When I think of stuffed foods, one thing jumps to mind: chicken kiev. Possibly this is because, down in the cooking school pantry I watched the purchasing guy butterfly, stuff, and bread a chicken breast, kiev style, creating a giant, crumby, eggy mess I was forced to clean up. Naturally, as with most of the generally dreadful stuff we made there, I was compelled to taste: greasy, oozing with cheese, it provoked a sense of total wonder as to how that dish attained any degree of popularity.
The fact is, we like to stuff food; it appeals to a primal sense of grandeur, highbrow and lowbrow. To spoon read-based stuffing inside a turkey or inject a pork loin with prunes, is seductively elaborate. Not to mention tie a turkey around a duck-stuffed-stuffed-chicken, a dish on the edge of lowbrow stuffing i.e. grotesque excess, something at which we excel, to wit, the Domino’s stuffed pizza crust.
The logical thing to do would be to cook the “stuffing” and the “stuffed” separately, thereby saving you the sweat and tears of, say, deboning a small animal. Indian cooks, on the other hand, have an intuitive understanding of the art of stuffing; and we should turn to them for guidance.
Indian food is based on transformation through spice. The humblest of items-cauliflower, potatoes, string beans, okra, eggplant, dried beans and grains-are merged with a library of spices and dished out in spoonfuls of deliciousness. It makes sense that they grasp the purpose of stuffing food: rather than to satisfy our aforementioned needs, it’s all about the food, and elevating ingredients through spice.
As the tiny eggplants, stuffed with a mixture of ground nuts and spices, cook in the pan, their soft, hot interiors melt and absorb the fragrant mixture. Take the stuffed chicken breast; it’s an insipid, uninspired kitchen exercise. The inside has no relation the outside. You may as well make, say, a grilled chicken breast sandwich with cheese.
In the case of a chicken stuffed with livers and gizzards, on the other hand, there’s an organic connection between the parties. Same goes for this spiced eggplant: the two become one. As it should be.
(NOTE: you can use small Japanese eggplants. There’s enough stuffing for 4-6. We got these little ones at the local Thai grocer.)
Pan-Fried Baby Eggplant Stuffed w/ Ground Almonds (from The Art of Indian Veg Cooking)
12 baby white/green/purple eggplant, 2 oz. each
3 tablespoons ground almonds
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon amchoor powder or ½ tablespoon lime juice
¼ teaspoon asafetida
½ tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons veg oil
2 coin-sized slices peeled ginger root
handful of chopped cilantro
- Almost halve the eggplants from rounded end to ½ inch of stem. Soak 10 minutes in cold water to help them open up. Dry.
- Combine almonds, spices, and salt. Stuff the eggplants with as much as possible until you’ve run out. Tie closed with a piece of kitchen string.
- Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. When hot, add eggplants and cook, browning, about 8 minutes. Cover and cook through, about 20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro.