This is an impressive-looking dish, but surprisingly easy to make, and definitely the best use I've ever found for those adorable little baby eggplants that are so in season right now in the northern half of the world. I've made it several times and in fact can't believe I've never blogged it before. The recipe I'm giving is based on several others; it's a popular Indian dish and googling the recipe will give you several variations. Some opt for a more soupy, watery sauce but I prefer something that stays together a little better on a plate, so mine is drier.
Bagara baingan (cashew-stuffed baby eggplants in a tamarind sauce)
Serves 1 or 2
2 tsp canola or peanut oil
2 dried red chilies (broken in half and squeezed a bit to remove the seeds)
8 cashew nuts
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 tbsp dried coconut
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 garlic clove
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp tamarind paste (not concentrate)
200 g (about 4 small) baby eggplants
Heat 1 tsp of the canola oil in a small frying pan. When hot, add the chilies, cashews, and coriander seeds. Stir and fry for a minute, then add the onions. Continue to stir fry until the onion begins to brown, then add the coconut and sesame seeds:
When the coconut begins to brown, add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for 30 seconds more. Cool this mixture slightly, then grind to a paste in a blender (or if you have one, a Magic Bullet is perfect for this), adding the turmeric, salt to taste, and enough water to allow the mixture to blend. You want a thickish paste that more or less holds together, but it doesn't have to be too dry:
Now get your tamarind sauce ready. Put the tamarind paste into 2/3 cup water and microwave for one minute. The paste, which starts out quite firm and solid, will soften up and you can stir it into the hot water. Strain out the solids and set the tamarind water aside.
Cut a each of the baby eggplants into four, stopping at the stem, and stuff them with as much of the cashew paste as you can. You'll likely have some paste left over. This is okay. It's also okay if you don't.
Heat the remaining tsp of oil in the same pan you used to fry the paste ingredients to medium-high heat and, when hot, add the stuffed eggplants, and fry for a few minutes, turning them gently:
Now add the tamarind water and any leftover stuffing paste:
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the eggplants are tender, about 10 minutes or so. I was cooking from Monisha Bharadwaj's India's Vegetarian Cooking and she suggests serving this with another recipe in her book, lemon rice. I took her suggestion, but changed the lemon to lime and added a little lime zest. Here's an online recipe which is pretty much exactly what I did. Basically, you fry cashews, black mustard seeds, curry leaves, pre-soaked channa dal (yellow split peas, not shown here because I forgot to add them and had to fry them up separately) and peanuts in a little oil:
Add turmeric for that magical colour and haunting flavour:
And fold this mixture, along with lemon juice (or in my case, lime juice and a little zest) and a little salt into freshly cooked basmati or jasmine rice. Heavenly! Seriously, there is something truly divine about the addition of citrus to jasmine rice...Viva Vegan has a great recipe for lime rice as well, and if you haven't tried it, well, you should!
Here's the final plate, with the addition of those unsung heroes, steamed yellow beans and broccoli: