Priyanka Naik’s Baby Eggplants in Peanut-Basil Sauce

published Jun 7, 2021
Eat More Plants
Baby Eggplants in Peanut-Basil Sauce

This flavor-packed stuffed eggplant becomes a satisfying meal when served with rice, naan, or roti, which also helps soak up all the delicious sauce.

Serves2

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eggplant on pita covered in sauce
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Alex Brannian; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

This story is part of Eat More Plants, Kitchn’s June 2021 special issue devoted to putting the flavor and magic of plants at the heart of your plate. 

This recipe was inspired by a very traditional Indian dish and my travel experiences. You’ll find a variation of Badanekai Tumbida, or stuffed eggplant, in a lot of Indian households (including mine), mainly from Maharashtra and South India. The stuffing is generally a mix of sautéed onions, garlic, peanuts, and a lot of different spices. You make an x-shaped cut in the rounded end of the eggplant, stuff it, then flash sear the eggplants in a hot pan. Then you make the sauce — we call it a chatta or gravy — and put the eggplant back in to slowly simmer. The dish is garnished with a lot of fresh coriander and some fresh lemon juice.

When I went to Australia, I had a very similar dish at Chin Chin, a restaurant in Sydney with a menu that’s inspired by the food of India, Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia. Instead of fresh coriander, the restaurant used Thai basil and coconut. It was such a good example of the cross-pollination of South Asian cooking.

For my cookbook, I created this recipe, which combines the classic Indian dish that my mom makes and the dish I had in Australia for my personal variation on this delicious dish.



Credit: Photo: Christine Han; Wardrobe Styling: Roberto Johnson; Hair & Makeup: Timothy MacKay

Priyanka Naik’s Vision for Vegan Food Is Colorful, Global, and Zero-Waste
Read our interview with Priyanka on her inspiration and vision for vegan cooking that is high-flavor, maximum color, and zero-waste.

Baby Eggplants in Peanut-Basil Sauce

This flavor-packed stuffed eggplant becomes a satisfying meal when served with rice, naan, or roti, which also helps soak up all the delicious sauce.

Serves 2

Ingredients

For the eggplant:

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 2

    serrano peppers

  • 1

    (1-inch) piece fresh ginger

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 3 tablespoons

    unsalted dry-roasted peanuts

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    fennel seeds

  • 2 tablespoons

    neutral oil, such as canola, divided

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    turmeric powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 to 4 tablespoons

    water

  • 6

    baby eggplants

For the sauce and serving:

  • 1 tablespoon

    neutral oil, plus more for shallow frying

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    coriander seeds

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    fennel seeds

  • 1/2 cup

    smooth, unsalted natural peanut butter

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground turmeric

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    red chili powder, such as Swad

  • 1 cup

    water, plus more as needed

  • 1 teaspoon

    jaggery or light agave syrup

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Juice from 1/4 medium lemon

  • 5 sprigs

    fresh Thai basil

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsweetened coconut cream

  • Cooked rice, naan, or roti, for serving

Instructions

  1. Prepare the following, placing them all in the same medium bowl: Dice 1 medium yellow onion. Trim and halve mince 2 serrano peppers lengthwise. Cut out and remove the seeds and membranes, then finely chop the peppers. Peel and finely chop a 1-inch piece ginger (about 1 tablespoon). Finely chop 2 garlic cloves.

  2. Coarsely grind 3 tablespoons unsalted dry-roasted peanuts in a mortar or pestle or spice grinder. Transfer to a small bowl. Coarsely grind 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds and 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds together.

  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the neutral oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the fennel and coriander and sauté until fragrant and the spices start popping, about 30 seconds. Add the onion mixture and sauté until the onion is translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook until the onion is softened but not browned, 3 to 4 minutes.

  4. Add the ground peanuts and mix until well combined. Add 2 tablespoons water and stir to combine. The mixture should be thick and almost like a paste, not runny, but add more water a tablespoon at a time as needed. Cook until very soft, 2 to 4 minutes. Taste and season with more kosher salt if needed. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Reserve the skillet.

  5. Prepare 6 baby eggplants for stuffing. Using a sharp paring knife, make four slits in the bottom of each eggplant, going about halfway up the eggplant, to create an “X.” Using your fingers, gently stuff about half the filling into the eggplants. Reserve the remaining filling.

  6. Wipe out the skillet with a wet paper towel. Place the skillet over high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon neutral oil and the stuffed eggplants. Sear until darkened, blistered, and knife tender, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer to a clean plate.

Make the sauce and fry the basil:

  1. Wipe out the skillet. Heat 1 tablespoon neutral oil in the skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds and 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the reserved eggplant stuffing and sauté for about 2 minutes.

  2. Add 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, and 1/4 teaspoon chili powder. Stir to combine and cook 1 minute. Add 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon jaggery, a pinch of kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until thickened into a saucy consistency, adding more water a tablespoon at a time as needed. The consistency should be smooth with some texture. Remove from the heat. Squeeze in the juice from 1/4 lemon. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

  3. Pick the leaves from 3 of the Thai basil sprigs and coarsely chop. Add the eggplant to the sauce and stir to combine. Nestle the stuffed eggplants into the sauce. Cover and simmer over low heat until the eggplants are fork tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fry the basil.

  4. Add enough neutral oil to a small saucepan to come 1-inch up the sides. Heat over medium-high heat until it has ripples and is shimmering. Meanwhile, pick the leaves from the remaining 2 Thai basil sprigs. Pat them dry with paper towels. Line a small plate with paper towels.

  5. Add the basil to the hot oil, reduce the heat to medium, and fry the basil until darkened and crisp, about 30 seconds on each side. Transfer to the paper towel–lined plate and immediately sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt.

  6. When the eggplants are ready, drizzle with 2 tablespoons coconut cream and top with the fried basil leaves. Serve over rice or with naan or roti.

Recipe Notes

Choosing the right eggplants: It's important to use small or baby eggplants in this recipe. They are commonly sold at Indian, Thai, or Asian markets. Look for eggplants about the size of a golf ball.

Adapted from THE MODERN TIFFIN: On-the-Go Vegan Dishes with a Global Flair by Priyanka Naik. Copyright © 2021 Simon & Schuster, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Tiller Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Follow Priyanka on Instagram and on TikTok. You can find her blog here and preorder her first cookbook, The Modern Tiffin: On-the-Go Vegan Dishes with a Global Flair (November 2).