Succulent lamb on a bed of tender eggplant, generously spiced and sprinkled with pine nuts.
I served this aromatic, meaty dish with white rice on the side, just something rather plain, so as not to clash with the big, Middle Eastern flavors. With a leafy salad of mixed greens, we had a feast. And I’m thinking it would work really well on Passover week, when guests come from out of town and I’ll want to make something special.
It is a dish apart. I felt lucky to have discovered it in a new cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem, A Cookbook. I hadn’t tried any of the recipes yet, just flipped through the pages, admiring the gorgeous photographs.
Then I remembered. In the fridge was lurking this enormous eggplant.
I’d picked it up in the shuk, unable to resist its ridged, polished, purple firmness. It looked like it would make a meal for four. I’d figure out something to do with it, I thought cheerfully. And came home, put it in the fridge, and let it sit there for a day.
But when I’d open the fridge to peer at it, the sheer size of that eggplant intimidated me. It was so big, I really couldn’t think what to do with it. I didn’t want to let it go soft in the fridge. There’s something really sad about a once-fine eggplant with buckled, brown spots all over it. (Don’t ask how I know.) But how much baba ganoush can one small family eat? Or eggplant fried, or even as eggplant parmesan?
There had to be a good recipe featuring a main-dish eggplant in my new book. The authors, both Jerusalemites although one Jewish and one Arab, must know a million eggplant dishes. So I looked it up in the index.
Ah! There it was. A version of a Turkish eggplant and lamb dish I’ve eaten at the Azura restaurant in shuk Machaneh Yehudah. I remember thinking it was good, but too heavy on cinnamon. Still, the teasing memory had stayed with me. And there was the dish in my new cookbook, easy to adapt. I hopped over to my local supermarket, picked up half a kilo of ground lamb, and cooked it.
It did make a meal for four, generously. It looks delicious on the table, tastes delicious in the mouth, leaves a delicious memory. I was happy. So were Husband, the Little One, and then me again, when I had the leftovers the next day.
For Passover week, I’ll serve this lamb-stuffed eggplant with golden herbed potato wedges. It was so good…it’s going to impress the beejeebers out of everyone.
Eggplant Stuffed With Lamb
adapted from Jerusalem, A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Serves 4 as a main dish, or 6 as a side dish.
You don’t have to have a huge baladi (heritage) eggplant like mine. Try this dish with 4 medium-sized American eggplants instead. This recipe assumes you’ll be working with those.
4 medium eggplants
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion
450 grams – 1 lb. ground lamb
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Half of the spice mix
1/c cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Silan date honey or tamarind paste. You may also use bee’s honey, but increase the lemon juice by 1 more teaspoon in that case.
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cinnamon stick
Preheat the oven to 220°C, 425°F.
Halve the eggplants horizontally. Place them, purple side down, in a roasting pan. Brush their pale interiors with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Bake 20 minutes.
Meantime, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet, over medium heat. Add the onions.
Mix up the spice blend in a small bowl. Add half of it to the onions, stirring it in. Cook the seasoned onions until well wilted and golden, about 10 minutes, stirring.
Add the lamb, pine nuts, parsley, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon each sugar and salt, and more pepper. Keep cooking and stirring until the meat is cooked through – about 8 more minutes.
To the rest of the spice blend in the small bowl, add the water, lemon juice, silan (or honey), the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, the cinnamon stick, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
By this time, the eggplants should be golden and ready to remove from the oven to cool a little.
Reduce the oven temperature to 195° C, 375° F.
Move the eggplants around a little to let you pour the spiced water into the bottom of the roasting pan. Cover each half of eggplant with the lamb.
Cover the pan tightly with tin foil and roast for 45 minutes. Baste the eggplants with the sauce that forms in the pan. Cover them again with tin foil and bake another 20 minutes. If it looks like the sauce is drying out, add a little more water (or white wine). Baste again. Cover once more and bake another 15 minutes.
Now it’s ready. My sauce was not thick, as the cookbook says it will be, but that’s probably because I cooked the dish in the bottom of a tajine, which collects much of the condensation even without the conical top.
Ottolenghi/Tamimi suggest serving this dish warm or room temperature, not hot. We ate it warm, sprinkled with more chopped parsley. It was fine.