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An eggplant (aubergine) dish that’s fit for a vegan king!

the final product: stuffed baby eggplants, bursting with a delicious filling and covered in a rich sauce

Welcome to part 3 of the garam masala six-part series! If you’ve been following this scenario you’ll know that I’ve been using different garam masalas for different foods; if you haven’t, then, if you’re curious, please click garam masala.

This week is my garam masala that goes with vegetables. No! don’t scroll down (or worse, away), I know lots of people have an issue with this cuisine. I have too. A challenge.

My biggest challenge over the years has been to create a dish for the vegetarians who come to my restaurant that not only tastes good but also looks really delicious!

Then comes another challenge, it should have no onions or garlic but still taste good and look superb!

Why no onions or garlic? Because, in keeping with the Jain tradition, onions and garlic are omitted. Plants that grow beneath the soil aren’t eaten. “Amazing!”, I hear you cry, “you can make a meal fit for a king without onions or garlic; but what about the flavour? what about….?” and on and on you’ll go, finishing off with the fact that you only ever cook using onions and garlic.

But before we start another challenge . . . it should have no dairy or milk products… instead of wondering what on earth to cook your son’s girlfriend who’s coming for dinner and who, your son absentmindedly tells you at the last minute, “Oh, and by the way mum, she’s vegan.” Try this dish!

People often think that vegetarian (not to mention vegan) meals are solely a plate of sad-looking vegetables served without  meat. How wrong they are!

Or people think vegan cuisine is some sort of faddish macrobiotic meal that you need to go to a wholefood store to buy all the ingredients you’ve never heard of, or used before, and probably never will again.

But there must be something to the vegan diet that the Jains have been eating for thousands of years! Come see.

So, here is my version of a dish called ‘stuffed eggplant’ that the French call aubergines farces and the Italians melanzane ripieni alla Calabrese. My dish is called bharleli vangi which hails from the coastal region of Maharashtra in Western India. I assure you that once you make this, and your friends eat it, the other two will become history!! Believe you me. For a single page version of this recipe, click stuffed eggplant recipe.

Step 1

What you’ll need for the filling, starting clockwise from the 12 o’clock position : salt, vegetable oil, bay leaf, ginger paste, ground turmeric, chilli powder, vegetarian garam masala, desiccated coconut, chopped tomatoes. Outside the ‘clock’: baby eggplants, chopped coriander and lemon juice"

step 2

vegetarian garam masala

step 3

set aside the bay leaves

step 4

grind all the spices (apart from the bay leaves) for approx. 15 seconds

step 5

the ground spices should have the texture of coarse sand

step 6

add 1 tablespoon salt to 1/2 litre of tepid water in a large bowl to immerse the deseeded eggplant

step 7

slice top off the eggplant

step 8

score the diameter of the circle using the tip of a sharp knife

step 9

”]step 10

scoop out the seeds until you can insert the teaspoon one inch into the eggplant’s length

step 11

in total, remove about 1 teaspoonful from each eggplant

step 12

this is how the eggplant should look after removing its seeds

step 13

place the scooped eggplants into the bowl of saltwater you prepared earlier - this will reduce the bitterness of the eggplant and prevent any discolouring of the inside

step 14, prepare the filling

add 1/2 cup of polyunsaturated vegetable oil to a hot frying pan

step 15

when the oil starts to smoke, add the two bay leaves

step 16

add 1 tablespoon of the ginger paste

step 17

fold in the ginger quickly

step 18

reduce the heat and add the turmeric and fold (note the vegetable oil base is becoming golden)

step 19

add 1 tablespoon chilli powder and fold

step 20

add the vegetarian garam masla and fold

step 21

add 11/2 cups desiccated coconut and fold

step 22

add 1 teaspoon salt

step 23

remove 1/2 mixture and set aside in a small bowl for the filling. The rest will be used to make the sauce!

step 24

add chopped coriander to the small bowl for the filling and fold

step 25

dry each eggplant using a clean tea-towel

step 26

with a small spoon, scoop up some of the filling and insert into each eggplant

step 27

place the filling into each eggplant

step 28

press down the filling firmly with the teaspoon

step 29

once stuffed, set aside the eggplant and repeat for each remaining eggplant!

