Fragrant stuffed vegetables can be made ahead of the meal and served hot or at room temperature. They don’t require a lot of patience to assemble — they just need a long simmer and then a rest to let the flavors mingle and intensify. Eat them as a main dish or a side, and serve up leftovers for lunch.
Eggplant Stuffed With Rice and Tomatoes
The filling for these irresistible stuffed eggplants is also good for peppers and squash. Substitute the chopped flesh of the summer squash for the eggplant, and just use the rice and tomatoes for peppers. Make these a day ahead for best results.
2 1/2 to 3 pounds small or medium eggplants
Salt to taste
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, grated on the large holes of a box grater
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 to 6 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
1/2 cup uncooked long-grain or basmati rice
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1. Cut the eggplants in half. With a grapefruit spoon or a small knife, remove the flesh to within 1/2 inch of the skins.
2. Sprinkle the eggplant shells with salt, and let sit for 30 minutes while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Chop the flesh, and steam for 20 minutes, until tender.
3. In a large bowl, combine a third of the tomatoes, the steamed eggplant, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, all but 1 clove of the garlic, the rice, herbs and the juice of one of the lemons. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Oil a large flameproof casserole or an earthenware casserole set over a flame tamer. Combine the remaining tomatoes, olive oil, allspice, cinnamon, lemon juice, sugar, tomato paste and remaining garlic in the casserole. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Fill the eggplant shells with the rice mixture, and arrange in the casserole in a single layer. Add water if necessary to cover about a third of the eggplant. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, cover tightly and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 45 minutes to an hour until the eggplant and rice are tender. Remove from the heat.
5. Using two spatulas (the eggplants are soft at this point), transfer the eggplants to a platter. Bring the sauce to a boil. If it is not already thick, reduce until thick and fragrant. Pour over the eggplants, and allow to cool to warm or room temperature. They’re good chilled as well. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or cilantro if desired.
Yield: Serves six.
Advance preparation: These taste even better the day after they’re made; they firm up in the refrigerator and are easier to handle. They will keep for about four days in the refrigerator. I like them cold.
Nutritional information per serving: 193 calories; 1 gram saturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 5 grams monounsaturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 30 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams dietary fiber; 32 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 4 grams protein