Stuffed Indian Eggplant

Sometimes random food items appear in our house in the whirlwind that is grocery shopping. Last week we ended up with these adorable little eggplants. With no plan, other then to expand our culinary vocabulary, Judd reminded me that we had these mini purple veggies patiently waiting for us to eat them in the fridge.

Quickly scanning the internet, I came across this Mark Bittman concoction that looked ever so promising and easy to whip up on a Wednesday night. It’s official, these are now my new party trick. Easy to make and ridiciously delicious, these Stuffed Indian Eggplants are brimming with warm eastern spices and rich flavors. Toasted sesame seeds and pine nuts (the original recipe calls for peanuts) blended together in the food processor alongside brown sugar, cayenne, turmeric, garlic and fresh cilantro, create a wonderfully aromatic paste. Now for the hard part… right?, wrong. Stuffing the eggplants requires the basic skills of a caveman. By cutting an x on the nose of the vegetable, you will be able to stuff the delicious mixture into the eggplant without a hitch. Give them a light saute and a brief steam and you got yourself tender bundles of AWESOME!

Serves 4

1/4 cup toasted white (hulled) sesame seeds
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts (we used pine nuts)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons water
10 Indian eggplants, or 6 small Italian or Japanese eggplants (1 1/2 pounds total)
3 to 4 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup water

For the filling, use a mini food processor to grind the sesame seeds, peanuts, sugar, salt, turmeric and cayenne to a crumbly texture. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the cilantro and water to create a compact, spreadable mixture. Set aside.

Use scissors to trim the eggplant stems so that they are about 1/2 inch long. Use your fingers to remove the green pointy flaps of the eggplant caps. Make a deep cross incision in each eggplant, stopping 1/2-inch short of the stem. To do that, position each one on its side on your cutting board. Hold it down with one hand while you wield the knife with the other hand to make the first horizontal cut. Roll the eggplant 90 degrees and make the second horizontal cut.

Use a teaspoon to stuff each eggplant with about 1/8 of the filling. Gently pry open the eggplant, stuff in the filling. Make sure there is filling between each of the cuts. Gently squeeze the eggplant to make the filling sticks and fills the crevices.

Pour the oil into a large nonstick skillet over medium heat to film the bottom. When hot, add the eggplants in a single layer. Fry the eggplants for 3 to 4 minutes, turning frequently, to brown them on two sides. Don’t fret when some of the filling spills out. Add the remaining 1/4 cup water, cover with a lid or foil, and turn the heat to low. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, turning halfway through, until tender. Pierce with the tip of a knife to test. There will be filling in the skillet bottom. If you want to crisp those bits and serve them with the eggplant, increase the heat to medium high and fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until crisp. Remove from the heat, let the sizzling subside, then transfer to a plate and serve hot or warm.