Friday, October 2, 2009

lebanese-style stuffed eggplant

stuffed eggplant

I suspect most of you think it has been pretty quiet around here because we’re crazed, sleep-deprived and wholly consumed with nuzzling squishy baby cheeks and, well, you wouldn’t be completely off-mark, minus the crazed part. But mostly it has been quiet around here because we’ve been trying to use any downtime we can spare to take Jacob out as much as possible, as much to maintain our own sanity as his. And let me tell you, this two-week old has been everywhere: Ess-a-Bagel, The Doughnut Plant, The Pickle Guys and today he even made it to the Shake Shack. He’s been to two parks, been carted around with countless cups of coffee, caught a first fall leaf and even hit a farmers market, where he attempted to make off with an eggplant before we intervened. Who knew 11-day olds could already have such wayward ways?

busted

[We'd actually been looking for a small pumpkin, which my BabyCenter 40-week email had informed me he'd been the size of, but alas, there were no pumpkins out yet.]

baby bell eggplants

I can’t tell you how happy these little burst of fresh air make us, not only because I’m really impatient about not being allowed to exercise for four weeks or swim for six (!) but walking is deemed safe, but because this is kind of exactly how I hoped it would be. I spent a lot of time this summer waddling around the different Greenmarkets (“scaring the locals” as I’d call it, as people seemed uneasy to see a 9 million months pregnant woman out sniffing produce, and not home with her feet up and her spoon buried in a pint of Haagen-Dazs) and imagining how much fun it would be to do the same with our baby. “We can’t wait to take you everywhere” I’d say to my stomach (no doubt giving the people around me more reason to look uncomfortable) as I stuffed eggplants, tomatoes and zucchini in my shopping bag.

eggplants, stuffed, ready to cook

rice, pine nuts, onion, garlic

Some of those eggplants ended up in this dish, which if I had been the kind of person who froze trays of meals before the baby came, this would have been a perfect candidate. Instead, we ate it at once, and greedily. I hadn’t stuffed eggplants before — just bell peppers, summer squash, onions and mushrooms — but I’m officially converted. I loved the way as the walls softened, the eggplant flesh became part of the dish. This is no hard and fast recipe; you can tweak it any way you see fit, swapping the ground meat, changing the spices, adding more vegetables — have fun with it. But do make it. I see those little eggplants still lingering at the market, and they’re too cute not to take home with you. Just make sure you pay first.

stuffed eggplant

One year ago: Best Challah (Egg Bread), Mom’s Apple Cake and Beef, Leek and Barley Soup
Two years ago: Peter Reinhart’s Bagels and Peanut Butter Brownies
Three years ago: Acorn Squash with Chile-Lime Vinaigrette [This is one of my favorites, ever. You must make this.]

Lebanese Style Stuffed Eggplant
Perfect as printed from Gourmet

6 (5- to 6-inch long) bambino (also called Baby Bell) eggplants (about 6 ounces each)
1/2 cup long-grain or jasmine rice
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 (14 1/2-oz) can diced tomatoes in juice
3/4 lb ground lamb or beef chuck (not lean)
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Hollow out each eggplant with a melon-ball cutter, working from bottom end and leaving about 1/3 inch eggplant flesh along interior walls. Rinse rice in a sieve under cold water until water runs clear. Drain well.

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Fry pine nuts, stirring frequently, until golden, about 3 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Sauté onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer 1/2 cup onion mixture to bowl with pine nuts. Add stock, tomatoes, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to skillet and simmer, uncovered, while stuffing eggplant.

Add rice, meat, allspice, one teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to bowl with onion mixture and mix well with your hands.

Stuff eggplant with meat mixture, being careful not to pack tightly (rice will expand during cooking). Transfer stuffed eggplants to skillet with tomato sauce and simmer, covered, carefully turning once, until rice is cooked through, 50 minutes to one hour (cut one in half to test). [Check in on your dish periodically; I managed to burn my sauce because I wasn't paying attention, although it was still surprisingly tasty.]

If sauce is watery, transfer eggplant to a plate and boil sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, 3 to 5 minutes, then adjust seasoning if necessary. Return stuffed eggplant to sauce. Squeeze lemon over dish and sprinkle with parsley before serving.


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