29. October 2013 · Comments Off on A Bit About Recipes: Stuffed Mediterranean-Style Eggplant · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Stuffed Mediterranean-Style Eggplant - photo by Rob NovakThe food co-op seems to like eggplant this time of year. It keeps showing up, much like zucchini at the height of summer. This is a bit of a challenge, because to be honest it’s not a vegetable that I use a lot. Especially the big Italian aubergines. At least the little Asian ones can go into stir-fries pretty easily. The big guys… let’s just say that babaganoush, as tasty as it is, is getting old and I’m not a fan of frying it and covering it in cheese and tomato sauce.

Choices? Moussaka? Tasty, but a fair amount of work. So, I dug up a recipe a while back for stuffed eggplant and gave it a whirl. I pretty much followed it to the letter, unfortunately disengaging my thinking in the process. So, I just trusted it to be seasoned to my tastes, and to have an acceptable level of flavor.

You know what? Recipes, even mine that I post here, suck. Well, they suck if you follow them slavishly. And I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t follow them, at least not literally. The most important thing that you can do when cooking is taste the food as you prepare it. Even if it’s something as simple as an adjustment in the amount of salt, it can make a world of difference. My ingredients are not going to be gram-for-gram identical to yours. You might prefer more or less of something. And you’ll never know unless you taste the food you’re making before it hits the table.

So – what did *I* change from the original version I started with? The original used too much of the eggplant flesh, which had been prepped by boiling. Too much bland and mushy in the mix. Second, the eggplant shells were unseasoned prior to filling. Bland again. The filling itself was under-seasoned – browned ground beef and veg with a breadcrumb/egg binding. Texturally dense, without a real flavor impact. A heap of parsley combined with the eggplant made it taste (vaguely) like the babaganoush I was getting tired of.

I swapped out the ground beef for Merguez sausage – a spiced lamb sausage from the Moroccan coast of Africa. I got rid of the parsley in preference for earthy spices. I changed out the starch filler, using whole wheat couscous instead of bland breadcrumbs. I halved the amount of eggplant flesh. I changed up the preparation of the vegetables. And I seasoned way more liberally. What follows is a great starting point, in my opinion. Good flavors, lighter texture – in harmony while still providing a punch.

Stuffed Mediterranean-Style Eggplant

Ingredients:
2 medium Italian eggplants (aubergines)
1 lb. Merguez sausage (or 1 lb. ground lamb – see note)
1 medium onion, diced (1/4″)
1 medium green bell pepper, diced (1/4″)
1 doz. cherry tomatoes, halved, then quartered
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp whole cumin seed
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 c. whole-wheat couscous (gluten-free, see note)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 c shredded Asiago cheese (can substitute Romano or Gruyere)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt

Prep time: 25 min, Cook time: 1 hr 15 min, Serves 4-6

Set oven to 375°F

Wash the eggplants and remove the tops, including the green caps and the tough fiber immediately underneath. Halve the eggplants and scoop out the flesh, leaving just enough (about 1/4″ all-around) to provide a shell to fill, reserving the flesh of one eggplant and discarding the rest. Place flesh into a saucepan with a quart of water and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until soft, about 10-12 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil along with butter and 1/2 tsp salt. Once at a full rolling boil, turn off heat, stir in couscous, and let stand. Finished product will be a bit dry.

Remove the casings from the sausage and break up the meat into chunks. Place a large skillet over high heat and add olive oil. When hot, add sausage meat and cook until any moisture in the pan evaporates and the sausage begins to brown slightly in the remaining fat. Remove from heat, remove sausage from pan with slotted spoon and set aside, leaving fat behind.

Place skillet back over medium heat, and add onions, peppers, garlic, cumin, and cinnamon to the sausage drippings. Saute until vegetables are tender and onions are translucent. Remove from heat and set aside.

Mash cooked eggplant until large chunks are gone. With a large knife, chop cooked sausage until no pieces are larger than pea-sized. With a fork, fluff the couscous and break up any lumps. In a large bowl, combine couscous, sausage meat, sauteed vegetables, tomatoes, 1 cup of the shredded cheese, mashed eggplant, and the eggs. Stir well to combine.

Place eggplant shells onto a baking sheet that has been lined with foil and oiled (olive or veg. oil works) and salt the insides liberally. Fill the cavity of each shell until slightly mounded, using all the filling. Top each eggplant with a tablespoon of the remaining cheese. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until browned and filling is hot (160°F). Remove from oven and let cool/set for about 5 minutes before serving. Either serve whole (for hungry eaters), or slice.

Notes:

Tzatziki, raita, or other yogurt sauces go great with this. If you want something quick, a cup of yogurt mixed with a tablespoon of lemon juice and a half teaspoon of ground coriander seed is a good start – even better with some finely chopped fresh mint.

For a gluten-free option, you should be able to substitute a starchy short-grained rice like Arborio. You want about 2 cups of very slightly undercooked rice. You’ll have to experiment a bit to get the right ratio/texture, but that sounds about right for starters. I’m also not sure about the gluten status of commercially available Merguez sausage, so the lamb substitution below might work better for you.

If you cannot find Merguez ready made, substitute a pound of ground lamb into which you have kneaded a teaspoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon of kosher salt, a 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, a 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric, a 1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander seed, a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a tablespoon of olive oil, and (optionally) a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper.

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