I recently returned from a wonderful week in Israel and I’m finally over my jet-lag. It seems to get more difficult every year, especially on the return. I am inspired by many things when I am in Israel – not least of which is the food. The fruits and vegetables are always so fresh and there seem to be seemingly infinite ways to create salads and cooked vegetable creations. As soon as I returned I had essentially three things to do that couldn’t wait: 1) take a really long shower; 2) wash clothes and 3) go to the grocery store. As it happens, Matthew and Frances were in town for a friend’s wedding and while they were not able to share many meals together, Frances very kindly made sure that my husband did not have to fend for himself. She cooked and baked and even made sure that there were left-overs so that my first night home I neither had to order in nor cook. One of the little treasures that Frances left me was Baharat. This is a Middle Eastern spice blend and it generally includes:
- Black peppercorns
- Cardamom seeds
- Cassia bark
- Coriander seeds
- Cumin seeds
- Dried red chili peppers or paprika
There are all kinds of variations, including a Turkish version that uses mint and of course the proportions change according to taste and tradition. I’m not totally sure what mix Frances used and you can also buy it premixed in a good spice store, but it smelled wonderful and I didn’t want it to go to waste.
I shopped at a local produce market and was seduced into buying lovely, dark and shapely eggplants, sweet red peppers and zucchini. Another left-over from Frances that I discovered was some cooked Basmati rice so I knew that I was going to make stuffed vegetables after a bit of concocting. Here is the result. My version is actually vegetarian since I used Ghee and some goat cheese crumbles, but this could easily be vegan by only using EVOO and eliminating the cheese. The prep took me about an hour, but the result is delicious and only needs a green salad and some bread to make a satisfying meal.
While I was in Israel I got addicted to the after dinner drink of hot water with loads of fresh mint and lemon steeped for several minutes. Some people add black tea and sugar, but I like it as is. I also have a ripe honeydew melon so my dinner is ready when I am. After a lovely long walk along Chicago’s beautiful lakefront, we are ready to sit down to a delicious dinner in about 20 minutes.
Vegan Stuffed Vegetables Mediterranean Style
Yield: 6 servings
3 cups cooked rice (any kind will do – if I had a rice lentil pilaf, I would have used that)
2 smallish regular eggplants
2 sweet red bell peppers
1 large or 2 small zucchini
1 large shallot or about 1/2 cup of chopped onions
1/4 cup pine nuts
6 ounces of raisins (dark, light or a mixture)
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons EVOO (or Ghee) plus more for drizzling
~28 ounces chopped tomatoes (I like the kind in the box and they come in slightly under that amount)
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste (I used Aleppo pepper but fresh cracked black pepper is fine)
1.5 teaspoons Baharat
Goat cheese crumbles (optional) You can use feta, Bulgarian cheese or almost any relatively mild goat cheese.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with sides in foil. Drizzle with EVOO.
- Split the eggplants lengthwise and score the flesh without piercing the skin. Lay the eggplant on the foil flesh down. Split the zucchini lengthwise and also place it on the foil-covered pan, flesh-side down. Split the bell peppers, remove the seeds and pith and lay them down on the pan, cut-side down.
- Place the pan in the hot oven and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the peppers and set aside. Turn the eggplants and zucchini over and return to the oven for about 10 more minutes.
- Carefully remove the eggplants and zucchini from the pan and allow them to cool enough for you to handle. Using a melon baller or spoon, carefully scoop out the flesh without tearing the skins. Chop up the flesh and set aside.
- Meanwhile, add the rice to a large bowl and mix with 1/2 teaspoon Baharat. In a saute pan, add the 2 Tablespoons of EVOO or Ghee and heat on medium high. Add the shallots or onions and saute for 1-2 minutes. Now add the raisins and the pine nuts, about 1/2 teaspoon Baharat, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Saute for about 3 minutes. Add it to the rice in the bowl and mix through. Add the chopped parsley.
- In the same pan, add a drizzle of EVOO, the garlic and the chopped eggplant and zucchini and saute for about 3 minutes – until everything is well mixed and the excess liquid has evaporated. Add this to the rice mixture and mix through.
- In a shallow (I needed 2 pans) heavy pan (like Le Creuset) add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Season with salt, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon Baharat. Mix thoroughly. Take about 1/3 of a cup of this sauce and add it to the rice mixture and stir through.
- Carefully take the vegetable skins and bell peppers and stuff them generously with the rice mixture. Transfer them to the pan(s) with the tomato sauce. If desired, you can sprinkle crumbled goat cheese on top and then drizzle with EVOO. This can be made ahead up to this point and reheated/browned later when you are ready to serve it.
- When you are ready to serve, heat your oven to 375 degrees F. and place the pan(s) in the oven uncovered. Bake for 20 minutes or until heated through and the tops are browned.