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Whether you call it eggplant, aubergine, brinjal or melanzane, the polished purple-skinned vegetable speaks in one distinct accent when it comes to baking.

It retains its skin intact and creamy texture. And that’s something that the Americans, Brits, French, South Asians and Italians can all agree on.

For a simple baked dish, cut eggplant (which is botanically a fruit because it has seeds) lengthwise in half-inch slices. Then brush the slices with olive oil and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake the eggplants at 350 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes, and they are ready to be eaten as-is or can be combined with garlicky yogurt served as a dip.

Before the bulbous mini eggplants disappear for the season, wow your family by filling them with vegetables and baking.

First scoop out the meaty pulp. Then fill the eggplants with vegetables that are toothsomely cooked and combined with bechamel sauce, along with the scooped-out pulp. Sprinkle some panko breadcrumbs on top to give them a slight crunch. Finally, garnish with mini sweet peppers, cut lengthwise in half, to give the dish another layer of color and deliciousness.

I improvised on a recipe from my mother, and it got me thinking about when I used to go vegetable shopping to the open-air markets with her in India, where eggplants are called brinjals.

She first checked with the vendor to find out whether the small purple brinjals were freshly picked. Then she selected each one individually to make sure it was firm but not hard as stone, because that meant the brinjal was not over the hill and in turn did not have too many seeds and wouldn’t be bitter. She also looked for ones that had green calyx caps and didn’t have any brown soft spots.

But the brinjal shopping didn’t end there. There was bargaining to be done. The vendor would quote a price, and my mom would counter-quote one that was a couple of rupees lower. If the vendor didn’t budge, she would threaten to leave. The vendor would then drop the price by a rupee, adding how he would never overcharge his loyal customers, and throw two more brinjals into the bag. It would satisfy my mother, and we would head out with a kilo of them.

Today, I follow my mom’s lead when it comes to buying eggplants and make sure they are firm and have glossy skins and fresh green collars but no wrinkles. But I don’t bargain the way she did, ever, because I simply don’t have the knack.

Stuffed Mini Eggplants

For the filling

6 cabbage leaves, finely shredded

1 large carrot, julienned

Handful of green beans, finely cut

5 mini eggplants

5 teaspoons vegetable oil

Salt to taste, divided

Freshly ground black pepper, divided

3 tablespoons breadcrumbs

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

For bechamel sauce

2 tablespoons butter

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

For garnish

5 mini peppers, halved lengthwise

2 tablespoons peas

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Microwave cabbage, carrot and beans for about 5 minutes or until tender.

Cut eggplants lengthwise in half, scoop out the pulp. Brush outside and inside of eggplants with oil. Set aside.

Add eggplant pulp to the vegetables and season lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For bechamel sauce: Heat butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Once butter melts, add the shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes.

Stir in flour, and stir for about 3 minutes until smooth. Whisk in milk and stir. Add salt and pepper, and keep stirring until sauce thickens and loses its raw flour taste.

Combine bechamel sauce and vegetables and gently mix together.

Fill eggplants with vegetable mixture. Top with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Arrange eggplants in a baking tray lined with foil and bake for 25 minutes or until flesh is tender and the top is golden brown.

Garnish with peppers and dot with peas.

Serves 5.

— Suganthi Subramaniam

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