Eggplant: exciting at last.

Bon Appegeek posts dropped in number this summer, mostly because I haven’t been doing much of that that thing you do where you take food and mix it with other food and heat it. What’s that called…oh yeah, cooking. A combination of fresh fruit, microwaved sweet corn, tomato salads, and hot temperatures killed my desire to turn on the stove. Bad enough that I keep having to turn on the oven or boil sugar syrup in my ongoing October wedding cake preparation.

Eggplant with spiced peanuts, cookedOne big exception is this spiced eggplant recipe. In past summers, eggplant always depressed me. That vibrant purple bald vegetable should give you something exciting, but it always seems to end up mushy, flavorless, and, at its worst, bitter. I’ve escaped the bitterness and tedious salting by using Japanese eggplants or baby eggplants like these from my CSA box. But despite baba ganoush, ratatouille, and eggplant parmigiana, I never pick up eggplant and think, “Ooh, Eggplant! I can’t wait to eat this!” It’s more like, “Oh, eggplant. Damn.”

Well, things have changed. Take some roasted ground peanuts, a heady dose of Indian spices, halved baby eggplant, a hot frying pan, and you have a zesty finger food you’d never think could come from the bland little eggplant. Granted, it’s the spices and peanuts that make the flavor, but the eggplant provides the perfectly silky, slightly sweet base. It’s worth heating up the kitchen for it every week.

Adapted from Raghavan Iyer’s Indian Home Cooking
Serves 2-4 as an appetizer or serves 2 as part of a meal

Eggplant with spiced peanuts, uncookedThe skin keeps the eggplant from soaking up too much oil, but you could make this with sliced larger eggplants, if you like. A non-stick pan will let you get away with a minimum of oil. I prefer the flavor of home roasted raw peanuts, but to save the most time, you can do what I do now and use natural peanut butter or, better yet, The Heat Is On peanut butter from the fabulous Peanut Butter & Co. (If you have a chance, give their Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter a try too, because, my God. I eat it straight out of the jar. Just don’t use it in this recipe.)

· 1 pound small or slender eggplants, halved
· peanut oil or other frying oil
· water
· chopped cilantro (optional)
· 1/2 cup peanuts, roasted and ground to a paste
     OR 4 Tablespoons unsweetened natural peanut butter
     OR 4 Tablespoons The Heat Is On peanut butter
· 1 Tablespoon amchoor (green mango powder)
     OR juice of 1 small lime
· 1 teaspoon ground toasted cumin seed
· 1/2 teaspoon ground toasted coriander seed
· 1/2 teaspoon table salt (cut to 1/4 if you use salted peanut butter)
· 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
· 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
· 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste, can omit if using The Heat Is On peanut butter)

1) Mix all but the first four ingredients in a small bowl. Add enough water to make a thick but spreadable paste.

2) Spread the paste onto the cut side of the eggplant halves.

3) Over medium-high heat, heat about 1 teaspoon (for a non-stick pan) or 1 Tablespoon or so of oil in a pan just large enough to hold all the eggplant halves. (It’s okay if the eggplant will be crowded, but they shouldn’t overlap too much.)

4) Carefully place the eggplant into one even layer in the pan, paste-side up. They should sizzle a bit. Cover the pan and lower the heat to medium-low.

5) Steam-fry the eggplant, covered, for about ten minutes, or until a skewer slides right into the eggplant but the eggplant still holds its shape.

6) Slide eggplant out onto a paper towel to drain. Let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro, if desired.

13 thoughts on “Eggplant: exciting at last.

  1. Oh, goodlordy, you spread it on thick!
    How cute.
    Let’s see… I’ve got seven eggplants left on the bush out there. OK, yeah. This will be one of them.

  2. I have been experimenting with eggplant this summer too and loving the little itty bitty ones….so tender and sweet. When I do come across a big one, its baba ganoush until we scream for mercy. Ok, so the 13yo screams. We can’t because our mouths are too full.

    This dip looks terrific, but hey, its got peanut butter. How can you go wrong with that??

  3. Gorgeous looking recipe. Do you think this would also work with thick slices of larger eggplant, or do you need the skin to retain structure and hold things together?

    I’m thinking your paste could have lots of different vegetable uses.

  4. Kalyn: I saw the new post, yum!

    cookiecrumb: I guess you could go lighter, but I like that ratio, it’s super tasty. Didn’t even occur to me to go with less, heh.

    Kate: I love working peanut butter into things, especially noodle.

    Shalini: Sorry, your posts were flagged as spam for some reason (what do you do in your spare time?). Thanks for the link!

    sarah: Thanks so much!

    kathryn: I have sliced some of the bigger small eggplants into thirds, and the center layer without the skin came out fine. I think that as long as you don’t overcook them, they should hold up. I think this paste would be excellent on pototoes too.

  5. I’ve never thought too much while picking up vegetables, but your photos make eggplant look beautiful (and floating) somehow. Good job.

  6. Rachael: I hope you like the recipe as much as I did!

    steamy kitchen: They float a litle in the mouth too, lol. Magically delicious.

    kazari: Well this is a good way to get hubby to eat his veggies. Hope he likes!

    Jacob: Thanks so much.

    Patricia Scarpin: It’s a fun dish to make and eat, I love it too.

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