First, I want to thank all of you for the comforting messages, prayers and thoughts you sent our way after our beloved Lucy passed away. It was a difficult time, and your kindness offered warmth that was much appreciated by both Desi and me.
In the days since, one of the most frequent questions I get from people is, How is Opie doing? Does he miss her?
The answer is not as easy as yes or no.
Opie and Lucy came to our home just a month apart. Physically and behaviorally they were polar opposites. Lucy was the athletic one with the sharp intellect to absorb and follow commands that Shepherds are so famous for, and an innate desire to please her people. Opie, on the other hand, is the lazy guy who'd rather sit and observe, with a complex intelligence that he uses unabashedly to manipulate us into doing what he wants us to do. At our home, we call him the Decider.
But they were two of a kind in the midst of a house full of humans and felines, and they forged a close bond. Opie would annoy her at times and she would bully him all the time, but there was no doubt that they loved each other. They played together, they got into trouble together, and they enjoyed walking together. If we happened to leave the house with just one of them, guess who got the most enthusiastic greeting when we got back home?
It's been almost two months now since Lucy passed, and we've watched Opie closely to see if he shows signs of depression or of missing her. But the only difference we see is that he's a little quieter around the house, which is not surprising when you consider he has no one to play with. He still monitors the window vigilantly to bark at anyone-- animal or human-- that passes by on the sidewalk, he still eats with gusto, and he still can't wait to get out of the house for a walk as often as we'll take him.
All of this, of course, does not necessarily mean he doesn't miss her. Maybe he does. But animals have a deep, uncomplicated wisdom about them, I believe, when it comes to life and death: they live life to the fullest, they don't think of their own mortality--or anyone else's-- while alive, and when death comes by, they don't dwell on it the way we do.
Last week, browsing through a small but lively farmer's market in Northwest DC with my friend Roshani, I came across some gorgeous little round eggplants: the kind we Maharashtrians use to make Bharli Vangi, or stuffed eggplants.
This is my favorite way to eat eggplants-- and Desi's too. I had shared another version of Bharli Vangi (or Bharleli Vangi, as it's also called) years ago, but I wanted to also post this one because the recipe's a bit different and I also cooked it differently: in a pressure cooker. This is a technique often used to cook Bharli Vangi and I am not taking credit for devising it, but it's not one I had ever used: instead, I always liked roasting my eggplant in a saucepan on the stovetop so it got a little charred on the outside.
But the pressure-cooker method is less work, frankly, because you don't have to watch and turn the eggplants every few minutes: instead, you can just put everything in and let it all cook by itself. The resulting eggplant, although it doesn't have the slight char that I love, makes up by being absolutely butter-soft, melt-in-the-mouth delicious.
My recipe varies a bit from the traditonal: I use coconut milk instead of shredded coconut because it helps hold the stuffing together. This can also be a healthy substitution because many cooks use oil to keep the stuffing together. I also add some fenugreek seeds because their pleasant bitterness help balance out the sweetness of the jaggery and the spice of the chillies.
Here's the recipe-- it's great with rotis, or with some vegan curd-rice. Enjoy, all!
Bharli Vangi (Stuffed Eggplants)
8 small, round eggplants (you can use purple or white or even the green Thai ones). Leave the stems on and make a vertical slit with a sharp knife from the top of the eggplant almost all the way, but not quite, to the stem end. You want the eggplant to remain in one piece. Now turn the eggplant and make another similar cut at a right angle so the eggplant looks like a closed flower bud with four petals.
4 potatoes, cut into wedges
2 tsp vegetable oil
To make the stuffing, place in the bowl of a food processor or blender:
1/2 cup raw peanuts
2 tbsp grated ginger
4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1/4 cup jaggery (can substitute brown sugar)
1/4 cup coconut milk
Powder separately 1 tsp cumin seeds + 1 tbsp coriander seeds + 1/4 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds. Add to the food processor.
2 red chillies, stems removed and broken into small pieces
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt to taste
Process the ingredients together into a coarse paste that barely holds together. If it doesn't hold, add some more coconut milk or even water, a tiny bit at a time, until it does. You want a stuffing, not a watery paste.
Now divide the stuffing equally into eight portions and stuff between the petals of each eggplant. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a pressure cooker over medium-high heat.
Add the potatoes and stir-fry for a couple of minutes or until they start to color slightly.
Add the eggplants one by one-- place them in a single layer, if possible.
Add 3/4 cup of water to the pressure cooker and sprinkle on some salt for taste (not too much, because there's already salt in the stuffing, but you want a little something for the potatoes).
Stir the contents of the pressure cooker gently so everything looks well-distributed.
Slap on the pressure cooker lid. My pressure cooker is different from the typical Indian ones that come with a "whistle" that goes off when it reaches pressure. It has a little button that pops up when the cooker reaches pressure. Once it did, I lowered the heat let the eggplant cook for another 10 minutes. If you have the cooker with the whistle, you might need to go through a couple more whistles to get the same result.
Once the steam inside the pressure cooker has dissipated, open the pressure cooker and garnish the eggplant, if you like, with some coriander.
If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can also roast the eggplants using this method.