Eggplant. I love it. Even as a child I loved it. Is that normal? Do most kids like eggplant? My mom used to buy frozen eggplant sticks. Like fish sticks, but eggplant. I know that eggplant ‘fries’ are a normal thing now, but I don’t think it was super-normal then. I liked them more than fish sticks. I know that wasn’t normal for a kid. I was the kid that wanted eggplant. I have a very distinct memory of my mom opening that freezer door at the grocery store and putting them in the cart. Accompanied by the sound of angels singing – or church bells ringing, or Eddie Van Halen’s guitar, you get the picture – whatever sound would most vividly illustrate my excitement. I feel like this particular product was fairly short-lived. There came a day when there were no frozen eggplant sticks to be found. They were ahead of their time.
But this post is not about eggplant sticks. It is, however, about frozen-ness, and eggplants, and the comfort of food memories. And what could be more comforting on a cold day than the warm scent of cinnamon filling the house for a couple of hours? And on a weekend when temperatures hovered around 2 degrees, and my car was literally frozen shut, the aroma felt like a warm, cozy hug.
Although eggplant is a summer vegetable, this is definitely a winter dish for me, because the oven has to be on for 90 minutes and I never do that in the summer. It’s great for a Saturday dinner party because it’s meant to be served warm or at room temp and because it takes 90 minutes to cook. Which means a) you don’t have to worry about having the hot food hot the moment you are ready to sit down, and b) you can clean the kitchen while it cooks so when guests arrive everything is already tidy. It’s also perfect to make on a Sunday afternoon – prep it, pop it into the oven, and then have zero guilt about being lazy the rest of the day. Especially if it’s 2 degrees and you just want to get back under the blanket on the couch.
It may look fancy and complicated, but this doesn’t take any longer to prepare than tacos, and you always have time for tacos, so I know you have time for this. Seriously – sauté some onions, brown some meat and spices, whisk up a sauce in a bowl and you’re done. Just stay inside, keep warm, and allow yourself to be comforted by the smell of warm cinnamon for a good hour and a half. You might even hear angels singing, church bells ringing or the sound of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar.
Related recipes: Want more ideas for eggplant? Try this Eggplant Caprese Sandwich
Eggplant Stuffed with Lamb and Pine Nuts
(Adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)
2-3 medium eggplants, halved lengthwise
1 lb ground lamb
1 medium onion, finely diced
7 tbsp pine nuts
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tsp sugar
2/3 cup water
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
4 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the eggplant halves in a 9×13 baking dish. Depending upon the size, you will use 2 or three eggplants, they will shrink a bit as they cook, so they can be very snug in there.
Drizzle (or brush) about a tablespoon of olive oil over the flesh of each eggplant. Season them with about a tsp of kosher salt and sprinkle with cracked black pepper.
Roast for 20 – 40 minutes, until the flesh and edges just begin to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.
Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
While the eggplants are roasting, begin working on the lamb stuffing.
Heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet.
Mix cumin, paprika, and ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Add half the spice mixture to the oil heating in the pan. Whisk together until it forms a paste. Add onions and stir until coated with the oil and spices. Cook onions over medium heat until softened and translucent, but not browned.
Add the lamb, parsley, pine nuts, tomato paste, one teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of sugar, and some black pepper. Stir to combine and cook until lamb is fully cooked and no pink remains.
Combine remaining spice mix with water, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the cinnamon sticks. Mix well. Pour mixture into the bottom of the roasting pan.
Spoon lamb mixture on top of each eggplant. Cover dish with aluminum foil, return to the oven, and roast for 90 minutes. At 30 minutes and 60 minutes, remove from the oven and baste eggplants with pan sauce, cover with foil and return to the oven. Add a little more water if the sauce starts to dry out.
Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with a bit of fresh parsley.