Cashew-Stuffed Baby Eggplant with Tomatoes and Spices

Bharela Baingan

Baby eggplants are not bitter at all, as the gargantuan ones (the Italian variety), widely available in American supermarkets, can be. These bell-shaped, light purple varieties, roughly 2 to 3 inches long, are easy to find in Asian grocery stores. They can also be found at neighborhood farmers’ markets at the tail end of summer, especially in areas where there are concentrations of Asian immigrants. If they are unavailable, however, you can use the standard large variety.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup raw cashew nuts, ground
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1 tablespoon mango powder or fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, ground
  • teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne (ground red pepper)
  • ½ teaspoon Punjabi garam masala
  • 8 to 10 small purple Indian (or 1 medium-size Italian) eggplants (about 1 pound total)
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon white granulated sugar

Method

  1. Combine the ground cashews, 2 tablespoons of the cilantro, the mango powder, cumin, salt, cayenne, and garam masala in a small bowl. Stir together thoroughly.
  2. If you are using small eggplants, wash them well but do not remove the stems. Slit each eggplant three-quarters of the way through by making two crosswise slits, forming an X. (Make sure you do not accidentally cut through the entire length. This keeps them held together and makes the pan-frying a bit easier.) If you are using one large eggplant, rinse it well and remove the stem. Slice the eggplant crosswise into 2-inch-thick rounds. Slit each piece three-quarters of the way through by making two crosswise slits, forming an X. Make sure you do not accidentally cut through the skin. You can use kitchen twine to tie them closed after you stuff them.
  3. Stuff each eggplant with the spice-nut mixture (as much as you can push into the slits). Don’t worry if some of the filling falls out; most of it will remain inside.
  4. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the stuffed eggplants, arranging them in a single layer, and sear them on the underside, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle any remaining filling over the eggplants, reduce the heat to low, and cover the skillet. Roast the eggplants, turning them occasionally (gently) with a pair of tongs, until they are fork-tender, about 30 minutes. As much as you are tempted, do not raise the heat to expedite the roasting; you will burn the spices and make the eggplant unpalatable.
  5. Carefully lift the eggplants out of the skillet and transfer them to a serving platter.
  6. Pour the crushed tomatoes and the sugar into the pan, and scrape the bottom of the skillet to incorporate all those wonderful pan drippings left behind after roasting the eggplant. Turn up the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes.
  7. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro, pour the sauce over the eggplant, and serve.
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