This might sound repetitious to someone who's been on this blog before, but I am one die-hard devotee of the almighty Vegetable. I could eat veggies for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert (I kid you not!) and any time in between. In fact, I've never met a veggie I did not love.
Even so, if there was one that I had to pick over all others - you know, the only vegetable left on earth and so on- it would be, hands down, the eggplant.
I know there are people out there who find the eggplant detestable, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's lovely but demented (in my opinion) heroine Fermina Daza who would rather sacrifice love than eat this veggie. The most common mistake that leads to the undeserved labeling of the eggplant as abominable is undercooking it. Undercooked eggplant is bitter and has a chewy (not in a good way) texture that no one in their right minds would enjoy.
But treat the eggplant right, and it will reward you with a sweet creaminess that's other-worldly and beyond gorgeous.
What's better, there are so many varieties of eggplant out there, from the small, egg-shaped ones to the slender Italian versions to the huge, globular one most commonly available in supermarkets. Then there are white eggplants, little green-and-white ones, and the pale lilac ones. Each of these varieties differ in taste and texture. All, without exception, are delicious.
Today, I want to share with you one of most favorite eggplant treats- Bharleli Vangi, or, translated from Marathi, Stuffed Eggplant.
Now Bharleli Vangi is traditionally prepared with the small, globe-like purple eggplants that are abundantly available in India and can be found at Indian groceries here. Those are the size easiest to stuff and serve, and believe me, they are delicious. But as my luck should have it, I rarely find decently fresh baby eggplants at my local Indian grocery store.
This past week, I found these beauties at my neighborhood Whole Foods. I have no idea what they are called, but you can see for yourselves: they are about four inches long and about two-and-a-half inches in diameter.
They were also shiny and purple and fresh. I picked up three and brought them home, hoping to come up with an extra-special recipe that would do them justice. My mind kept running to Bharleli Vangi, despite the fact that this was just not the right variety of eggplant for this dish.
Finally, I caved in, and was glad I did. The result was wonderful. The eggplant, cooked over slow heat, turned out incredibly tender and delicious. I cooked the stuffed eggplants over a bed of potatoes, because eggplant and potatoes are a match made in tastebud heaven and because the potatoes caramelize beautifully with the juices from the eggplant.
So here it is, my recipe for Bharleli Vangi, a classic Maharashtrian dish that I absolutely love and adore. This dish is perfect served with some plain dal, like a varan, or with soft chapatis.
3 eggplants (about 4 inches in length) or 6 small, egg-shaped ones. Wash and dry the eggplants and then, with a sharp knife, make three deep cuts all the way across the diameter of the eggplant and almost, but not quite, all the way down to the stem end.
Remember, it is important that the slices do not separate because you want to stuff the eggplants.
2 yellow potatoes, cut into long, thin strips (as for French fries).
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp sugar
For the stuffing:
1/4 cup coconut shreds
2 tbsp jaggery
3 tbsp peanuts, lightly toasted
1 tsp coriander, 1 tsp sesame seeds and 1 tsp black peppercorns, lightly toasted and powdered
2 green chilies
3 tsp chopped coriander leaves
Salt to taste
Put all the ingredients for the stuffing into a food processor and process, adding about 1 tbsp of oil if needed, into a coarse powder.
Divide the stuffing into three (or six if using smaller eggplants) portions, and stuff between the petals of each eggplant. Be gentle. You don't want to break the eggplant.
In a skillet, heat the oil. Add the onions and saute for two minutes until translucent. Add the sugar and some salt to taste.
Add the potatoes and stir fry for another two minutes until they begin to tenderize.
Now place the stuffed eggplants gently on the bed of potatoes. Cover with a tight-fitting lid.
Let the eggplants cook on slow heat for about 30 minutes. Stir gently a couple of times so the potatoes don't burn and turn the eggplants a few times (tongs work best for this) to ensure they cook evenly.
Pierce the end just above the stem with a fork or skewer to check doneness. If it goes through without any effort, take it off the fire.
Garnish, if desired, with fresh cilantro or mint.