step 30, cooking the stuffed eggplants

add 3 tablespoons of polyunsaturated vegetable oil to a hot frying pan

step 31

when the oil is hot, place the eggplants in the frying pan

step 32

turn the eggplants frequently to ensure each side is evenly cooked

step 33

the eggplants’ skin will change colour when it is cooked and it will become crisper

step 34

pour hot oil over the eggplants

step 35

the eggplants will soon look like this

step 36, slow cook the eggplants so that they cook on the inside

cover the frying pan to cook the eggplants on the inside

step 37

cover the frying pan and cook over low heat for ten minutes

step 38

when you remove the lid, watch out for the steam!

step 39

your eggplants will now be cooked

step 40

a close-up of the cooked filling

step 41

check that each eggplant is cooked – a knife inserted should slide through like butter

step 42, prepare the sauce,

return the frying pan with the remaining mixture added onto a medium heat and add chopped tomatoes

step43

fold in the chopped tomatoes

step 44

add any remaining filling and fold

step 45

fold until the oil comes away easily from the sides of the pan

step 46

”]step 47

fold till mixture comes to the boil

step 48

place a banana leaf on a plate

step 49

place sauce on the banana leaf

step 50

stand each eggplant in the sauce

step 51

add all the eggplants

step 52

add remaining sauce on top of the eggplants

step 53

add 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice to bring out the aroma of the dish

step 54

serve with a chappati or bread of your choice

You may also try this dish with baby cucumbers or baby courgettes instead of the baby eggplants!!

Trust me, cook it for a meat-eating friend who thinks vegan food is for rabbits. They will be amazed.

Happy cooking! And if any of you have any trouble, hints or anything you want to say about this dish, please let me know at the end of this blog! I’d particularly like to hear from our Jain cousins or our vegan friends who’ve made either this, or any other, recipes and what they’ve found good about it. I’d also be amused to hear from you meat eaters out there who would usually baulk at a vegan meal and see what you think of it. So, get cooking and typing and let the feedback (no pun intended) begin!

Next week we will do a Hyderabadi version of dum ka murgh (slow-cooked chicken) using, guess what?, yes, the poultry garam masala!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

About Ajoy Joshi

i've been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i've owned nilgiri's indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i'm on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a 'curry in a hurry'! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i'm enjoying exploring the new social media and as well as having published cookery books i'm now moving into videos. simple and easy to follow that don't go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

18 responses »

  1. Hi Ajoy – there is always food for thought in your blog articles! This time I was curious to find out more about Jainism and why it was OK to eat turmeric and ginger, but not garlic and onions. There are many different interpretations of the Jain diet of course, but it seems that in general they are allowed to eat rhizomes. It really would be a challenge if you had to leave out turmeric and ginger as well!!

    Anyway, recipe looks great and I’ll give it a try as soon as I can find some baby eggplants.

    Reply
    • Hi Alan,
      thanks for your comments and thoughts on the use of tubers and rhizomes…..
      Cooking Indian food to me is not just about the food itself but is also about the people, the region and their beliefs both cultural and religious. when it comes to Jains who number around 9 million in India, there are some very serious dos and donts, the strict Jains believe that anything that grows under the soil has living organisms and hence should not be eaten. this includes turmeric and ginger and of course onions and garlic and potatoes of all kinds. they also believe that any pulse that divides itself into two parts and eggplant and young leave before they form a seed are all prohibitted. So you see there is very little left to eat after all this is taken out of the diet. Over the years the Jains have become a little more moderate and liberal in their approach and barring some die-hard Jains most will eat everything (veg) except onions and garlic, making it easy for chefs like me to cater to them in my restaurant, especially on Sundays.

      So you are still cooking Jain food and there is nothing to worry!!!
      Happy cooking!!
      and yes remember not to use the ‘C’ word when it comes to my food!!

