I was watching a cooking show the other day where the chef talked about how people don’t like Eggplants. Really, who are these people? I mean how can you not like Eggplants? What is it about this deliciously fleshy, meaty, melt in your mouth vegetable that you don’t like? If you have not already understood, let me put it out there, I LOVE BAINGAN (Eggplant/Aubergine). As a Punjabi kid who grew up on a steady diet of “Baingan ka Bharta” (Roasted mashed Eggplants), I can never have enough of this vegetable.
As I grew older and experienced different regional Indian cuisines, I realized to my delight the many possibilities that the humble Baingan had to offer for those who were willing to take the plunge. And clearly I did not need much coaxing. It doesn’t matter what way is it cooked in; I can eat it. I love it roasted, cooked with Potatoes, fried as the delectable Bengali version of Baingan Baja, bake it as the Italian version of Eggplant Parmigiana or add it in Sambhars and Kadhis. But one of my most favorite way of making Baingan is the Maharashtrian way of making “Bharli Vangi” (Stuffed Eggplants). The Eggplants get stuffed with a Dry mixture of Coconut, Peanuts, and Sesame seeds and then cooked in a pan till they become this delicious mushy delicacy served in a lot of Marathi homes.
Sadly you need to have small baby Eggplants to make this delicious treat and in my six years of living in Australia not once did I stumble upon them. But then the food gods took pity on me, and I found them hidden away in a corner in a local vegetable store here on a recent shopping trip. I cannot even describe the amount of happiness I felt after seeing these beautiful babies. I did a happy dance right outside the store to the shock of most onlookers who did not know whether to laugh at me or take a video and post it on Youtube to poke fun at my dancing skills.
So I came home happy and excited that I would finally get to eat “Bharli Vangi.” The dish takes a little bit of preparation but lets me assure you; you will not be disappointed when you take the first bite, scooping the soft Eggplant covered in the delicious sweet and sour gravy. Trust me 2016 could not have begun on a more tasty note.
Recipe (Cooking time 60 minutes, serves 3 – 4)
For the Masala
1 cup desiccated Coconut (I used frozen coconut that I thawed)
1 tbsp Sesame seeds
1 tbsp Peanuts without their skins
One small Onion roughly chopped
Three green chilies
Two cloves of Garlic
1 tbsp freshly chopped Coriander
Salt to taste
In a pan dry roast the Coconut, Sesame seeds, and Peanuts till lightly brown. Once cooled add them in a grinder with the Onion, Green Chillies, Garlic, and Coriander. Add the Salt and a tsp or a little more water to make a smooth dry paste.
Try and avoid adding too much water.
This masala can be made a few days in advance and freezes well too. If cooking with the frozen masala ensure you thaw it completely before you stuff the Eggplants with it.
For the Eggplants
7 – 8 round Baby Eggplants
Remove the stems of the Eggplant and slit them on four sides without breaking them and soak them in salted water while you get the tempering ready.
Carefully stuff the masala that we made earlier in each Eggplant. There will be some masala left that will be added to the tempering later.
For the Tempering
One large onion finely chopped
One tsp Turmeric powder
One tsp Red chilli powder
One tsp Cumin powder
One tsp Coriander powder
Two tsp Goda Masala Or Garam masala powder (I used Goda masala for its distinctive flavor)
One tsp Cumin seeds
One tsp Mustard seeds
A pinch of Asafoetida
1 tbsp Peanut Oil or Vegetable Oil
a small ball of Jaggery (around 1 tsp)
Salt to taste
For the cooking use a thick bottomed flat pan so you can easily lay the eggplants in it without breaking them.
Heat oil in the pan and add the Cumin, Mustard seeds, Asafoetida and the Onions and fry till they become translucent.
On a medium flame add the Turmeric Powder, Red Chilli powder, Cumin powder, Coriander powder, Goda masala/Garam Masala, Salt and cook for 2 -3 minutes till the raw smell of the Onion has disappeared.
Now place the Eggplant one by one in the pan over the Onion mixture. Do not be tempted to turn them around as they will break easily.
Add 2 cups of warm water in the leftover wet masala and pour it on top of the Eggplant mixture. Add the Jaggery and cover the pan and cook the Eggplants on a slow flame.
After around 15 minutes very carefully turn the eggplants on the other side so they can cook evenly. The water will evaporate, and the masala will become thick which is the consistency we need. If you feel the masala has dried out, too much add a little hot water.
Turn off the heat once the Eggplants have thoroughly cooked and serve with fresh hot chapatis/rotis (Flatbreads).