I've been off on a bit of a Claudia Roden kick for the past couple of weeks, and I must admit it's an awfully tasty kick to be off on.
In case you don't know who she is, let me just put in a word for her classic The New Book of Middle Eastern Food — an impressive culinary resource.
I love the way she breaks down recipes to discuss how ingredients and preparations differ a little in the different cultural versions of the same dish.
For a recipe addressing stuffed eggplants, for example, she cites the Syrian version but also refers the reader to a different filling that the Lebanese tend to prefer.
It makes me wonder why I've shunned stuffed vegetables for so long. They're such an easy and flexible meal. You can use eggplants, peppers, zucchini and a variety of winter squashes.
Roden points out that the fillings range from purely meat and veggie stuffings to ones completely composed of grain and beans. So you can really use whatever you happen to have on hand. That means a stuffed vegetable entree can be made vegetarian or not, as you like it, and expensive or thrifty, depending on your budget.
I used eggplants this weekend, because I love them, and it's easy to just roast or sauté the innards pulled out of the eggplant for a quick baba ganoush.
I found that the easiest way to make a hollow for the stuffing was to draw a 1/2" thick outline around the flesh of eggplant with a paring knife to guide the area that I wanted to scoop. Then I scraped out the flesh with a spoon, as you can see in the image above. This would also work well with zucchini.
The stuffing was based on one of Roden's recipes, but I used some chopped tomatoes for extra zip.
Stuffed Eggplants (Serves 4)
2 medium-sized eggplants
1 large onion, diced
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 lb ground lamb or beef
8 oz chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Salt and ground pepper, to taste
To garnish: chopped parsley and crumbled feta
1. Halve the eggplants and scoop out the flesh. Place the hollowed eggplant halves on a baking sheet and save the flesh for another purpose.
2. In a large skillet or a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame and sweat the onions for 10 minutes.
3. Add the lamb or beef, breaking it up for even cooking. Sauté for 10 minutes or until the meat browns well. Carefully drain off excess grease before adding the tomatoes, pine nuts, allspice and cinnamon.
4. Cook another 10 minutes, season with salt and ground pepper, to taste, and remove the pan from the heat.
5. Heat the oven to 375°. Spoon the filling evenly into the eggplant halves and place the baking sheet in the center of the oven. Pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup water into the pan to prevent burning and cook until the eggplant is tender, about 20 minutes.
6. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and crumbled feta. Serve hot.
Obviously, a person could replace the meat with rice or quinoa, maybe add in some chickpeas and come up with an equally happy result.
I'm looking forward to digging deeper into Roden's book, and I'll report more discoveries as I find them.