One of the things that gets me into the kitchen every day to cook for my family is the endless possibilities for combining flavors and spices and arriving at a dish that is tailored to our palates, and nourishes and satisfies us all.
That, and the opportunity to get a bit creative and take liberties with the recipes I grew up with, as well as incorporating ingredients from cuisines of the world for a fusion infusion.
Kathrikkai, Vazhuthananga, Badhanekayi, Vankaya, Baingan... so many names for this pretty purple fruit in India.
Bhagare Baingan is a dish packed with flavor, built layer by layer, involving a multi-step process that results in the slit-and-stuffed baby Indian eggplant floating in a rich aromatic gravy.
I do take shortcuts and use substitutions on and off. Why? Well, Why not? And, because I can. And because I am curious to see if any other combination gives me just as much satisfaction.
This time, I had a cup of brewed decaf espresso roast coffee ready and wanted to see how it affected the flavor of this delightful dish that I enjoy often in its traditional form.
Also, I skip the first step of frying the slit eggplant to par-cook before simmering in the sauce, and directly simmer the eggplant in the sauce.
For the Masala Paste:
2 Tbsp roasted peanuts
2 Tbsp grated coconut
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon toasted poppy seeds
1 Tbsp cumin powder
2 Tbsp Tamarind concentrate (sold as Sour Soup Mix in Asian stores)
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 teaspoon hot chili powder
1 teaspoon canola oil
½ teaspoon salt
About 8 small baby Indian eggplants
1 cup (8 oz.) brewed decaf espresso roast coffee (or any dark, unflavored coffee, caffeinated or not)
¼ cup vegetable stock
¼ cup mirepoix - finely chopped celery, onions, garlic
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 Tbsp canola oil (or ghee, if handy)
salt to taste
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon nigella seeds
2 dry red chilies, broken to pieces
a handful of fresh curry leaves
- Masala Paste: Grind the Masala paste ingredients and keep handy
- Slit-and-Stuff Eggplant: Just like for the Indian baby eggplant curry, slit the eggplant and stuff it with the Masala paste; there will be plenty of Masala paste, so reserve the remaining for the curry sauce
- Curry Sauce: In a pan, heat some oil or ghee; add the mirepoix, saute; then add the ginger garlic paste and tomato paste, a dash of salt and saute some more; add the remaining Masala paste left over from stuffing the eggplant, saute a bit more
- Simmer: Add in the coffee, stock, stir to incorporate; and place the slit-and-stuffed eggplants in the sauce, turn the heat to low, cover and allow to simmer; turn the eggplant every 5 minutes or so to cook all sides evenly, checking to make sure the sauce is not too dry (add water as needed); turn off heat when done
- Garnish: heat oil or ghee in a small pan, when the oil shimmers, add all the ingredients listed for the Garnish finish; wait till cumin seeds pop and curry leaves turn a bit crisp; remove from heat and pour over the finished eggplant curry
- Serve with warm basmati rice or naan or roti