I couldn’t resist the cutest little eggplants at the farmers market. Some are white, some are purple, and some have green stripes. I knew they would have to be cooked whole to take advantage of their beauty and for some reason I had a feeling I could find the perfect way to cook them using traditional Indian methods and flavors. I was right.
When I’m starting out with an unfamiliar ingredient or coming up with a recipe idea, I will search through my cookbooks and look online to get a feel for what other people are doing. There are some amazing blogs out there written by Indian women containing a wealth of knowledge passed down through generations. This recipe is inspired by two of those blogs. It may look a bit daunting and labor intensive, but it’s actually very simple and straightforward. I use a food processor a few times in this recipe. If you don’t have a large one, I recommend getting a small food processor. They are inexpensive, take up very little space, and are indispensable in the kitchen.
If you can’t find baby eggplant at your supermarket, try an Asian grocery store. You can also try this recipe with regular sized Japanese eggplant or a globe eggplant. Simply cut it and stuff it the same way.
Indian-Spiced Stuffed Baby Eggplant
1 tablespoon neutral-flavored oil (canola, sunflower, peanut)
12 baby eggplants
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon amchoor powder (found in Indian grocery stores, leave out if you can’t find it)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
3 tablespoons shredded, unsweetened coconut, lightly toasted
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup water
1. In a food processor, grind together the spices, salt, peanuts, and coconut to a coarse powder. Do not grind it so long that it turns to peanut butter. Place mixture in a bowl.
2. To cut the eggplants, start with an X at the bottom and cut almost to the stem end but stop about 1/2 inch from the stem (see photo above). Gently holding open each cut part of the eggplant, sprinkle the peanut mixture in. You don’t have to stuff it too much or force more in than it seems to hold. After stuffing all the eggplants, you should have about 2 tablespoons left over. Put it aside for the sauce.
3. Chop the onion into large pieces and add it and the garlic to a food processor. Grind to a smooth paste. If you don’t have a food processor, try using a blender but you may need to add some water to make it blend. You can also chop the onion and garlic by hand.
4. Set a pan large enough to hold all of the eggplants in one layer (I used a wide, enameled cast iron Dutch oven) over medium heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant and cook for about 5 minutes. Depending upon the strength of your stove, you may need to turn the heat down. You want the eggplants to brown but keep an eye (and nose) on it to avoid burning. Add a few tablespoons of water if this happens. Once one side is browned, using tongs flip the eggplants over to brown on the other side, another 5 minutes or so.
5. Once the eggplants are brown, remove them from the pan and set aside on a plate. They do not need to be cooked through at this point. Add the onion and garlic mixture to the pot. It might sputter so keep an oil screen handy to cover. Once the sputtering stops, keep stirring the mixture for about 5 minutes until it reduces and thickens a bit.
6. Add the tomatoes, water, and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer and place eggplant back on top of the sauce. With the mixture simmering, place a lid on the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, giving a gentle stir every so often and making sure it’s not boiling.
7. The dish is done when the eggplants are soft (a knife could be inserted very easily). Check for salt and add any if needed. Garnish with cilantro if desired. Serve with jasmine rice, naan, or roti.