Whether you call it eggplant, aubergine, brinjal or melanzane, the polished purple-skinned vegetable speaks in one distinct accent when it comes to baking.
It retains its skin intact and creamy texture. And that's something that the Americans, Brits, French, South Asians and Italians can all agree on.
For a simple baked dish, cut the vegetables (which is botanically a fruit because it has seeds) lengthwise in half-inch slices. Then brush them with olive oil and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake the eggplants at 350 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes, and they are ready to be eaten as is or can be combined with garlicky yogurt served as a dip.
Before the bulbous mini eggplants disappear for the season, wow your family by filling them with vegetable goodness and baking them.
First scoop out the meaty pulp. Then fill the eggplants with vegetables that are toothsomely cooked and combined with bechamel sauce, along with the scooped-out pulp. Sprinkle some panko breadcrumbs on top to give them a slight crunch. Finally, garnish with mini sweet peppers, cut lengthwise in half, to give the dish another layer of color and deliciousness.
I improvised on a recipe I got for baked eggplants from my mother, and it got me thinking about the time when I used to go vegetable shopping to the open-air markets with her in India, where eggplants are called brinjals.
She would first check with the vendor if the small purple brinjals were freshly picked. Then she would select each one individually to make sure it was firm but at the same time not hard as stone because that meant the brinjal was not over the hill and in turn did not have too many seeds and wouldn't be bitter. She would also look for ones that had green calyx caps and didn't have any brown soft spots.
But the brinjal shopping didn't end there. There was always the bargaining to be done. The vendor would quote a price, and my mom would counter-quote one that was a couple of rupees lower. If the vendor didn't budge, she would threaten to leave. The vendor would then drop the price by a rupee, adding how he would never overcharge his loyal customers, and throw in two more brinjals into the bag. It would satisfy my mother, and we would head out with a kilo of them.
Today, I follow my mom's lead when it comes to buying eggplants and make sure they are firm, have glossy skins and fresh green collars and no wrinkles. But I don't bargain, ever, because I simply don't have the knack for it.
Stuffed Mini Eggplants
For the filling
6 cabbage leaves, finely shredded
1 large carrot, julienned
Handful of green beans, finely cut
5 mini eggplants
5 teaspoons vegetable oil
Salt to taste, divided
Freshly ground black pepper, divided
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
For bechamel sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
5 mini peppers, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons peas
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Microwave cabbage, carrot and beans for about 5 minutes or until tender.
Cut eggplants lengthwise into half, scoop out the pulp. Brush outside and inside of eggplants with oil. Set aside.
Add eggplant pulp to the vegetables and then season lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside.
For bechamel sauce: Heat butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Once butter melts, add the shallot, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes.
Stir in flour, and stir for about 3 minutes until smooth. Whisk in milk and stir. Add salt and pepper, and keep stirring until sauce thickens and loses its raw flour taste.
Combine bechamel sauce and vegetables and gently mix together.
Fill eggplants with vegetable mixture. Top with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.
Arrange eggplants in a baking tray lined with foil and bake for 25 minutes or until is tender and the top is golden brown.
Garnish with peppers and dot with peas.
— Suganthi Subramaniam