(Currently) Favorite Eggplant Dish

Dear Dad,

I am truly sorry for costing you years of eggplant dishes. I could chalk it up to being young and not knowing any better, and at the time I honestly thought I didn’t like eggplant. It’s still not right, however, that every time mom served an eggplant dish, I would whine and grumble and pout and protest and throw shade on such a lovely, well, nightshade fruit. To the point where mom stopped cooking eggplant all together, even though we all know how much you like eggplant.

Once could argue that I am a bad egg(plant).

I have seen the error of my ways, and have spent the summer cooking and eating eggplant in delicious penance. When we see each other next, I owe you this meal. 

Love,
Angela

It’s a true story. I abhorred eggplant and would refuse to eat it, and I was a very willful and stubborn kid. It is not clear to me what changed (with respect to eggplant. I’m still rather willful and stubborn) or even when, all I know is that eggplants of all varieties now top my list of summer food experiences, right up there with all the tomatoes and stone fruit. 

This was my favorite recipe this summer, adapted from NYTimes Cooking: Eggplant with Lamb, Tomato and Pine Nuts. Three large eggplants worked for me, although you might need more or less, depending on how eggplant-y you want your meal, the size of your eggplants, and what you can fit in your pan.

Ingredients

3 large, firm eggplants, cut into 1/2-inch slices 
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
Garlic*
1 lb ground lamb
Optional: monukka raisins (I had monukka on hand, sultanas would also be delectable here)
1 (28 oz) can of tomato sauce
Handful of fresh tomatoes, diced
3/4 cup pine nuts, carefully toasted
Cinnamon*
Nutmeg*
Cumin*
Oregano*
Basil*
Parsley*
Olive oil*
Salt*
Optional: splash of robust red wine
1 cup thick, plain yogurt (I like Siggi’s Icelandic-style)
Feta*

*This is why I cook more than bake: I’m a firm believer in cooking to your tastes, and rarely measure! I tend to like big flavor profiles, so I inevitably add more spices than recipes typically call for. Just be careful not to overwhelm your dish and seek balance – for instance, too much cumin can easily throw a dish, but a dash is magic.

  1. Rev up your broiler, and line some baking sheets. I adore my silpat baking mats for this kind of job! 
  2. Very lightly oil your eggplant slices on all sides (careful not to use too much oil as eggplant absorbs oil better than your quality sponge) and salt and pepper both sides. Arrange slices on baking sheet, and broil in batches, flipping once halfway through, about 5-7 minutes on each side.
  3. While you are working on the eggplant, combine your tomato sauce and tomatoes in a saucepan, and set to medium heat. Add a pinch of salt, and some oregano, basil, and parsley. The goal here is to cook any tinny-ness out of your tomatoes, and to mellow any acidity. Stir frequently and let it come to a gentle boil. Turn the heat off, but cover and let it stew.
  4. If you are using raisins, nuke a cup of filtered water. Then, toss the raisins in and let them rehydrate a bit. When they look a little plumper, drain and gently squeeze out any excess moisture. 
  5. When you are finished broiling the eggplant, adjust the oven to 375 degrees with the rack positioned in the center. 
  6. In a large skillet, heat around 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, around 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ground lamb and break the meat into very small pieces. Before the lamb is completely cooked through, add salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, oregano, basil, and parsley, and, if using, a splash of red wine. Let the wine cook off, and if you are using them, toss in those raisins. Sauté until the meat is just cooked through. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
  7. Grease a 13x9x2 inch baking dish. I forgot this step, but it still came out beautifully 🙂 
  8. Layer! Spread 1/2 cup of tomato mixture on the bottom of the dish. lay 1/3 of the eggplant slices in a single layer over the sauce, covering as much surface area of the bottom of the dish as possible. Spoon half the meat evenly over eggplant. Pour 1/3 of the remaining tomato sauce evenly over meat. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the pine nuts. Layer again with eggplant, meat, tomato sauce and pine nuts. Finish with a layer of eggplant and cover with more tomato sauce, sprinkling top with pine nuts. Cover the pan with foil, and poke a few small holes in the foil so that the dish can steam.
  9. Create a little ambiance in your stove, by which I mean, a little steam. I put an oven-safe ramekin with about a cup of water in the bottom rack of my oven.
  10. Bake your eggplant creation for 1 hour, 45 minutes. 
  11. While your dish is baking, mix yogurt with crumbled feta, and perhaps add in some herbs you like. I added parsley, a drop of lemon juice, and some salt. You might even make some sort of grain to go with your eggplant. As an afterthought, I cooked a little pearl couscous, and it was an awesome pairing.
  12. Serve eggplant warm, on top of your choice of side dish, and with a bit of the yogurt/feta mixture on top. Revel in the glory that is savory summer fruit melting in your mouth.

In addition to being very comforting comfort food, one of the best things about this dish is that it reheats so well. I made this on a Sunday and happily ate it for lunch that whole work week. Happy eggplanting! 

Bonus: do you know why eggplant is called eggplant? Hint: do an image search for growing eggplants!

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