Cinnamon, cardamom, clove, pepper and anise, all spices that embrace you like a blanket. They whisper comfort and warmth while still being tantalizing. Maybe it’s because they feel exotic. When the weather turns gray and the air starts to nip, I turn to chai tea inspired spices. Whether it’s in a cup of tea, a bowl of quinoa porridge, or a comforting bowl meaty of stew, a combination of a few of these spices are sure to make an appearance on my table.
It’s no surprise that I heart Chinese 5 spice, and this braised chicken dish so darn much. I’ve since used that recipe, substituting lamb and beef. Both versions were fab!
Since it’s much closer to dinner and much less close to teatime, I decided to focus on filling my belly with food, the air with the smell of chai spices and the sound waves with Nina Simone. What better way to fill a gray day?
Cooking the quinoa in chai inspired spices and stuffing it into the velvety texture of roasted eggplant seemed like just the thing to do. Fret not if eggplant isn’t your thing. Simply try it stuffed in a roasted sweet potato.
The trick to making this turn out just right is plenty of fresh lemon juice right at the end to brighten the flavors and salt to balance the sweet notes. Don’t be shy. Start with the juice of half a lemon and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Stir and taste. Keep adding either lemon and/or salt until the flavors are just right. Mine needed the juice of 1-1/2 lemons but the amount required will depend on the juiciness of your fruit and your preferences for salt.
Eggplant stuffed with chai spiced quinoa
For the chai water:
6 green cardamom pods
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks each 3 inches long or equivalent
1. Add the spices to 2-1/4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Strain out the spices. Measure the water and top it up to 2 cups, if required.
For the eggplant:
2 large eggplant (*see notes for sweet potato)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup quinoa (I used tricoloured but any color works)
1/2 chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
2 green onions finely sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 lemons, juice of
pepper to taste (optional)
1 lemon cut into wedges for serving
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise and score it into 3/4-inch squared being careful not to pierce the skin. Brush each eggplant with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place cut side down on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until flesh is tender.
3. Meanwhile cook the quinoa. Heat a medium size pot with a lid, over medium heat and add 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Add the quinoa and toast it until it becomes fragrant and there’s a slight popping sound of the quinoa seeds, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add the 2 cups of chai water. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cover with a lid. Cook for 20 minutes.
4. Once the eggplant is cooked, scoop out the soft flesh leaving a 1/2-inch perimeter around the skin. Place the cubed flesh (it’s OK to have pieces that don’t come out perfectly) and the quinoa in a large bowl. Add the chopped parsley, walnuts and green onions. Add the juice of 1/2 a lemon and salt if required. Stir and taste. Continue to add lemon juice and salt to taste until just right. Finish with fresh ground pepper (optional).
5. Place a quarter of the quinoa filling into the cavities of each eggplant. Feel free to pack it in slightly with the back of the spoon to make it all fit.
6. Serve with a lemon wedge.
Sweet potato substitution: You'll need 4 medium sized sweet potatoes. Repeat the same steps except extent the cooking time to 45 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender and omit the 2 tablespoons of oil.
Related post on The Restless Palate: How to cook perfect quinoa