These days I am mainly eating. And eating very well, I might add. Relatives and friends are showering us with their kitchen creations. We feel so pampered and so special. I am also taking advantage of my stay here in Beirut to quiz everybody on their secrets for making molookhiyeh or tamriyeh or fattoosh…
I just got through enjoying some batenjane ‘ateh.
This is the essential summer dish. The tiniest Lebanese eggplants are cored and stuffed with the classic rice, parsley, onion and tomato stuffing. They are then simmered gently in a broth. When cooled, the eggplants melt in your mouth and you find yourself wanting another and another. Lemony, fresh tasting. Served at room temperature. A pure delight in these hot and humid summer evenings.
This mehche (meaning “stuffed”) rests on some basic principles:
- Picking suitables eggplants, such as the small, slender ones or the tiny rounded ones more commonly found in the US
- Right dosage of ingredients for the stuffing, so that not one taste dominates all the others
- Volume of broth should be enough to cook the vegetables in, but not too much!
- Result should be: eggplants glistening and melting in the mouth with a stuffing that is subtle, a bit lemony, creamy and moist
- 2 pounds small and slender eggplants
- 1 large baking potato, sliced in 1/3 inch slices
- 8 oz medium-grain rice, or sushi rice, or risotto rice
- 5 oz white onion, chopped very fine
- 8 oz of ripe tomatoes, chopped in very small dice
- 1 bunch of parsley, preferably flat-leaf, stems discarded and leaves chopped very fine
- 8 sprigs of mint, leaves chopped very fine (or 2 tablespoons of dried mint, crumbled finely)
- 2 large lemons, juiced
- 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon of tomato paste or 2 cups of chopped tomatoes very small
- 1 Tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (optional)
- salt, black pepper, a dash of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg or allspice
- After cleaning the eggplants, cut off the green tip and roll them for a few seconds on a flat and hard surface. Using a vegetable corer mankara, core the eggplants and save the flesh for another dish. Place the cored eggplants in a basin filled with icy water and a drop of lemon.
- In a bowl, combine the stuffing ingredients: rice, chopped onions, chopped parsley, chopped mint, tomatoes, spices and lemon juice and olive oil.
- Start stuffing the eggplants one at a time, leaving a small gap of 1/8 of an inch at the top to allow for the expansion of the grains of rice. Take the potato slices and cover the bottom of a heavy pot with them. This will ensure that the eggplants do not burn of bruise.
- Place the eggplants in the pot in a concentric circle. When all have been placed in the pot, pour the remaining liquid from the stuffing (made up of tomato juice, lemon juice and olive oil and spices). Add more water in which the tomato paste has been diluted and the olive oil in order to cover the eggplants within one inch of the surface. If using, you can add the pomegranate molasses. Cover the eggplants with a small dessert plate to keep them in place during the long simmer. Close the lid of the pan and heat to a gentle boil.
- Simmer on low heat (barely a bubble) for one hour. Cool the pot and then uncover and present on a serving platter. Sahteyn!
Some people like to add sumak to the broth and stuffing. This will give a more sour flavor. Also, it is possible to add pomegranate molasses to the stuffing and broth, about 1 or 1 tablespoons.