I crave eggplant all the time. No, not the huge western kind or the thin, long Asian kind. I mean the mini, fleshy Indian eggplant that is the star of many of my successful recipes. Every region in India has its own signature eggplant dish and the most popular method of making an Indian eggplant curry is stuffing the hell outta these purple lovelies. But what are they stuffed with, is the question. In Southern India, we use a combination of roasted, freshly ground lentils, red chili peppers and a few other condiments. In the upper part of India, they love stuffing them with pickling spices, a puree of onions and tomatoes. In the West, things get more interesting and you will understand why as you read on.
I found this recipe of Bharli Vangi/Bharwa Baingan (stuffed eggplant), a very tasty Maharashtrian Subzi in one of my recipe books. I’ve been meaning to try it out for such a long time. We had an Indian eggplant scarcity at our ethnic store for most part of winter. The minute they stocked it back a month ago, I’ve been buying them in huge quantities like a crazed person and making different types of stuffed eggplant curries. First came the Enna Kaththirikkai (Oil fried eggplant or as we call it, brinjal), then the Achari Baingan (eggplant gravy stuffed with pickling spices) happened and today, I had to finish off the last of the vegetable in stock. Hence, I made Bharli Vangi and it did not disappoint!
This succulent dish utilizes the Indian eggplant rather wonderfully. The combination of condiments used for the stuffing Masala works surprisingly well together and if you haven’t tried cooking with Indian eggplants, this is your cue. And if you love peanuts, you’ve really got to try it out! It was so good that I am already pining for tomorrow’s lunch…
Ten baby Indian eggplants
Three Tbsp grated fresh coconut
1/4 cup peanuts
Two Tbsp white sesame seeds
Two dried red chili peppers
One tsp each of cumin and coriander seeds (you can just go ahead and use cumin-coriander powder like I did)
One Tbsp tamarind pulp
Two tsp jaggery (or brown sugar)
1/2 tsp turmeric
Two Tbsp chopped onions plus one head of onion, sliced into strips (I used vidalia but anything is really fine)
Two tsps salt
One tsp mustard seeds
Two Tbsp vegetable oil
Lime wedges and cilantro leaves to garnish
This dish requires some extra knife work for slitting and stuffing the eggplants so I’ve done my best at photographing the process. I hope it works!
Slit open the bottom of each eggplant deep enough to stuff the Masala. Leave the stems intact for easier handling. Soak the eggplants in salted warm water for ten minutes. Meanwhile, make the spice mix: Dry roast the grated coconut, peanuts, sesame seeds, chili pepper and cumin-coriander seeds (don’t roast if you use the powder mix) until fragrant. When done, mix in the tamarind pulp, jaggery/brown sugar, turmeric, two Tbsps of chopped onion and one tsp salt and blend it in a blender until you get a fine paste. Take the eggplants off the water and pat them dry.
Stuff the eggplants with this mixture. Reserve the rest of the mixture for the gravy. Heat a pan with oil, pop the mustard seeds. Add the sliced onions and saute on med-low heat until slightly brow. Add the stuffed eggplants to this party and let it brown on all the sides. You can use the stems of the eggplants for easy navigation on the pan. When the eggplants are brown, add the rest of the Masala, and salt to the pan, pour in a cup and a half of water, turn the heat to low and cover the pan. The eggplants will steam and cook in the gravy. If you notice the gravy drying up, go on and add more water.
The idea is for the eggplants to cook up until nearly mushy and for the gravy to come to a nice thick consistency. It will probably take around twenty minutes to half hour for that to happen. When done, squeeze the lime wedge and garnish with cilantro.
Suggested side for: Chapati, Phulka, Plain Basmati Rice