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Getting Stuffed

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.

Stuffed Eggplant and Arugula Salad

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.

Hollowing an Eggplant

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.

Stuffed Eggplants, Ready to Bake

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.

Happy eating!
Miss Ginsu

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2.25.2009

Day 9: What Would Jesus Eat?

This post marks Day 9 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I find it really interesting that the Christmas season is supposed to be about the birth of Christ, and yet modern-era Christmas celebrations don't feature anything that calls to mind the early Christian-era foods... that is, the foods of the Middle East.

Rather than eating something like pita with hummus and baba ganoush or a Moroccan Stew or Spiced Ground Lamb, we feast on roasted turkey or baked hams for the holidays.

Nutted Halvah

To remedy this obvious oversight in our holiday celebrations, today's advent calendar features an ancient recipe.

Halvah, an earthy-sweet sesame treat, has been common in the Middle East through time immemorial, so I feel confident that Jesus himself must have encountered it at some point during his journeys.

In my own childhood, I knew only the marbled sesame halvah that my dad liked so much, but a little research revealed that people make halvah with a wide variety of nuts, fruits, roots and grains.

The buttery Indian pudding known as sooji ka halwa is a common halvah variation. In fact, halwa in Arabic simply indicates a sweet of some kind. Fascinating!

I've seen recipes that include flour, which sounds pretty unappealing. I decided to go with a simple multi-nut halvah recipe made with milk and honey (synonymous with ancient luxury) for maximum holiday decadence.

Depending on your preferences, you could surely substitute other nuts or skip them altogether.

I'm also using a little vanilla here, but if you want to go crazy with authenticity, just omit it.
Pistachio-Almond Halvah (Makes a 9" x 3" slab)
1 cup sesame paste (tahini)
1/3 cup honey
1/2 Tbsp vanilla (optional)
1 1/4 cups powdered milk
1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

1. Combine the tahini, honey, vanilla and powdered milk until well blended. The mixture should be very dry.
2. Fold in the almonds and pistachios.
3. Pack the mixture very firmly into an 9" by 3" cake pan, or a pan of similar size.
4. Use knife to loosen the edges of the halvah, and turn the slab onto a tray or platter. Refrigerate until firm (at least 2 hours) before cutting into thin slices to serve.

Jesus probably would've had wine mixed with water or maybe an infusion of herbs alongside his halvah, but thanks to the wonders of global trade, we can enjoy ours with coffee or tea.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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12.09.2008

Middle Feastern Delights

Filled with lots of tangy citrus and yogurt flavors and plenty of cool cucumbers, the foods of the Middle East seem particularly suited for warmer weather.

I first encountered spiced ground lamb as a Turkish kabob, but I discovered that the whole operation with the stick seemed like just a bit too much fuss for regular use.

Why not just make spiced lamb meatballs? They're fun to make, not too fussy and are even very nice when munched as cold leftovers for your midnight snacking needs.

Lamb Balls, Raw
Lamb Balls, Cooking
Lamb Balls, Cooling

This Cucumber-Yogurt Raita goes very well with lamb. You'll find it's similar to a Greek Tzatziki, but tzatziki typically uses garlic instead of citrus. If you'd like something more Greek-y, drop the cumin and substitute puréed garlic for the citrus juice. Voila!
Spicy Lamb Balls w/ Cool Cucumber Raita (Makes 25 meatballs)
For the Spice Blend
1 Tbsp whole coriander
1 Tbsp whole cumin
1/2 Tbsp whole black peppercorn
1/2 Tbsp whole fennel seed or anise

For the Lamb Meatballs
2 pounds lamb
1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 tsp kosher salt
1 small onion, minced (optional)
1 tsp olive or canola oil

1. Grind the spices in a spice grinder. (If you're using pre-ground spices, simply blend them together and use 3 tablespoons of the mix for this recipe.)
2. Mix together the lamb, egg, salt, onion (if using) and the ground spice blend in a large mixing bowl.
3. Form golf-ball-sized spheres with the meat mix and set them on a plate while you heat the skillet.
4. In a large (17") skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add about half the lamb balls and cook about 1 minute before gently rolling each ball over with a pair of tongs.
5. Continue cooking the lamb balls for about 5-7 minutes, rolling each ball every 60 seconds to an uncooked side. Remove the cooked balls and drain them on paper towels.
6. Cook the second batch of lamb balls the same way you cooked the first batch. Serve hot or warm with cucumber raita (below).

Cool Cucumber Raita
1 small cucumber, peeled (or half of an unpeeled hothouse cucumber)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 Tbsp chopped mint, cilantro or parsley (optional)

1. Shred the cucumber on a grater and squeeze out all the excess juice you can.
2. Blend squeezed cucumber shreds with yogurt, citrus juice, salt, cumin and herbs (if using).
3. Taste, and if the mixture seems too tart, add a dash of sugar. Serve immediately with the lamb balls. This raita is also terrific with a variety of Indian curries.

This recipe also makes great sandwiches, so if you're in the mood for hand-held food, stuff two to three warm lamb balls into toasted pita halves. Add a bit of shredded lettuce and tomato slices and drizzle with the cucumber sauce.

J loves this meal quite a lot, so we eat it with some frequency. Favorite accompaniments include tabbouleh, hummus, fresh cucumber-tomato salads, pickled beets (locally, the good fellas at Rick's Picks and Wheelhouse Pickles both make some terrific pickled beets) or pickled ramps and tahini sauce.

Cheers!

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6.24.2008