Stuffing baby vegetables with spicy, nutty masala can be a beautiful thing. It’s nothing new, Gujaratis have been popping a tray of them onto their dinner party tables for years. Stuffed vegetables are, and always have been the ultimate show-off dish – the more extensive the variety of veggies you manage to wangle into the dish, the more fabulous you are.
I remember when I was little it was just aubergines, potatoes and onions in our family kitchen. As I grew, we became more and more adventurous with what we put in; it all began with bananas (my granddad used to add these back in Mombasa), then we added peas to the sauce, stuffed baby courgettes, okra, paneer (you didn’t really think I’d miss that one out did you?) and no matter what it was, it still tasted amazing. Go ahead, be fabulous and experiment with your stuffed veggie curry.
Today I’m downsizing. Not because I can’t be bothered, but because I know these fresh baby aubergines I got from the market (no lie, I actually went to a market) can hold their own against the aromatic masala stuffing.
To tell you the truth I used to hate aubergines. I thought they were slimy and seedy and as a child, I wanted nothing more than to hide them under my brother’s mattress for the time he put Cherry Tunes in my hair whilst I was asleep.
The great aubergine loophole
A couple of years ago I realised that the only reason I didn’t like aubergines was because of the seeds. Then I found out about the great aubergine loophole.
To cut a long story short, like almost every beautiful living thing in the world, aubergines are either male or female. Females, being their wonderful selves, contain lots of bitter eggs to help create more diddy aubergines whilst warding off any predators, which is what makes them less delicious – but not any less beautiful!
To tell the difference between male and female aubergines, take a look at the shape. Usually females are rounder. So next time you’re shopping, keep your eyes peeled for skinnier aubergines, the shinier the better.
With baby aubergines it’s much harder to tell between male and female but take your time and pick carefully – it makes all the difference to your finished dish.
12-15 baby aubergines
For the peanut stuffing:
110g redskin peanuts (I don’t bother removing the skins)
2 tbsp gram flour, toasted in a non-stick pan until aromatic
1 tbsp ground coriander seeds
1 tbsp ground cumin seeds
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp ginger, grated
½ tsp red chilli powder
Handful fresh coriander, chopped finely
1 tbsp concentrated tomato paste
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
3 tbsp sunflower oil
1/8 tsp bicarbonate of soda
For the tomato sauce:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp asafoetida
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
5-6 curry leaves
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp red chilli powder
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp sugar
1. Combine all of the ingredients for the stuffing except for the oil in a blender. Pulse 5-10 times until roughly ground. Place in a glass bowl.
2. Heat three tablespoons of oil in a small saucepan until hot and shimmering. Slowly and carefully pour the oil onto the peanut mix and combine. Set aside to cool.
3. Trim the tops of the aubergines. I like to leave a little stalk for pretty presentation. Slit the aubergines crosswise from the bottom, almost all the way through – leave the stalk area uncut. Stuff each aubergine with the peanut masala – don’t be afraid to use clean hands to do this; just get right in there. You should have a little bit of the stuffing left over – keep it aside.
4. Place the aubergines in single rows in a microwave and oven-safe dish. Cover the dish with cling film (plastic wrap) and make a hole in the top. Microwave on full power for seven minutes. Remove the cling film and allow to cool.
5. Meanwhile, to make the sauce, heat one tablespoon of oil in a non-stick pan. Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to pop. Add the cumin seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves, tomatoes and then the rest of the ingredients. Allow to simmer for a few minutes. When bubbling, add the leftover stuffing mix and combine.
6. Pour the sauce over the aubergines and bake in a preheated oven at 190°C for 35 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven and garnish with fresh coriander.