Saturday, October 22, 2011

For whatever reason, I've been on a huge eggplant kick lately. I don't really understand seasons in Brazil yet but I doubt they are to blame in this case (spring eggplant?). What I can tell you is that one of the best things I've made, and possibly eaten, in quite awhile is peanut-stuffed eggplant. I had bookmarked this recipe from Mark Bittman's website ages ago and it caught my attention scrolling through the other day. I've had and enjoyed stuffed okra in the past (I come down squarely on the side of people who love okra) but had never thought much about stuffing other vegetables (and oh boy do I hate stuffed peppers. This is the stuff that nightmares of vegetarian food are made of.) Perhaps peanuts don't sound like the natural choice for an eggplant stuffing, to which I say, to quote the Baltimore tourism department: BELIEVE. (Silly but not as far a reach as the slogan they had for awhile, "Baltimore: the greatest city in America". Sorry, guys, but the rest of American is going to have to politely disagree.) Slogans aside, this eggplant is luscious, delicious stuff, suitable in my opinion even for eggplant haters and vegetarian food-averse carnivores.

Another discovery that I'm quite pleased about is that one of my favorite salsa songs, a total classic, is actually a Brazilian standard. Check it out: Usted Abuso (awesome version from the late 70's-- hipsters galore)- Você Abusou (there are about a million versions from different singers, this is a well-known one). I'm no expert on musical genealogy-- I only realized way after the 90's were over (let's been honest, this year) that Coolio was riffing on Stevie Wonder. But it's still cool to figure these things out. Not so cool but definitely sobering? Studying Portuguese alongside a native Spanish speaker: as decent as my Spanish is in a day-to-day context, I can't tell you how many times Felipe understands something in Portuguese because it's an archaic word in Spanish that "no one ever uses". I can't deny that the process is pretty fascinating, though, and I love the way that our networks of knowledge networks become more and more complex, building on each other and allowing new connections to be made. Ok, I sound like a brochure for a language learning camp in Siberia. Enough is enough. I'm giving you eggplant, eggplant that lives up to it's potential (which is what happens when you believe, duh) and I'll even spare you the truly inane slogans swirling around my head. Fair? Fair.

Peanut-Stuffed Eggplant
    adapted from Ruta Kahate

1/3 c. unsalted roasted peanuts
1 Tbsp. brown sugar (or natural sugar)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. turmeric
small pinch red pepper flakes or chili pepper
1 clove garlic, smashed with the side of a knife and finely chopped
2 Tbsp. cilantro leaves, finely chopped
3 small Italian or Japanese eggplants (or 4 small Indian ones if you can find them)
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Blitz the peanuts together with the sugar, salt, turmeric and red pepper flakes in a small food processor until you have a crumbly texture. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the garlic, cilantro, and about a teaspoon of water, just to wetten the mixture a bit.
Tear the green flaps from the caps of the eggplant. Make a vertical cut, halving the eggplant but leaving the cap intact. Now rotate the eggplant 90 degrees and make another vertical cut up to the cap, leaving you with four more or less equal section that are still connected to the cap. Use your fingers to stuff the eggplant with the peanut mixture, making sure that each section has filling in it. Gently squeeze the eggplant together so that the filling stays in.
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add in the oil once it's hot. Add in the eggplants, laying them on their sides. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes, turning them frequently, just to brown them a bit. Try to be gentle when you turn them but don't worry too much about some filling spilling out (it will). Add 1/4 cup of water, cover the skillet, and turn the heat to low. Cook for 10 min., then gently turn each eggplant. Cook for another 5 to 10 min., until the eggplant is tender. Stick a knife in to check. If the pan is dry and the eggplant isn't done, add a splash of water and continue to cook, covered, until it is. Serve warm.
We ate this with a bright pink beet-bulgur pilaf, and I think it would go nicely with any rice or grain-based dish, or even roast, spiced potatoes.

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