Two years ago I went to Kanora in Gujarat to visit the birthplace of my grandfather. I asked around for the old Lakhani house. A village elder pointed it out. I knocked on the door tentatively and was welcomed in by the new owners. The smell coming from the kitchen was magical: they were making this dish—eggplants cooked in peanut and coconut, a Gujarati classic—and they invited me to stay for lunch. I sat at the kitchen table where my grandfather would have sat with his brother and seven sisters, and imagined what he must have been thinking when he decided to set sail across the Arabian Sea to seek his fortune in Africa. In all the years I knew him, I never thought to ask him about it. But I did on many occasions share this dish with him, and every time I eat it, it reminds me to dream big.
NOTE: You will need a food processor for this recipe.
Serves 4 as a main course
12 baby eggplants (1¾ pounds)
2/3 cup desiccated or fresh grated coconut
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
1¼ cups cilantro, roughly chopped
8 cloves of garlic
1 Indian green chile
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sugar
1¾ teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, sliced
Cut each eggplant in half lengthways, but don’t cut through the stem. Roll each one over and cut lengthways again, still keeping the stem intact. Put into a bowl of cold water and set aside.
Put a large lidded frying pan over medium heat and, when hot, toast the coconut and peanuts for 2 to 3 minutes, until the coconut is starting to brown. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool. Put the cilantro, garlic, green chile, tomato paste, cumin, turmeric, sugar, and salt into a food processor, along with the cooled peanuts and coconut. Pulse until coarsely ground and fully mixed.
Open each eggplant out like a flower and fill with the coconut mixture, using your hands. Roll the eggplant over, open and stuff again, then press closed. If there’s any leftover stuffing, add it to the pan later, when you cook the eggplants.
Next, put the oil into the frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and fry until golden and soft. Add the eggplants and 2 tablespoons of water, turn the heat up high, and cook for a couple of minutes, then put the lid on and turn the heat down. Cook for 10 minutes, then gently turn the eggplants and add a splash of water if they’re looking dry. Cook for a further 20 minutes, or until nice and tender. Serve with cucumber and mint raita (see here), or with a salad, some yogurt, and rice or chapatis.