Cashew-Stuffed Indian Eggplants
Cashew-Stuffed Indian Eggplants
The eggplant is a pretty versatile and tough plant. You can do pretty much anything with it – deep-frying, grilling, slow-roasting, mashing, etc – the eggplant can stand up to intense cooking for significant amounts of time. In fact, the eggplant often requires longer cooking times than most things in the kitchen. This recipe will back that up, as we’ll roast tiny eggplants for half an hour, a length of time that could turn a chicken breast half-dry (if you’re lucky), or a tomato into sauce. To help prove the strength and resiliency of the eggplant, we’re going to cut it open first, and stuff it with a nut and spice mixture.
That’s where things get tasty. Cooked eggplant on it’s own has a somewhat complex flavour, but we’re going to add roasted cashews, cumin, masala, fresh cilantro, and mango powder – all of which are packed with their own flavours. Nutty, spicy, rich and aromatic, balanced with fresh herbs and a hit of sour from the mango powder – all slow-simmered to infuse the eggplants with flavour.
Here’s the thing, though. This is not a pretty dish. You can google pictures of stuffed eggplants and what they look like after cooking. It’s a bit like a giant, less shrivelled and mostly blackened prune. Not exactly appetizing, but considering the flavour impact, I highly recommend eating them anyway. Especially if you don’t think you like eggplant; Indian eggplants are typically very small (about the size of a tennis ball) and are much less bitter than the larger Italian varieties.
The mango powder in this recipe may be divisive. It is a powder made from dried and grated unripened mangoes. It’s very sour (think of what it’d be like to drink a teaspoon of lime juice with no sugar, except in powder form) and this recipe certainly does not require it. In fact, there’s numerous variations on this type of dish (very popular ones include shredded coconut and peanuts, or adding brown sugar, etc) and you should feel free to experiment a bit to find something to suit your taste. I kind of like the tang it provides, because it’s a flavour you may not ordinarily associate with Indian cuisine, but sour/tart flavours are very prevalent (limes, vinegars, mango, pineapple, etc) across the country.
Where do you get Indian eggplants? I’m not sure there’s an easy answer. I found some at BJ Supermarket, and most medium-sized South Asian markets should carry them, but I’ve honestly not seen them in any major chain-supermarket. Chances are pretty good that the St Lawrence Market may sell them. If anyone else knows of a source, please share. If you can’t find them (and won’t go to Little India), there’s a “baby” version of the Italian eggplant that can probably be substituted in this recipe.
- 10 Indian eggplants
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup raw cashew nuts, ground into a meal texture (not a powder, but not chunky either)
- 3 tbsp chopped cilantro, leaves and stems
- 1 tsp mango powder (may be called “amchoor” in Indian supermarkets)
- 2 tsp cumin seeds, ground coarsely
- 1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
- 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
- 1 tsp garam masala (use this one)
Serve with: basmati rice
What you will need: deep saute or frying pan with a lid, tongs, medium-sized bowl, knife and cutting board, measuring cups and spoons
- In the bowl, combine all the filling ingredients: ground cashews, cilantro, mango powder, cumin, salt, cayenne and garam masala. Stir them together to get an even mix.
- Cut a ‘X’ into the bottom of each eggplant, from the base to 3/4 of the way to the stem. (Click here to see what I’m talking about) Be careful not to cut all the way to the stem, or else the eggplant may break in half when you’re stuffing them. That’s no good. If you can, leave the stems on. They look prettier with the stems on.
- Open an eggplant and pour a spoonful of filling into the X. I found it easiest to open it in half, pour filling in, then open it in the other direction and add more filling. Cram as much filling as you possibly can in there. The slits of the eggplant can probably be openly almost half an inch (at the cut end) safely. Fill the rest of the eggplants. There will be filling left over. That’s good. We’re going to use it still, so keep it handy.
- Heat the oil in saute pan to medium-high heat (6 on my burner).
- Once the pan is hot enough, lay each eggplant in the pan in an even layer.
- Sear the eggplants for 1-2 minutes without turning them over yet.
- Turn the heat to low (1 on my dial) and turn the eggplants over carefully with the tongs. They’ll still be firm at this point but you don’t want to shake any filling loose or tear the stems off. Let the eggplants sit for a minute or two. This gives the burner a bit of time to cool down from the medium-high heat it was on.
- Pour the remaining filling over the eggplants now, then get the pan’s lid and cover the pan. We cover the pan so the steam from the eggplants stays inside and helps to cook the eggplants.
- This is where we play the waiting game. You can’t turn the heat higher here to speed up the cooking, because the spices will burn and taste bad long before the eggplant finishes cooking. So we’ve got the heat on it’s lowest setting and we’ll let the pan’s heat and the steam slow-cook the eggplants until they’re tender and saturated with spice-flavour, and avoid burning the spices and cashew.
- Every 5-8 minutes, remove the lid, turn the eggplants over, then replace the lid (the lid will drip a lot of water from the condensed steam – make sure it pours back into the pan!). The overall cooking time should be around 30 minutes. The eggplants are done when they are tender and can be pierced with a fork.
- When done, transfer the eggplants to a serving plate and spoon out any remaining oil-spice mixture. This can used to drizzle over the eggplants, if you like.
- Sprinkle a few more cilantro leaves over the eggplants for a garnish.
Stuffed eggplants! Stuffed vegetables are always pretty impressive (despite being relatively easy to make) and this dish is probably just interesting enough to take it to the next level of impressiveness. It’s tender, succulent, and the flavours are very lively. Enjoy.