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October 31, 2009

Indian-Spiced Stuffed Eggplants with Paneer



















For some unknown reason I have limited success with eggplant (well, limited experience for that matter), and usually that success is with red sauce Italian dishes. I find eggplant to be the loveliest addition to Indian and Thai curry dishes, but the handful of times I've tried this at home the eggplant usually doesn't turn out right. Eggplant-dishes-gone-awry are usually due to an unappealing consistency, whether it be too soft and mushy, or the skin remaining too tough and chewy. (Anyone else out there, or is it just me?) I was so excited to try making stuffed eggplants, seemed simple enough, but then about 20 minutes into the process of making them I felt that another disappointment was on the way. I had the urge to dump these into the garbage rather than continue on. Ultimately I fought that urge, but I did start making a pot of soup on the side as a backup. 

My adaptation was inspired by The Purple Foodie, a blogger from Mumbai. Based on my much different experience I suspect that she was working with a different variety of eggplant. The first step in this recipe is to halve and bake 2 eggplants for 20 minutes, and then scoop the flesh out. I baked mine for 40 minutes and the flesh was still not scooping out easily. I resolved to slice gently around the edge and make crosswise slits (meanwhile being careful not to puncture the skin) to loosen up the flesh enough for me to scoop it out. Then after scooping she recommends mashing the flesh with a fork. This, too, wasn't cutting it, so I gave the flesh 7 or 8 pulses in the food processor, which ended up working great. I am sure that her eggplants were much smaller also because of the amount of spice used, I ended up doubling the spices and adding a few more (as listed below). My eggplants were about 9 inches in length, but I'd recommend looking for smaller ones, in the 6"-7" range.

In the end this dish was wonderful, but it didn't come without some frustration. On the upside, this was my first time working with paneer, which was exciting. I do expect that I'll be making some saag paneer soon (my fave!) to use up the leftovers.

Indian-Spiced Stuffed Eggplants
(Adapted from The Purple Foodie)

2 eggplants (about 6"-7" in length)
Olive oil (for sprinkling)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground red chilli powder
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 medium ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup paneer, crumbled (or substitute ricotta)
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 vegetarian sausage patties, thawed and chopped
1 egg, beaten
Extra fresh cilantro, chopped (for sprinkling)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Halve the eggplant lengthwise. Place them in the baking dish, cut sides up. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste. Bake for 30 minutes or until tender.
Scoop out the eggplant flesh with a spoon and mash it gently with a fork (or if it's a little tough still use the food processor like I did).
In a skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. When it is hot, add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, ginger and chopped garlic to it. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 2 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes.
Stir in the eggplant flesh. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes or until the mixture is pulpy and well flavored. Discard the bay leaf.
Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Stir the paneer, parmesan, cilantro, vegetarian sausage, salt, and pepper into the eggplant mixture. Once the mixture is little cool, stir in the beaten egg. Fill the eggplant shells back with the stuffing. Reserve some of the parmesan for later.
Return the shells to the baking dish. Sprinkle with olive oil. Bake the eggplant for 30-40 minutes or until the shells are tender when pierced with a skewer. During the last 10 minutes of baking, sprinkle the reserved parmesan on top.

8 comments:

  1. that looks so good...i love paneer but i have never cooked anything with it.

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  2. I love eggplants but rarely cook them, so I love this idea! It seems simple enough to veganize... :)

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  3. baking whole eggplants for 20 minutes doesn't sound like a lot of time to me - I recently roasted some diced eggplant for about 45 minutes to get it really soft

    I understand your frustration with getting eggplants right - they are either good or bad there is no in between - I have a baked eggplant recipe where the eggplants are boiled or steamed for 7-10 minutes before stuffing and baking - perhaps if you try some other recipes you will find a way to do eggplants that you feel comfortable with

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  4. Thanks for the tips Johanna! I love the boiling/steaming idea before baking, I'll have to give that a go next time. Good thing I love these little guys or I'd have given up on them long ago.

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  5. Meat-eating dreams - I love it! I haven't had any of those that I remember (I've been veg for 23 years, so maybe it happened at the beginning). I do have smoking dreams and I quit 9.5 years ago. I love the look of theses meatballs! I'm sure they are delicious!

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  6. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment on my blog. Your recipes are lovely indeed. And paneer is my favorite!

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  7. I adore eggplant and had similar issues that you describe. I was veg for 15 years and some things I've learned is to cut the eggplant in half (the big, purple Italian globe ones) and then you can roast them for 30-40 minutes. As to the Thai or chinese recipes, they probably use Japanese eggplants, the long skinny ones, that cook up much faster (and you cook them with the skins on so they retain their shape better. If you ever come across green eggplant (they're about the size of golf balls!) they're what are most usually used in Thai dishes and work really well! I'll have to try this version, never did that one yet!

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  8. I have become such a huge fan of eggplant... this recipe sounds delicious!

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