hayagreeva without leaving behind any prasadam. Perplexed, Vadiraja spent the whole day wondering why the Lord was upset with him. That night, the Lord explained the reasons for the incident to Vadiraja, and told him that the poison in the hayagreeva would make the golden icon turn blue.

    Lord Hayavadana also advised Vadiraja to offer a preparation made from a special type of brinjal known as gulla. Vadiraja called the people of the village Mattu (now in Udupi district) and asked them to cultivate gulla (hence the term Mattu gulla). When Vadiraja offered the naivedyam prepared from gulla, the icon of Hayavadana regained its golden color. However, a blue mark remained on the neck of the icon, to serve as a reminder of the incident for posterity. To this day, the golden icon of Lord Hayavadana with the blue spot on its neck is worshiped at the Sode Matha in Udupi. Moreover, on the occasion of the festive ceremonies of paryaya held every alternate January among the eight mathas of Udupi, the tradition of offering the Mattu gulla variety of brinjal to Lord Krishna continues unbroken to this day, after more than four centuries."

Mattu gulla Brinjal

The Madhva matha's recipe for the confection Sri Vadiraja offered to Lord Hayavadana, hayagreeva or maddi, can be found here. Maddi is a dish composed of roasted channa dal, jaggery, cashews and aromatic spices. While it does not contain brinjal, here is a recipe for Gulla Sagle, a traditional Karnataka dish featuring gulla brinjal:

Gulla Sagle

Gulla Sagle
(Mattu gulla Brinjal in Coconut Sauce)


    7 small green Brinjal, diced
    10 Drumstick pieces (or use zucchini)
    ¼ tsp Jaggery
    4 tsp Ghee
    1 tsp Mustard seeds
    a handful Curry leaves
    Salt to taste

    For masala/paste:
    ½ cup Coconut, grated
    5 to 6 fried red Chillies
    ¼ tsp Tamarind paste

    For tempering:
    ¼ tsp Fenugreek (methi) seeds
    1 tsp Coriander (dhania) seeds
    1 tsp Ghee

Wash the brinjals and cut into cubes. Soak them in salt water for about 30 minutes then drain and wash again in fresh water. In a little ghee fry the fenugreek and coriander seeds. Add to them the coconut, tamarind and chillies with a little water and make a fine paste.

Next, fry the mustard in a little ghee until they pop, then add the curry leaves for a minute. Add the brinjal and drumsticks and fry on high for a few minutes. Add a cup of water, the salt and jaggery, and cook till the vegetables are soft. When done, add the masala paste and mix well. Adjust by adding water as needed to get a thick gravy. Cover and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, then offer.

Roasted Brinjal Sabji

Here's another savoury brinjal recipe, this one from the 4th century B.C. Ettuthogai, an ancient Tamil text:

Smear a green brinjal with gingelly (sesame) oil. Roast it on charcoal and then peel it. Mash it when cold. Heat some more gingelly oil. Add mustard seeds, curry leaves, crushed peppercorns, ginger powder and chopped fresh ginger. Finally, add the mashed brinjal and cook briefly, till well-blended.

A modern variation on this method of handling brinjal is a great help. When roasting eggplants, rather than trying to peel the charred skin, or scoop the cooked flesh out of the skins, simply wrap the entire brinjal in a plastic bag, cup off the top of the fruit, and squeeze the contents into a bowl. Throw the remains away, with no mess.

Brinjal Sweets

While we don't typically think of brinjal as being an ingredient used in sweets, it's quite perfect for the role. You can use any combination of aromatic flavors and sweeteners, following these basic steps:

Peel the brinjal and cut into long pieces, about ½" wide by 3 to 4 inches long. Brush with a little ghee and bake (or deep fry) until they're golden brown and crusty. Next, dip into a batter made with besan, water or cream, sweetener and aromatic spices. Coat well and fry in ghee. Meanwhile, boil water and sugar, cooking it down to a medium heavy syrup. Add any flavours you like: vanilla, pandan, rose and almond work nicely. Let the syrup cool a bit, then submerge the roasted eggplant pieces, as you would any syrup sweets. Let them sit for at least three hours.

When ready to offer, carefully lift the brinjal pieces from the syrup, let them drain, then roll them in any one of the following: coarse cane sugar, jaggery, ground pistachios, coconut, or any 'crusty' coating you like.

As an alternative to sugar syrup, you could also soak the roasted brinjal in honey or a thick fruit syrup. Or, don't soak it at all, and simply sugar-coat the fried pieces, floating them in a little pool of honey or syrup to offer. After frying, you can also coat them in a sweet batter, and fry a 2nd time, then put in syrup or dust with powdered sugar.


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