Every summer, I look forward to seeing local eggplant hit the farmers’ markets and green grocers. From tiny bitter globe eggplants in Thai curry, to thin-cut slices charred just around the edges on the grill, eggplant reminds me of long sweet summers.
So, I’ve always been surprised by its fussy reputation. That you need to salt and rinse it before you cook it (true, if it’s a bit old and you’re serving it relatively plain), that it cooks to mush or not at all (alright, you do have to watch it), or that it will explode all over your oven (actually, I’ve done this as well). Whatever. Stuffed eggplant is a favourite of mine, and I created this recipe after ordering them in restaurants all over India. With a whisper of fennel and cinnamon, a bit of heat, and smoky with cumin—this recipe takes all of the guesswork out of it. Grab one stonking large, two medium, or four small eggplants of any variety, and give it a go.
I won’t lie. Stuffed eggplant dishes do take some work—but one of the best things about this dish is that all the effort is front-loaded. Twenty minutes of manic activity, and then the oven does the rest. This makes it perfect for dinner parties, as you can get onto cooking another curry while it bakes—or just crack open your bottle of wine.
Kala Chana Baingan | Eggplant Stuffed with Black ChickpeasPrint Recipe
- For the Eggplants
- 1" ginger
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 onion
- 1 handful (~1/2 cup) greens (methi, chard, rocket, spinach, whatever you fancy/have)
- 1/2" fresh or 1/2 t dried turmeric (haldi)
- 1/4 t fennel
- 1 t cumin
- 1 t coriander
- 1 t garam masala
- 1 t cayenne/ground chilli
- 1.5 t salt
- 1 T peanut unsweetened peanut butter, or 1 heaping teaspoon of peanuts
- 1 T oil
- 1 can kala channa (or ~3/4 cup dried, soaked, and cooked)
- 1 large, 2 medium, or 4 small eggplants/aubergines
- For the Gravy
- 1 T oil
- 1 T tomato paste
- pinch cinnamon
- 1 T tamarind paste / 1/4 c tamarind water
- 1/2 jar passata or a tin of tomatoes
- 1 T soy yogurt (optional)
Wash eggplants thoroughly. Preheat oven to 180ºC or 375ºF
Toss ginger, garlic, and turmeric into a food processor and pulse (or chop finely)
Add onion and greens, and pulse again (or chop finely)
Add spices, peanut butter and oil and process until a paste is formed (or crush in a large mortar & pestle)
Depending on your confidence in your food processor, add drained kala chana and pulse slightly, the goal is to have them finely chopped, but not to dissolve into hummus, as some texture is nice in the final dish. Alternately, as I do, scoop out the paste into a bowl, then chop up the chickpeas and recombine them.
Slice the eggplants from base to stem, stopping just as the knife hits the stem so that the eggplant is halved, but the halves remain attached. Then halve them again in the other direction. (You should have four eggplant tendrils attached at the stem at the end of this process).
Cram as much of the filling into the gaps in the eggplants as you can. To avoid staining your hands, you can either oil them, and then wash; or wear gloves. I use a small coffee spoon to start, using it to wedge the halves apart as I go, and fill one side of each eggplant first, then do the other direction, but whatever floats your boat. There is no way to do this without some mess.
in a baking dish or a dutch oven, combine the ingredients of the sauce. I like to use a dutch oven, and over heat warm the oil, add the cinnamon, then sauté the tomato paste a bit as I feel like this lifts the flavour. But it's probably psychosomatic.
Finally, lay the eggplants in the pan over the sauce, dotting in any additional stuffing mix around the eggplants. Add water very gently so that the eggplants are at least halfway submerged.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes, turning the eggplants halfway through. The tines of a fork should slide through them with almost no resistance when they are done. I cover them for the first half, and then leave them uncovered for the last half to allow the gravy to thicken.
Kala chana (black chickpeas), have a slightly firmer texture and lovely colour that work well in this dish, but regular chickpeas do in a pinch). If you fancy a little extra nutrition and colour, toss some peas or fava beans in your gravy.