      Regards,
      ajoy

      Reply
  2. Everything looks so mouth wateringly beautiful! Lovely photos

    Reply
    • Hi Trina,
      thanks for your comments.
      Once you cook them they will taste good too!!
      As for the photos, you know who to thank, John, of course!!
      Happy cooking!!
      Regards,

      ajoy

      Reply
  3. grt way to present a recipe, thanks and please post more veg recipes jain or therwise , thanks
    padma

    Reply
    • Hi Padma,
      thanks for your comments.
      will have more vegetarian dishes in the weeks to come. We are planning on doing 1 recipe every month followed by a complete vegetarian menu at the end of every 6 months. How’s that!!
      Happy cooking !!
      regards,

      ajoy

      Reply
  4. Ajoy, I have now made four dishes from this blog, including this lovely dish and the sublime murgh kali mirch and paneer makhni. I love this blog, it’s like leaving the dining table and sneaking into the kitchen, which I’ve done many times in India. It is an act of great generosity on your part. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi Josephine, great to hear that you have tried the paneer and chicken recipes along with the eggplant one. It would be great to have a picture of the dishes you made sent to me as a ‘Guru Dakshina’!!

      Happy cooking!!
      regards,
      ajoy

      Reply
  5. Re: I’d also be amused to hear from you meat eaters out there who would usually baulk at a vegan meal and see what you think of it.

    K: I am Indian & vegetarian. I haven’t tried your ‘bhareli vangi’ but I have cooked ‘bhagare baingan’ (and several other Indian dishes) for the other half of my family i.e. my wife’s family who are Bulgarian. Bulgarians love meat (and the redder the better). After eating my food they would ‘promise’ they won’t eat meat again (only to break the promise). I sometimes have to persuade by wife to eat chicken/fish. As you said most of the Western world believes vegetarianism is either a fad or a healthy but unattractive option. Asian cuisine in general debunks this notion but Indian cuisine, I believe, does this more strongly than any other.

    I love your blog. I just have a request … most Indian celebrity chefs focus on ‘big’ dishes. There are so many dishes which are very simple (in preparation and taste) that are only cooked at homes and not available in restaurants (even in India). Such dishes are unique to the different regions of India and sometimes even within the region, they are specific to a community. Such dishes fascinate me. Amazingly I have discovered some of these after coming to the US of A. (Examples: the olan from Kerala or the Palakchi Takatli Bhaji from Maharashtra). I would appreciate it if you could share some such from your vast experience and knowledge.

    (I hope my long rambling elicits at least a shart response from you :)

    Reply
    • Dear K! Thank you for your interesting comment (long but not rambling at all, I enjoyed your comments!). My vegan dish was so well received and I’ve been wanting to do vegan and vegetarian dishes for some time now. I know what you mean about the “big chefs” and the “big” dishes…..I want to focus on dishes like ‘beans foogarth’ and ‘khumb makki hara dhania’, ‘dal makhani’ (what could be finer than this dish with some tempered onions?) and, of course, the dosai. These are all vegan and, of course, I’ll be doing vegetarian ones “like mom would make too” not celebrity chefs! Please tune into my blogs as once a month I’m going to focus on these sorts of dishes…I appreciate your feedback and let me know how the inlaws and etc. fared with any of my dishes you tried! Regards Ajoy

      Reply
  6. Beautiful! I wondered what that twitter message was about. This looks sumptuous.:) And I love the step by step photographs. This is for any king.:) Also like how cleanly you have cored the eggplant!

    Reply
    • Hello Harini,
      Thanks for your comments.
      Both John and I are committed on bringing out atleat 1 recipe every month that is totally vegan and hopefully do a complete vegan menu for all our vegan friends just the way we do it in my restaurant!!
      Happy cooking,
      Regards,
      Ajoy

      Reply
  7. Loved your blog which I chanced upon searching Chutneys …..your pics are good and add to the recipe as they make it easy to follow….I am now off to buy baby baigan and will surely post a pic as a Gurudakshina to you….Aashirvaad required :)

    Reply
  8. OMG, eggplant!

    Ajoy,
    My mom used to make something similar. Been years now since I’ve eaten anything she’s cooked but for a moment you transported me from the UK to India. Thank you.

    -Srini

    Reply
  9. Pingback: Bharleli Vangi (Stuffed Aubergine) | Jewish Vegetarian Society

  10. I landed on your blog today in the midst of some casual surfing. Within an hour, I’m in love with it :) Great job Ajoy! Love the photos accompanying the recipe because frankly, it’s a good guide to ensure we’re not under or overcooking any dish!

    Would love to see some more marathi cuisine on your blog!

    Reply

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