I tend to forget that eggplants don’t really arrive in season until late summer, at least where I live. When they first show up at the farmers market, in all of their shiny, deep purple glory, I celebrate. Two weeks ago there were none, and now, suddenly, they’re everywhere. I may have been a bit overly zealous last weekend when I picked up eight—yes, eight—of them. These bulgur stuffed eggplants with tamarind, currants & pine nuts have been a delicious way to use up my haul.
The first time I tried tamarind, it was mostly out of curiosity. I’d been inspired by a couple of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s recipes—her tamarind lentils in Veganomicon and her tamarind BBQ tempeh and tamarind quinoa in Appetite for Reduction—as well as many of the vegan pad Thai recipes I’d come across. I loved the intensely sweet/tart flavor right away, and since then my savory spiced tamarind lentils have been a regular addition to bowls.
One of my pitfalls as a cook is that I tend to associate certain ingredients or seasonings with specific dishes—I guess we all do—and then I fall into a rut of using them only that way. I know that tamarind is a lot more versatile than I allow it to be in my kitchen, and I only have to look around the world for inspiration. Tamarind is used in dishes across the Middle East, in Indian cuisine (including chutney), and in a number of traditional Mexican recipes. Inspired to branch out, I grabbed some tamarind paste in my most recent Nuts.com pantry refill.
Nuts.com is an incredible one-stop resource for legumes, grains, pastas, spices, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and more. I’ve been a fan for a long time, and I’m always so impressed with the website’s ample selection, friendly customer service, speedy shipping, and freshness. I use the site for staples, like beans and grains, but I also appreciate its emphasis on global seasonings and ingredients, tamarind included. In addition to the paste, the site also carries tamarindo, or tamarind pods, for those who prefer to work directly with the tangy brown pulp in its natural state.
Tamarind paste pairs really well with cumin, coriander, and other signature Middle Eastern spices, and that’s what guided me as I pulled this eggplant dish together. I added currants, which complement the paste’s sweetness, along with pine nuts for a bit of crunch. Bulgur wheat is a great choice of grain here: the texture is perfect for a stuffing, and it cooks quickly, so you can boil it while the eggplant starts to bake. If you’re gluten or wheat free, you can use quinoa or millet in its place.
In the past, I’ve made stuffed eggplants by trying to cut out the flesh while the eggplants are raw, then par-baking the shells. It usually turns into a mess, because the flesh is tough to scoop out without damaging the eggplant skins. When I came across Alexandra‘s recipe for twice baked eggplant parmesan in Bread Toast Crumbs, I was inspired to try baking the eggplant first, then scooping out the cooked flesh, adding it to my filling, and returning it to the skins before another bake. It added a little cooking time, but it made the whole process easier. I also scored the eggplants before cooking, which helped me to set the flesh free when the time came.
The eggplant flesh gets cooked up with onion, tomato, spices, currants, and pine nuts, as well as the tamarind and bulgur. I might use the same mixture in the future as a grain pilaf, adding chopped eggplant to it rather than going through the process of stuffing the vegetable. But it’s hard not to love the pretty presentation of the stuffed eggplants, especially after they’ve been smothered in chopped parsley and tahini, and they’re a great option for entertaining.
The tahini dressing really isn’t optional here—or at least, I don’t recommend making the recipe without it, or another sauce. It adds moisture and a very welcome dose of extra lemon and garlic to the finished eggplants. You can use pretty much any garlicky/tahini blend that you love, or try my tahini drizzle, tahini green goddess dressing, or tahini mint dressing. You can definitely add a judicious drizzle of extra tamarind paste (it’s intense, so not too much), or a handful of extra toasted pine nuts, too.
This meal was a perfect way to welcome eggplants around this summer. My kitchen smelled incredible by the time the eggplants finished baking, and I loved all of the texture of the dish. The leftovers are keeping really nicely so far, and I have just enough extra stuffing to use up in simple lunch bowls.
It’s so worth investing in an ingredient or seasoning that’s still sort of new, finding new ways to make it shine. I’m excited to keep working through my tamarind paste and have big plans for some homemade chutney this coming weekend. For now, happy stuffing 🙂
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