As anyone who follows my blog knows, I love vegetables and I love lamb. Mediterraneans stuff all kinds of vegetables and the ingredients and seasonings are only limited by your imagination and personal tastes. You can keep the dish vegetarian – as I do at times – or you can blend grains with ground lamb or beef. This time I decided to stuff my eggplant and zucchini with ground lamb mixed with cooked bulghur wheat, onions, garlic and Ras El Hanout, a Moroccan spice mix. My spice mix came from Kalustyan and combines, coriander, cumin, fennel, allspice, cinnamon, anise, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric, rose petals, lavender and black pepper. Any good spice store or Middle Eastern market should carry it and each will have its own combination of spices. You can, of course, make your own and adjust the mix to suit your own personal tastes.
The different parts of this dish can be assembled ahead and heated through when you are ready to serve. All that is needed to round out the meal is salad, maybe some hummus and pita and some fruit. Get creative and go stuff some vegetables!
Baked Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Bulghur
Yield: 4 servings
2 medium eggplants (about 1.25 pounds each)
1 cup cooked bulghur wheat, farro or rice
1 pound of ground lamb or beef
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves of peeled, minced garlic
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
About 2.5 teaspoons Ras El Hanout or other spice combination like Baharat
28 ounces of good quality canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
2 Tablespoons of tomato paste
1 Tablespoon of either balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses
About 4 ounces of a melty cheese like a mozzarella provolone blend or a Haloumi (Optional)
Dried bread crumbs, preferably Panko (Optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. and place the rack in the center of the oven.
- Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise. Leaving a 1/2-inch border, use a paring knife to cut around the insides of each half. Scoop out the flesh carefully so as not to go beyond your border. If you go too far the vegetable “boats” will collapse when cooked. Coarsely cut up the flesh and set aside.
- Rub the insides of the vegetable “boats” with about 1 Tablespoon of the EVOO and season with the salt and pepper. Place the “boats” in a baking dish (or dishes as in my case) large enough to hold them fairly snugly. I like to alternate the pieces head to foot for a better fit. Roast until tender, about 30 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of the vegetable. You know when it is done if there is no resistance when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove the vegetables from the oven and set aside.
- In a large frying pan, heat 2-3 tablespoons of EVOO and brown the ground lamb with about 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Remove the lamb from the pan and put it in a strainer to remove any excess fat and liquid. Without cleaning the pan, add the chopped eggplant flesh, onion and garlic to the pan along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and some cracked black pepper and cook until the onion begins to brown at the edges and the eggplant is cooked. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Depending on your eggplant you may need to add some additional EVOO. Add back the lamb and add the cooked bulghur and 2 teaspoons of Ras El Hanout and just cook for about another two to three minutes, stirring through until the air is perfumed with the spice mix. Allow to cool enough until it is easy to handle. This can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. [NOTE: Any left-overs can be frozen or used later in the week for another dinner.]
- If using whole canned tomatoes, break them up with your hands into a bowl. Add the tomato paste, 1 Tablespoon of either balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses and some fresh cracked black pepper to the tomatoes along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of Ras El Hanout. Stir through. If you want things spicier and your Ras El Hanout did not contain chili pepper, you can add some to taste here. Add 1/2 cup of the tomato mixture to the eggplant, onion, bulghur wheat mixture and stir through. Pour the remaining tomato mixture into the bottom of the baking dish(es).
- When you are ready to serve, heat the broiler (or heat your oven to 450 degrees F. if you don’t have a good broiler or if your baking pan is not broiler-safe.) Take each eggplant “boat” and place onto a cutting board or work surface and fill it to the top, mounding it a bit. If you are using cheese, crumble it over the top of each eggplant “boat.” Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and drizzle with EVOO. If you choose not to use the cheese, you can simply sprinkle with some bread crumbs. Broil or roast until the cheese is melted and browned (or until the breadcrumbs are browned). It will be faster under the broiler but should not take long in either case so be sure to watch it. Serve each eggplant “boat” with some of the tomato sauce and sprinkle with chopped parsley or cilantro. Any left-overs can be refrigerated and reheated.