I can’t help but notice the abundance of goods at the farmers’ market. The tables are filled with all kinds of fruits and vegetables. In fact, it is the time of the year when they have the most varieties available. For today’s post I picked eggplant.
We associate eggplants with the Middle East but it actually originated from India and has also been popular in other Asian countries for a long time. Today, it is used all over the world. In Europe, it was a staple until potatoes arrived from the New World. The Turkish have certainly created many recipes with it and believe that they have the best eggplant dishes. The Spanards had brought it over to the Americas in the 1600′. Eggplants have been used in the United States; however, earlier, people didn’t really know what to do with them. Many just used them for decorations only.
Eggplants come in all kinds of shapes and colors. Shapes can be round or more elongated. The colors can vary from white, green to purple. In the United States, the rounder, purple eggplant is usually available in stores. For this recipe, try to buy these smaller, medium sized, fat, purple eggplants that I have pictures of. Also, make sure they are about the same size because different sizes will vary their cooking times. Also they should be nice and firm.
Eggplants belong to the night shade family along with tomatoes and potatoes. Eggplant is a cooling bitter plant that is highly nutritious with vitamins A, B, C, K1, E and minerals manganese, magnesium, copper, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. An interesting fact is that we often believe that it is a vegetable but in fact it is a fruit. Also, it is thought to be aphrodisiac.
In addition to its nutritional values, people have been using eggplants for other health benefits too. Asians like to use them for their cooling property. It is good for digestion, particularly for stagnation and heat. It is beneficial in clearing heat that accumulates during the warmer months but it is still a valuable plant now, during the Indian summer as it can take out heat that may have been trapped in during the summer. In addition, its antioxidants can protect the liver from toxins.
Eggplants are also associated with fertility from their ability to unblock stagnation in the liver and the womb. In China, brides were supposed to have 12 eggplant recipes before they got married. By the same token, pregnant women are advised to limit the consumption of eggplants because of the possibility of miscarriage.
My recipe is the Turkish Karni Yarik that means ‘splitting belly’. If you look at the picture, this will make more sense. You basically stuff the inside, the belly of the eggplant. The warming lamb meat pairs nicely with the cooling eggplant with a hint of mint. When I was in Turkey, I remember this dish was always on the menu and I really liked it. Please see my next post for its vegetarian version if it interests you.
- 1 cup of rice (about half a cup raw)
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 4 medium, equal sized purple eggplants. Please see description above.
- 1 lb of ground lamb
- 1 finally chopped yellow onion
- 1 finally chopped peppers (green, red, yellow-your choice)
- 1 Tbsp cumin
- 1 Tbsp dried peppermint (You might not have mint in your pantry. People usually use mint in teas and don’t cook with it. It can be found at the spice section of a grocery store or at herb stores).
- 1/2 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika powder
- 1/4 tsp of hot red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp of salt or to taste
- 3 fresh ripe plum tomatoes or canned
- hand-full of hard cheese (optional)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- fresh mint to garnish
- 1/2 cup of flat leafed parsley
- Cook 1/2 cup of rice in 1 cup of water. You can add bay leaves if you wish.
- Bake eggplants. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Wash eggplants and put them on an oiled baking sheet. Prick them with a fork in about 6-8 places, half inch deep to prevent them from exploding in your oven. Coat them with some olive oil with a brush. Bake them for 45-60 minutes or until they are nice and soft, so you can put the blade of a knife through easily. You don’t want them to be hard but they shouldn’t collapse either. Once they start becoming soft, keep an eye on them. If you’re using larger eggplants, you will have to cut them in half lengthwise. Oil the top and proceed like you do with the smaller ones.
- When ready take them out and let them cool.
- Prepare the stuffing. Sauté the onion in the oil. When onions are soft but not brown, add peppers and continue sautéing for about 10-15 minutes. Add spices (mint, cumin, paprika), crushed garlic and then the tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes or until tomatoes are well cooked and there is a nice sauce.
- In a separate pot, warm up some oil and sauté the lamb quickly for about 7-10 minutes. If lamb is not fatty enough, you might have to add more olive oil.
- Take off heat. Put the stuffing mixture into a bowl. Add rice, lamb, meat, salt, pepper, parsley and hot pepper flakes. It is optional but I also added graded cheese (I used 1/2 cup). Mix. (The stuffing can be made a day ahead).
- Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Gently cut a slit in the middle down from the top of a whole eggplant making sure you don’t cut through the skin. Take out the seeds. You can use the seeds to make babaganoush or just simply discard them. Just like its name suggests, stuff the inside of the eggplants, their bellies with the stuffing. You can put a little graded cheese and a thin slice of tomato on the top. Put eggplants in a baking dish. Pour boiling water into dish about 1 inch deep. Place dish into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
- Take them out of the oven when top is brown. Let them cool.
- Cut off the ends before serving them.
- Serve warm with cucumber yoghurt sauce.
Yoghurt sauce (cacik)
- 1 1/2 cups of yoghurt
- 1 longer English, slicing cucumber
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 Tbsp of vinegar
- 2 Tbsp of olive oil
- 1 Tbsp of dried mint
- fresh mint
- Peel and slice the cucmber. Place the slices in a bowl, salt and let it sit for 15 minutes. Strain, squeeze out and discard the liquid.
- In a separate bowl mix together all the other ingredients, stir well. Put in the cucumbers and gently stir mix them in.
- Garnish with fresh mint. Serve with the eggplants.
- Paul pitchford: Healing with Whole Foods
- Sally Fallon: Nourished Traditions
- Nancy Harmon Jenkin’s Mediterranean Diet cook book.
Text, recipe and photo by twincitiesherbs.com.