I bought some baby eggplants last week and spent several days agonizing over what to do with them. I wanted to keep them whole because to me it totally defeats the point of having little eggplants if you chop them up into pieces that could be any old eggplant.
If you’re not familiar with baby eggplants, this is the size I’m talking about, using my medium-sized hand as a reference:
See what I mean? Isn’t that cute?
I also didn’t want to cut them in half and stuff them or hollow them out from the side or top. I was getting picky about how I wanted to prepare them, but time was running out, and they wouldn’t be good forever.
So I decided on a recipe, Nupur’s wonderful-looking Vaangi Bhaat. I liked how the eggplants were cut partially into quarters and stuffed and cooked on top of rice. Though I didn’t have the fresh coconut the recipe called for, I figured I’d make do with dried. So I printed out the recipe, brought it into the kitchen, put it into my nifty refrigerator door cookbook holder, and . . . stared at it. I got out the rice and eggplants and stared at the recipe some more. I don’t know why, but some devilish impulse was telling me to steal borrow Nupur’s cooking technique and go my own way with it. Something was telling me that these baby eggplants wanted to be cooked Louisiana-style. So this what I did:
Stuffed Eggplants and Not-So-Dirty Rice
Dirty rice is a Louisiana dish that’s called “dirty” because it has all sorts of gizzards, innards, and nasty animal parts in it. Since this rice doesn’t use those critters, I’m calling it Not-So-Dirty. It may not be dirty, but it is roll-on-the floor-in-ecstasy good. If you don’t have the time to make the whole dish, just make the rice (you can add your Gimme Lean or cooked lentils directly to it and cook for about 50 minutes). Add some baked or pan-fried tofu and a vegetable or two, and you’ve got yourself a meal!
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 tsp. garlic, minced
1 cup long-grain brown rice
2 1/2 cups broth (I used No-Chicken broth by Imagine Foods)
1 tsp. rubbed thyme
1/4 tsp. rubbed sage
1/4 tsp. cayenne or chipotle chili powder
1/8 tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. dried parsley (or 4 tbsp. chopped, fresh)
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt (optional)
1/4 tsp. Liquid Smoke seasoning (optional)
1 med. onion, minced
1/2 green, red, or yellow bell pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 pkg. Gimme Lean hamburger style*
1/4 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce
10 small eggplants
*I don’t usually use fake meat, but I thought it was right for this dish. Gimme Lean is a soy-based faux meat product available in the U.S. If you can’t get it (or don’t want to) you can use 3/4 cup of TVP (textured vegetable protein) rehydrated in hot water or 1 cup of cooked brown lentils.
Spray a large, non-stick Dutch oven with a tiny bit of olive oil. Set it on medium-high heat, and when the pot is hot, add the onions. Cook, stirring, until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the peppers and celery and cook until the onions are becoming uniformly brown, about 5 more minutes. Add the rice and garlic, and cook for 2 more minutes.
Add the rest of the dirty rice ingredients, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat. Cover tightly and cook on low for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove from the heat and wait until you’re ready to add the stuffed eggplants.
While the rice is cooking, heat a non-stick skillet and sauté the onion, pepper, and garlic for the stuffing for about 3 minutes. Add the Gimme Lean and mash it as it cooks (I use a plastic potato masher in my non-stick skillet). Add the remaining ingredients and cook until the Gimme Lean is brown. (If you’re using lentils or TVP, cook until it’s hot throughout.) Remove from heat and allow to cool as you cut the eggplants.
Take each eggplant and cut off the stem end. Stand it on its uncut end, and make two cuts in a X-pattern down through the eggplant, stopping about 1/4-inch from the bottom. Be careful not to cut all the way through. If you like, you may lightly salt the inside of each eggplant.
When the eggplants are cut, use a spoon to stuff the Gimme Lean mixture into each one. When stuffed, they should look like this:
(Yes, I did pause in the middle of cooking to take my stuffed eggplant outside for a photo op!)
Carefully set each stuffed eggplant on a plate until they’re all stuffed. Then remove the lid from the rice, scrape any leftover stuffing into the rice pot, and lightly place the eggplants on top (do this quickly and by all means don’t do anything silly like stop to take a photo!) Here’s how they look in the pot:
Pour 1/2 cup of water carefully around the edges of the rice, and replace the lid. Return to the heat, raising it to medium-low, and cook until the rice is done and the eggplants are tender (about 40 more minutes). Check halfway through cooking to make sure there is some water left in pan; if not, add 1/4 cup more.
Serve the eggplants on top of the rice and enjoy! Believe me, they’re delicious. I heard my husband utter the word “sublime” between bites. The eggplant gets soft and creamy and the rice is well-seasoned without being spicy hot.
Preparation time: 30 minute(s) | Cooking time: 70 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 5
Nutrition (per serving): 247 calories, 14 calories from fat, 1.6g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 952.4mg sodium, 837.7mg potassium, 48.6g carbohydrates, 9g fiber, 6.5g sugar, 10.7g protein, 6.9 points.
Nutrition, Dirty Rice alone (per serving): 168 calories, 11 calories from fat, 1.3g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 714mg sodium, 246.8mg potassium, 35g carbohydrates, 2.9g fiber, 2.9g sugar, 4.3g protein, 4.6 points.
Thanks, Nupur, for giving me the idea. I’m still looking forward to making the Vaangi Bhaat, just as soon as I get some more little eggplants and some coconut.