In Lebanese cuisine, there is only one sheikh. The Almighty Eggplant. After sampling this recipe you will understand why. Truth be told, it deserves the title. Whether prepared with tomatoes or yoghurt sauce, it always comes out unbelievably exquisite, melting in your mouth, silken in texture, well, just plain heavenly.
I have to say: Lebanese eggplants are some of the best I have ever tasted. Tiny but extremely flavorful. My brother who lives in Singapore asked about this recipe, as he says they have the small, round eggplants over there. Well, guess what. Here in Dallas, too! I can find these at the Asian markets or at the middle-eastern store, or even at the Hispanic market.
This recipe is done in two different ways: The eggplants are fried in clarified butter or oil, then stuffed with a mixture of ground lamb, onion, pine nuts and spices. Then, they are finished off in a tomato sauce or a cooked yogurt sauce.
I love the version with tomato sauce. I love yoghurt, but find that cooked yoghurt is a bit tricky to reheat (it tends to curdle, even when it is stabilized) . SO, I decided to cook them in the tomato sauce, but add a bit of cooked yoghurt as a final touch for the added creaminess. I find this to be the perfect compromise. I think it adds a depth of flavor.
One other option is to add plain, fresh yoghurt to the eggplants. The yoghurt is mixed with a little garlic and mint. This would eliminate the problem of the yoghurt curdling when it is reheated. This version is very common in Lebanon and is called a fatteh.
I consulted half a dozen cookbooks for this recipe and this is my own version.
Here is the schedule of events:
- Prepare the stuffing
- Prepare the rice
- Fry and stuff the eggplants
- Cook the eggplants in tomato sauce
- Fry the garlic and mint sauce
- Cook the yoghurt, incorporate the garlic and mint sauce
- Assemble the dish: Rice is scooped on the plate, on top sits the eggplants, covered with yoghurt sauce.
INGREDIENTS: This quantity will yield 6 servings
- 1 pound of cute, little, eggplants
- 1 large onion
- 1/2 pound ground lamb (get it a bit fatty)
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- Spices: salt, pepper, paprika, cinnamon, allspice
- 1 pound of yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (optional)
- 3 cloves of garlic, mashed with a dash of salt
- 1 tablespoon of dried mint, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil or clarified butter (for the mint-garlic sauce)
- 1 cup of oil to fry the eggplants
- Peel the eggplants leaving some areas unpeeled (for effect)
- Salt the eggplants and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then rub the salt off.
- Heat the olive oil or clarified butter in a skillet and gently saute the eggplants on all sides until they become limp. OR, deep-fry them for 5 minutes till limp.
- Place on a dish lined with paper towels.
Make the stuffing: This step can be done a day ahead or way ahead and frozen.
- Heat the oil and fry the onions. Add the meat and fry the meat, breaking lumps apart with two wooden spoons and adding all the spices.
- Drain the meat and onion mixture on a sieve over a bowl.
- Collect a couple tablespoons of oil and brown the pine nuts for a few minutes.
- Add the pine nuts to the meat and onion mixture.
Preparing the eggplants:
- Stuff the eggplants with the meat mixture. Slit them through the middle lengthtwise to form a pocket, pushing the flesh with a spoon from both sides. Place the eggplants in a skillet. Place any leftover stuffing in the skillet as well.
- Measure one cup of water and mix in the tomato paste and pomegranate molasses.
- Add the tomato mixture to the skillet and cover the skillet. You can use a plate to press the eggplants down, then cover half way. Simmer very gently the eggplants for 25 minutes or so until the sauce has almost evaporated and the eggplants are meltingly tender.
Prepare the yoghurt and mint and garlic sauce:
- Heat the olive oil or clarified butter in a small skillet. Add the mashed garlic and chopped mint.
- Stir a few seconds till the fragrance comes out, but do not let it burn. Set aside.
- Place one pound of yoghurt in a bowl, add to it a beaten egg and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch diluted in 1/4 cup of water. Mix well.
- Pour this mixture through a sieve into a saucepan and heat it.
- With a wooden spoon, stir this mixture continuously in the same direction until you see steam coming out of the saucepan. Lower the heat.
- Swirl into the yoghurt the mint and garlic sauce.
Serving the eggplants:
Prepare a dish of plain rice and serve the eggplants with rice, covering them with some yoghurt sauce.
RICE WITH VERMICELLI:
- 1/2 cup of vermicelli noodles (also called fideos in latin markets)
- 3 Tablespoons of butter
- 1 1/2 cup of long-grain rice such as Basmati
- 4 cups of water, dash of salt
- Heat the butter till it sizzles. Add the vermicelli and fry them until they brown, 5 minutes.
- Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter, one minute.
- Add the water to the rice and a dash of salt. Bring to a boil and cover the pan.
- Lower the heat and simmer the rice 20 minutes or so until the grains are cooked.
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