Cooking Together

‘Cooking Together’: Bharwa Baingan (Stuffed Eggplants in Tomato Sauce)

By Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff

Eggplants, native to India, are available there in many shapes and colors. Also known as aubergine or baingan, this vegetable is very popular in the Middle East, India and many other Asian countries where it grows year around. There, eggplants are cooked using a variety of techniques, such as stir-frying, stuffing and roasting. In the U.S., this vegetable has not attained the same popularity, perhaps due to the bitterness in some cooked dishes.  

Photos by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff.

Eggplants have many health and nutritional benefits. They contain potassium, and vitamins A and C – all good for the body’s cell rejuvenation. They provide polyphenols, a chemical that can help maintain a healthy blood sugar level, beneficial for those with diabetes. Eggplants are rich in fiber while low in calories, a very healthy vegetable. 

If prepared well, eggplants are delicious! In the San Francisco Bay Area, many small eggplants are available in the summer, in addition to the familiar big globe variety. Most are purple and some are green or even white. For this recipe, you will need small eggplants that are called Italian, Japanese, Chinese or Indian in the U.S. markets.  These small eggplants are generally less seedy and less bitter than the large globe ones.  Select eggplants that are shiny and fresh, not too hard, but not too soft and wrinkly. Use the eggplants as soon as you purchase them or refrigerate and use them soon. 

There are many variations of stuffed small eggplants made in India. This is just one of the North Indian recipes using tomato sauce. In another Northwest Indian (Gujarati) recipe, the stuffed eggplants are cooked in yogurt sauce. In some South Indian recipes, the stuffed eggplants are cooked with their local ingredients such as coconut and tamarind.  


2 cups tomato sauce

            Ingredients for the sauce:

            3 tablespoons oil

            3 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)

            1/2 cup chopped onion

            2 cloves of garlic, minced

            2 tablespoons minced jalapeno peppers

            1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and cardamom powder

            A few pinches of clove powder

            1 teaspoon salt

            3 to 4 tablespoons of minced cilantro leaves

6 to 7 small Japanese small eggplants

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves 

1/2 teaspoon each cumin, coriander and turmeric 

¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne powder

1 teaspoon salt 

½ cup garbanzo (chick pea) flour

2 tablespoons crushed sesame seeds  

2 tablespoon sunflower seed or corn oil 

3 tablespoon of cooking oil

1 teaspoon black (brown) mustard seeds

A few tablespoons of water, if needed

A few sprigs of cilantro leaves for garnish 

A few slices of limes or lemons to offer at the table

First make the tomato sauce. This step can be done ahead of time, even a day before making the dish. If using fresh tomatoes, boil them in water for few minutes until the skin starts to split. Then transfer the tomatoes into a bowl of cold water and remove their skin. Chop the tomatoes into small chunks. (You don’t have to boil tomatoes if they were from a can). Next, heat the oil in a saucepan and sauté the onion for two minutes and then add the garlic and stir fry them together for a minute. Add the tomato chunks with their juices and cook the mixture for a few minutes. Then add rest of the spices and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until all ingredients are blended into a well-integrated but thin sauce as it will get thicker later. Set the sauce aside (or refrigerate after cooling if you plan to use it later.).

Next prepare the stuffing for the eggplants. Place the garlic, cilantro and the powdered spices into a bowl of a food processor and grind them together. Next, combine garbanzo flour and crushed sesame seeds in a mixing bowl, and then add the ground spice mixture.  Combine well using your hands and adding two tablespoons of oil to make a wet but somewhat crumbly stuffing. Set the stuffing aside. 

Now, rinse the eggplants, dry them and then cut off the top knobs. If the eggplants are longer than four inches, cut them into two pieces, crosswise. Take each eggplant (or a half eggplant) and cut a slash halfway through its flesh where the stuffing will go. Set the slashed eggplants onto a platter. Next, stuff each eggplant as shown in the illustration. (You are going to stuff a small portion of the eggplant, not the whole thing.) Hold an eggplant piece in one hand and use your thumb to keep the slash open as shown in the photo. With the other hand, fill up the slash with a tablespoon of stuffing. Do not over -stuff the eggplants. Set the stuffed vegetables and any leftover stuffing aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large pot (or a Dutch oven type of vessel). Heat over a moderate flame and add the mustard seeds. When they start popping, place the stuffed eggplant pieces (without over-crowding) and stir them gently. Lower the heat and cover the pot. While covered and cooking, shake the pot gently a couple of times, to distribute the oil. Then add the tomato sauce and the leftover stuffing. Add a few tablespoons of water to make the sauce thinner, especially if it was refrigerated. Then cover and allow eggplants to simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes, checking often and stirring and turning eggplants gently so that they cook evenly on all sides and they don’t stick to the bottom.  While checking, scrape the stuffing from bottom of the pot and add some water if the sauce needs it. 

The dish is done when you insert a fork into an eggplant it feels soft (but not falling apart) and the stuffing has formed a thick sauce now. Correct seasoning, adding more cayenne and salt if needed. Keep the finished Bharwa Baingan covered for a few minutes before serving in order to settle the flavors. Garnish the dish with cilantro. Place a bowl of freshly cut lime or lemon wedges for diners who wish to squeeze some juice on their eggplants. Serve Bharwa Baingan with rice and/or bread. 

Makes 6 servings. 

Recipes by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, copyright 2023. Shanta is a Sunset District resident and the author of “Cooking Together” and “Flavors of India,” both available at Other Avenues Food Store at 3930 Judah St. Shanta writes recipes and articles on food and nutrition. She also teaches vegetarian and vegan cooking classes and shares recipes via videos on YouTube.

Categories: Cooking Together

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