Stuffed vegetables are the tasty proof for the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Both the stuffing and the vegetables impart their flavors on each other and the result is a wonderful new flavor.
However, carefully emptying the vegetables from their flesh, especially small ones, is time consuming and requires special tools. So no wonder some ancient cook came up with the idea to cut the vegetables in half and empty the halves in half the time…
Yet, not all halved vegetables are created equal. Unlike other vegetables, eggplants need to be partially cooked before stuffing. Knowing this didn’t deter me from buying these nice looking mini eggplants when I saw them at the store. As an avid fan of eggplants I know the result will be worth the trouble.
In the recipe here, I’m using the cooked eggplant flesh as part of the stuffing, which makes for an even tastier dish, yet prolongs the preparation process a bit more. If you’re not such a fan of eggplants, you can shorten the preparation process by using small zucchini, tomatoes or peppers, instead of the eggplants.
Baking the dish just before serving will give you the best results, but no need to worry about last minute logistics just before your guests show up. The good news is that you can prepare the eggplants a few hours in advance and keep them (in a baking pan covered with a lid), until you’re ready to bake them. Just make sure to take the pan out of the fridge about half an hour before baking and you’re all set.
A few more notes:
* Whenever ground meat is required in a dish, I recommend buying a piece of meat and grinding it, or chopping it in a food processor, at home. This way you ensure the quality of your meat and therefore the flavor of your dish.
* I find that lamb goes best with the eggplants, but beef can be used instead.
* Sumac is a reddish spice used frequently in the Middle East. It can be found in specialty stores or online. As it adds a subtle acidity to the meat, if you can’t find it, substitute with 1 tsp of lemon juice.
Makes: 10 appetizers or 5 main course
Prep time: 30 minutes + about 10 minutes chilling time
Baking time: 30 minutes
5 mini eggplants
2 Tbs light olive oil
For the meat:
1 lbs (450 grams) lamb shoulder, with a bit of fat, cut in large cubes
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into quarters
1 cup packed parsley
1 Tbs sumac
1 tsp allspice
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch Cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup currants
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 cups homemade or good quality prepared tomato sauce
1. Cut off most of the eggplants stems, then cut them in half, lengthwise. Using a small serrated knife, carefully make deep slits in the flesh side of each eggplant half. Make sure not to cut all the way through the skin.
2. Heat the 2 Tbs light olive oil in a large frying pan on medium-high heat. Add the eggplants in one layer, flesh side down. Reduce the heat to medium-low and fry gently for about 15 minutes. The color of the skin will gradually change – this is the sign the eggplants are cooking inside. Turn the eggplants and fry gently on the skin side for about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool to room temperature.
3. Meanwhile, roast the pine nuts in a toaster oven and cool to room temperature. Combine the onion and parsley in a food processor, chop coarsely and transfer to a bowl . Chop the meat finely and add to the onion-parsley bowl. Add the sumac, allspice, black pepper, Cayenne, salt and 1 Tbs olive oil and mix well.
4. Once the eggplants are cool enough to handle, carefully take out the flesh, trying to get rid of as much seeds as you can. Chop the flesh coarsely and add to the meat. Add the roasted pine nuts and currants and mix well.
5. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Pour the tomato sauce into a baking pan, large enough to put the eggplants in one layer.
6. Take about two tablespoons of the meat mixture and shape it into an oblong patty. Fill one eggplant shell and press gently. Place on the tomato sauce in the baking pan. Repeat with the rest of the eggplants.
7. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the meat is cooked through. Serve warm.