Last week fall rolled in with a wallop. When I went to work on Thursday, it was warmish and humid and vaguely sweaty out, but by the time I left the office that night, it was FRIGID. And by frigid I mean 58 degrees, which, ok, is not that cold. But if we consider the psychotically hot summer that we’ve had this year, 58 degrees feels like a blast directly from the north pole. I know some people are mourning summer’s loss, but I am decidedly not one of them. Braising season is here, ya’ll.
You should have seen New York this week. The second the temperature plummeted all the women, including myself, busted out the city-wide uniform of skinny jeans, long sweaters and scarves. I don’t think I realized how much I was looking forward to the change of season until it happened. But now that it’s here, I am all in. Scarves and boots and heartier fare, here I come. As soon as it cooled off I developed a major craving for this recipe, which I found over at Smitten Kitchen last year and became vaguely obsessed with, turning it into pasta sauce and stew, as well as actually making the real recipe a few times. For someone that rarely repeats recipes, that’s saying something.
Until a few years ago, I claimed I didn’t like eggplant. Like all of the things that I “don’t like,” I still ate it, it just was never my first choice (there really is nothing on my will-not-eat list; there is no will-not-eat list). It was too bitter for me and of questionable texture. Then, I don’t know, something’s happened over the last few years and I’ve totally changed my tune. I really, really like eggplant. This is why I keep eating things I don’t love; you never know when you may decided that your former self was crazy-pants. This recipe may have had something to do with the about-face. It’s hearty and warming, but somehow still light. It bridges summer and fall just perfectly. It is a serious winner.
When I ate this for dinner tonight, I found myself asking myself “why is this so buttery!? There’s no butter in it!” And then I realized…oh right…lamb fat. Delicious, buttery, make-your-hair-shiny lamb fat. It does the same thing to the tomato sauce that a tablespoon of butter would have done, cutting the acid and making the flavors fill your whole mouth. Since this is lebanese-style, the lamb stuffing itself is seasoned with allspice and studded with pine nuts. I fully intended to add raisins and fully forgot (damnit), but I’ve done it before and it totally works. The warm spices in the filling, richness of the lamb, crunch of the pinenuts, umami from the tomato and spritz of sour from the lemon are, well, friggin’ mouthwatering. The whole thing brazes for under an hour and fills your house with goodness. I suggest you get on this. Immediately.
From Smitten Kitchen. Serves ~4.
Other than cutting the recipe in half (the full recipe is below), I followed it almost exactly. You should feel free to add 2 T raisins if you like that sort of thing.
6 (5″ to 6″ long) eggplants (about 6 ounces each)
1/2 c long-grain rice
2 T olive oil
3 T pine nuts
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 c chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 (14 1/2-oz) can diced tomatoes in juice
3/4 lb ground lamb (or beef chuck)
1 t ground allspice
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley (forgot this)
- Cut the end off the bottom of each eggplant (just enough to get in there). Using a melon baller, scoop out the innards of each eggplant, leaving walls ~1/3″ thick. Discard the innards
- In a 12″ saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the pine nuts and fry until brown. Remove to a medium bowl
- Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook until soft and starting to brown. Remove half the onions and garlic and add to the bowl with the pine nuts
- Add the broth, tomatoes and juice, 3/4 t salt and 1/4 t pepper to the onions in the hot pan and let simmer
- Add the lamb, rice, allspice, 1 t salt and 1/2 t pepper to the bowl with the pinenuts and stir with your hands. Really get in there and mix and up well!
- Stuff the eggplants with the lamb mixture, leaving enough room for the rice to expand (just don’t pack it too tightly)
- Place the eggplants in the tomato sauce and simmer, covered, for ~50 minutes (or until rice is done; cut into one to check), turning once during the cooking time
- If the sauce is quite watery at the end of cooking time (mine was), remove the eggplants, turn the heat up to medium-high and boil, stirring regularly, until the sauce reduces to a thicker consistency (~5 min)
- Serve the eggplants topped with the sauce and sprinkled with lemon juice and parsley