Whenever I’m in New Orleans, there’s one thing I have to do. Is it visit the French Quarter? Eat a vegan Muffaletta? Catch a jazz performance? No, though those are all high on my “love to do” list, the one thing I have to do is visit the Hong Kong Market. It’s a huge Asian supermarket, probably bigger than all the Asian markets in Mississippi combined, and it’s the only place where I can find produce like purple yams, long bok choy, and Thai eggplants. I always bring an empty ice chest just for transporting these delicacies back home.
Since I first tried Thai Eggplants, I’ve been wanting to go back for more. And though this batch wasn’t quite as fresh as the last, I was still happy to get them. I’d hoped to be able to pick up some small purple eggplants and long Japanese ones, but they were all in very bad shape. So I consider myself lucky to have found these at all.
Once I got them home I decided to ignore the fact that they are Thai eggplants and treat them like Indian ones. This recipe is sort of a shortcut version of Bagara Baingan, perhaps my favorite Indian eggplant dish. It’s traditional to roast and grind your own peanuts for Bagara Baingan, but I took the easy way out and used peanut butter. I also didn’t stuff my tiny eggplants with the masala paste; instead, I cut them into quarters and simmered them in the rich peanut-sesame-coconut sauce until they were tender. I threw in a handful of chickpeas just to add a little protein and served it over rice. What can I say? This is one of those times when words fail and I wish computers had “Taste-O-Vision.” If you like Indian food, put this on your “Must Try” list! Note: if you don’t have Thai eggplants, any old eggplant will do.
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 small tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 teaspoons ginger paste (or 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon red chilli pepper or cayenne (or to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon cloves
- 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate (or substitute 1 tsp. lemon juice and 1/2 tsp. agave nectar or sugar)
- 2 tablespoons coconut (dried, fresh, or frozen)
- 1/2 tablespoon agave nectar or sugar or 1 small, pitted date
- 10-12 small Thai or Indian Eggplants (or use one large eggplant)
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas
- salt to taste
- In a dry, non-stick skillet, toast the coriander, cumin, and sesame seeds until the sesame seeds begin to turn golden, about 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Remove from pan and let cool for a minute. Then transfer to a blender and grind to a paste. Keep the paste in the blender.
- Add the onions to the pan and cook until they begin to brown. Transfer to the blender and add all remaining ingredients except the eggplant, chickpeas, and salt. Puree to a smooth paste.
- Remove the stems of the eggplants and cut them into quarters. (If you’re using small purple eggplants, you may choose to leave the stem attached and cut a deep cross up through the bottom of each eggplant; if you’re using a regular eggplant, cut it into 1-inch cubes.)
- Return the pan to the heat and add the eggplants. Cook, stirring, until they begin to brown on the outside, adding water by the tablespoon if needed to keep them from sticking.
- Add the spice paste, the chickpeas, and 1/2 cup of water. Stir well, add salt to taste, and cover. Simmer, adding more water if the sauce seems too thick, until the eggplants are tender. (The time will vary depending on the eggplants you use, but count on at least 15 minutes.) Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro, if desired, and serve over rice.