Monday, November 28, 2011

Baby Eggplant with Indian Spices (Bharvaan Baingan)

Baby eggplant stuffed with an Indian spice mixture is simply great for eating, period.  Soft, rich, and extremely flavorful, this preparation is so unlike traditional western eggplant recipe outcomes that a single bite might change your mind about "hating" eggplant. The tiny egg-sized vegetables make for delightful snack-sized servings and are delicious eaten on their own. You can also throw them on a salad, serve them as a side or main course, or accompany them with long-grained rice and seasoned red lentils. Read on to learn how to make this delicious treat!

Simply make two cuts in the eggplant and fill it with a tangy, spicy, flavorful filling. There's no need to core or seed the vegetable. Cook in just a touch of oil along with pungent mustard seeds and curry leaves, and you really have something special when you're done. Grated coconut lends body to the filling and holds a quintet of turmeric, coriander, red chili, garlic and cumin; the moisture of tangy tamarind paste pulls it all together.

I made the recipe after snapping up some fun veggies at a produce wholesaler while in search of the last fresh figs of fall. Though disappointed to find that not a single fig seems to remain in the entire region, I was elated to find a wide variety of uncommon fruits and vegetables, including the egg-sized Indian eggplants and a bag of nerf football-sized banana flowers.
The eggplants pictured were not originally destined for the blogosphere...they were destined for my lunch plate. After having a single taste, though, I realized the recipe was too good not to share. It was going straight into my personal recipe book, and onto the site. Enjoy!

Recipe for Baby Eggplant Stuffed with Indian Spices (Bharvaan Baingan)
6 baby eggplants, each a bit larger than a large egg (often, you can find "Indian Eggplants" of exactly this size at a specialty produce mart, but any small eggplant should work)

Spice paste:
3 tbsp dried grated coconut (not sweetened)
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chili pepper flakes or powder
1 tsp finely chopped garlic (one to two cloves)
1 tsp prepared tamarind paste (I use Tamicon brand)
1 tsp soy sauce
a few tsp of water, as needed, to create a thick paste
Salt to taste...for me this was 3/4 tsp

For cooking:
3/4 tsp black mustard seeds
6-8 curry leaves
3-4 tbsp olive oil or preferred cooking oil

To serve: Sprinkle with salt (to taste) and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  1. Wash the baby eggplants, trim the stalks, and in each eggplant make two intersecting cuts to form a cross that goes about halfway through the eggplant.
  2. Place spice filling ingredients in a bowl and mix. Add water, 1 tsp at a time, until you've created a thick paste. Add salt to taste.
  3. Cram the spice paste into the cuts in the eggplants as best you can. I held the cut open, pressed the paste in, used a knife to push it down, and added some more. This worked pretty well.
  4. Heat the oil in a pot or pan on medium to medium-low heat. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and cook till briefly..10-30 seconds. Carefully set the eggplants into the pot, cut side up. Some hot oil might splatter up at your arm, so wear long sleeves if that worries you.
  5. Cook eggplants a few minutes cut side up, then carefully turn them on one side and let cook, turn to the other side and let cook, and finally flip them cut side down and let cook for a few minutes. Try not to let much of the filling fall out. If the eggplants are not done by the time you've reached this point, continue cooking and stirring occasionally in this manner until the eggplants are done. You will notice the skin of the eggplant change color and the flesh become softer. 
  6. To serve: Place in serving dish, sprinkle with salt (to taste) and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro leaves.
    This will make your home smell like an Indian restaurant. Consider yourself warned.

    Happy Fall!