On one of my trips along the west coast of India, I stumbled upon a Saturday Market' in the middle of nowhere, flanked on one side by the pretty Konkan coast and on the other by impossibly lush paddy fields. Here, miles away from the nearest village, was a slew of vibrant greens, loud yellows, crazy purples and every imaginable color the vegetable world could think of, set against a background of brick-red earth.
The produce rested plump and patient on straw mats, manned by farmers and their wives who apparently travel there every fortnight from far-flung villages to sell their harvest. It was in this vibrant chaos that I discovered how many beautiful versions an eggplant can have.
I counted about six, including an ivory variety that turned the whole notion of eggplant equaling purple on its head. It was like looking at nature's shade card of white to violet.
Each type of eggplant has its own unique character and consequently its own style of preparation. The fuller, dark purple ones are roasted, the longer lavender ones are sliced and fried and the small black ones become tiny morsels bursting with the flavors of stuffed spices. And after seeing the many types that solitary Saturday Market had to offer, the possibilities seem endless.
The Dry Masala Stuffed Eggplant is a simple recipe from North India that brings out the distinct flavor of the vegetable even through the spices that are encased in it.
Each time I eat or cook an eggplant dish, I am reminded of the furrowed, hardy farmer's hands at that market. And which gradation of nature's purple palette I have ticked off for the day.
- 6 baby Italian eggplants
- 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/2 teaspoon amchoor powder (dried mango powder)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil divided
- Kosher salt
Slit eggplants lengthwise into quarters, taking care not to cut all the way through. The stem should still hold the entire vegetable together. In a small mixing bowl, combine red chilli powder, turmeric powder, cumin powder, amchoor powder (dried mango powder), and 1 tablespoon oil into a paste. Season to taste with salt.
Gently open each eggplant, spoon 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the paste (depending on the size of the eggplant) into each and spread with your fingers until it lightly coats the inside. Heat remaining oil in large heavy bottomed saucepan on high heat until shimmering. Carefully slide eggplants into oil. Stand back while doing this. Wait 20 seconds until one side is lightly fried. Gently turn each eggplant over to lightly fry the other side. Wait 20 seconds. Turn heat down to medium and cover. Allow to cook until completely tender, about 12 minutes total, opening once to turn eggplants over. Remove from heat, drain excess oil on a paper towel, and season with salt to taste. Serve hot with rotis (Indian bread) or with white rice and daal (lentil soup).
12-inch heavy-bottomed (lidded) saucepan, 1 small mixing bowl.