Gifts are usually a matter of taste, and with food gifts that is twice as true (see the terrible pun?). Luckily, I have been at the receiving end of some excellent food gifts recently. Like these white eggplants, which came along with the Thelma Sanders squash, but I am finally writing about it now.
I had heard and read about white eggplants in relation to the explanation for how aubergines came to be called as egg-plants, but hadn't ever seen them. These particular ones weren't as small as eggs, but were smaller than regular purple globe eggplants. To me, the best part about these was that they were grown in a farm roughly 55 miles from where I live. Oh what a treat these were! They were like regular eggplants, but somehow more delicious, slightly sweeter and creamier, and yet they held their shape when fully cooked. They were also in some way denser than regular eggplants, which means there was more volume than I expected when chopped.
Thoroughly excited by the prospect of cooking with these, I went back and forth over which of my favorite recipes I should use them in. Since I also had some late summer tomatoes, I thought I'd combine the two into a rassa, which is a fairly typical Maharashtrian stew like dish, with a spicy broth. It is a simple and almost rustic dish that depends on good hearty ingredients, that are chopped and cooked together in a large pot, but the result is a whole lot better than the sum of its parts. A rassa is usually served as part of a typical meal that would include poLIs, rice, dal, and perhaps a chutney or koshimbir.
What really delighted me in this case was that the rassa tasted so much better than usual - naturally, the only thing that could have made a difference had to be the taste of the eggplant itself, all other factors being equal. So I have been on the lookout for these ever since then, but have yet to see them around.
1 Tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
pinch of fenugreek / methi seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
pinch of asafoetida (hing)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 of a small yellow onion
2 small tomatoes (or 1 large)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon chili powder
1 small white eggplant (or roughly 1/2 of a regular purple eggplant)
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon goda masala
salt to taste
chopped cilantro leaves
Chop the onion and tomato. Dice the eggplant and add it to a pot of cold salted water. Just before cooking, drain the eggplant.
Heat the oil in a large pan, and add the mustard and (optional) fenugreek seeds. When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the cumin seeds, asafoetida, turmeric, and onion. Saute the onion for a couple of minutes, and add the tomato and chili powder. Saute briefly, and add the eggplant. Saute everything together for another minute or two, and add the water.
When the water comes to a boil, add salt, and turn the heat down, and let it simmer together until the eggplant is cooked. You could close the pan with a lid to speed up the cooking. When nearly done, there should be very little water left, but a small amount of broth that results from the cooking is desirable, and is essentially the 'ras'.
Add the goDA masala, cook for a few more minutes and then let the pan sit on the (still hot) stove for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Add the cilantro.
Sometimes potatoes are added to this, and that becomes a vangi-batata rassa. They are diced and added along with the onion, and the quantity is variable.