Tiny Eggplant and Okra in Lime-Scented Tamarind Sauce – Recipe

Tiny eggplant, rubbed with spices and ready to roast

I didn’t have a definite plan when I picked up these gorgeous little eggplants, I just knew they had to come home with me. I ended up rubbing them with spices and roasting, then serving them in a sweet-tart tamarind curry. Later I realized that I’d made a little joke – they were kind of a spin on Son-In-Law Eggs, only with egg-sized eggplants.

Although I didn’t fill the eggplants, I was also inspired by Healthy and Gourmet’s Stuffed Baby Eggplant. I liked the way Natasha had cut them in quarters but left the stem attached. It turns out to be fun to eat most of the eggplant with a fork and then pick up the stem and sort of suck out the last bit of goodness.

The recipe calls for kaffir lime leaves, which aren’t always easy to source. Try a well stocked Asian or Indian grocery. If you haven’t had them, they produce an amazingly floral citrus scent. There really is no substitute, but a little lime zest is as close as you can come.

Tiny Eggplant and Okra in Tamarind Sauce

If you are okra-negative, you could just leave them out of this dish. Are you okra-positive like me? I don’t even mind if they are a little slimy.

Toasted and crushed peanuts on top would be perfect.

I was thinking of this more as an Indian dish, so I served it with saffron basmati rice, raita, papadum and lime pickle. But you could also omit the tomato and go in a Thai or Malaysian direction with jasmine or sticky rice.

Tiny Eggplant and Okra in Tamarind Sauce
Serves 4
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free

For the eggplant:

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 tiny eggplants, about 3 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter
  1. Preheat the oven to 450.
  2. Grind all of the spices and salt together in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Combine with the vegetable oil.
  3. Cut the eggplant into 4 segments lengthwise, leaving the stem intact. (See photos).
  4. Rub all of the cut surfaces with the spice mixture and place in a single layer in a casserole that you can use to serve the final dish.
  5. Roast until thoroughly and completely tender, probably 30 minutes or so.

For the sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • 3/4 cup minced white onion
  • 1/3 cup canned crushed tomatoes (or use fresh in season)
  • 8 ounces of okra, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 heaping teaspoon Tamicon brand tamarind concentrate
  • 1 teaspoon amchoor (dried mango powder, available at Indian groceries)
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves (best substitute is lime zest)
  • salt
  • sugar
  1. In a large skillet, heat the ghee or vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the mustard seeds and fry for a few seconds until they begin to pop. Add the onion and tomato and a big pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes until the mixture begins to darken.
  3. Add the okra and fry for 2 minutes. Add the water. Mix the tamarind concentrate into a few teaspoons of water to dissolve and add it. Add the amchoor and kaffir lime leaves, another pinch of salt and one of sugar.
  4. Simmer about 10 minutes, until the okra is tender and sauce is slightly reduced. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning. It may need more tamarind, salt or sugar to be balanced.

To finish and serve:

  • fresh ground black pepper
  • finishing salt
  • cilantro
  1. Remove the eggplants from the casserole. Transfer the okra and sauce to the hot casserole and put the eggplant back on top. Return to the oven for 5 minutes or so, until the whole thing is bubbling hot.
  2. Remove from the oven, hit with several aggressive grind of black pepper, a little finishing salt, and garnish with cilantro.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Thursday, January 7th, 2010 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Main Courses, Recipes, Vegan or Modifiable.

11 Responses to “Tiny Eggplant and Okra in Lime-Scented Tamarind Sauce – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    January 7, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    OK, so eggplant and okra are in my family x2: father from the south (OK, I guess that’s really just the okra part) and my mom’s family originally from Greece, where of course eggplants are big (or small; wonder if they have baby ones there, too?) and so is okra. My father loves okra, my mom is very “okra negative” as you put it: it’s the slime factor. I read somewhere once a trick to cooking them that tames this quality, but of course I don’t remember where now. I rarely cook either of these ingredients, but I love to eat them. And your tamarind and kaffir lime sounds like a fabulous twist.

  2. Reply
    January 7, 2010 at 11:45 pm #

    I am okra-positive, lol! This looks like a yummy recipe with two veggies i love, thank you for a different take on them and I have never really had them together unless you count sambar! Nice blog and tempting pics 🙂

  3. Reply
    January 7, 2010 at 11:46 pm #

    In my experience, the key to taming the slime factor of cooking okra is adding an acid to the game – fresh-squeezed lemon as well as dried mango powder have worked for me.

    Also, my mom used to tell me that when cutting okra, be sure to wash AND DRY them _before_ cutting them. This, too, helps reduce the slime that oozed from them.

    Hope that helps!

  4. Reply
    January 8, 2010 at 3:07 am #

    I fry okra before adding it to most dishes, less slime that way.

  5. Reply
    January 8, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    Hi Michael
    Nice recipe! I did something similar in my column in the Oregonian, mine was stuffed with bulgur, so a more Syrian approach. I got an email from a reader who complained that her eggplant were terribly bitter, she blamed it on the size of them. I haven’t found small ones to be any more bitter than large ones, though the esteemed Elizabeth Schneider in Vegetables A to Z says that mid size “Indian” eggplant are bitter and not worth buying. Know any botanists that love to cook to help clear up the matter? I’m perplexed.

  6. Reply
    January 9, 2010 at 9:50 am #

    Whoa! I’ve never seen eggplants that tiny! Is the skin as tough as the big ones?

  7. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    January 13, 2010 at 9:09 am #

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    @Diana – I'd say the skin is not particularly tough – I left it on these guys and barely noticed it when eating them.

  8. Reply
    Ambuja W
    January 13, 2010 at 11:25 am #

    This is very reminiscent of this traditional south Indian dish my mother makes called “Ennai Kathirikai” translates to Oil Eggplant. These eggplants are stuffed with a mixture of spices (coriander seeds, dhals, cumin, red chilli all ground up) and shallow fried. We take off the stalk and make a slit in the center to about 3/4ths of the way down. Then turn the eggplant onto the other side and make 2 slits 3/4ths of the way down and stuff it with the spices, let it marinate overnight and then cook it. It is one of my favorites!

    I found this blog while running a search for a mujadara recipe that i recently ate at a Mediterranean place. I am really looking forward to going through your recipes! i have been a vegetarian all my life and love cooking!

  9. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    January 13, 2010 at 11:28 am #

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    @Ambuja – wow, the Ennai Kathirikai sounds great.You are right, it is very similar. I like the idea idea of adding dhals to it.

  10. Reply
    January 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    Michael – this looks like a winning recipe for mini egg plants. 🙂

  11. Reply
    March 28, 2010 at 12:48 am #

    I love okra! I have an Asian friend who invited me and my family to dinner. We had stir fried eggplant, okra and string beans in coconut milk and it was out of this world delicious! so YES to okra. I don’t mind that its slimy.


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