This is a version of an eggplant dish I first ate during a visit to Istanbul.* Like most stuffed vegetable dishes, this one does have a lot of steps, but the entire dish can be made ahead and served reheated or at room temperature. The rich lamb is tempered by the onions, garlic, tomatoes and fresh herbs and its eggplant casing becomes silky soft and delectable as it bakes. Serve with rice, couscous or a small pasta such as orzo on the side.
I should point out that when this recipe first appeared in the j.weekly, a reader from a Turkish background took me to task for saying you could serve this dish at room temperature. Lamb is never served at room temperature in Turkey I was informed. That is true so if you want to eat it at room temperature, please do, but understand most folks would not do so in Turkey. I do not recommend eating it cold or chilled, however.
Friends have said they don't eat lamb and asked for substitutions. Try it with dark meat ground turkey or beef, or make it vegetarian like the dish that inspired this recipe (called the Imman Fainted). You may want to use more tomatoes to make up for the absence of the lamb. Or you can chop, cube and fry the eggplant that was removed when you hollowed the vegetables out and add when you would mix the lamb in with the tomatoes and onions.
Afiyet olsun! (Or bon appetit in Turkish. If you speak Turkish and that's wrong, please let me know!)
Turkish-Style Stuffed Eggplant
Serves 6-81 tsp. salt
4 cups very thinly sliced onions (no thicker than 1/8”)
1 Tbs. canola oil
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1 lb. ground lamb
1 lb. medium tomatoes, peeled and seeded (see note)
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. sugar
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint
2/3 cup finely chopped fresh, flat leaf parsley
4 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 medium eggplants (1 lb. each)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup water
Chopped dill, mint and or parsley for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, sprinkle salt over onion slices, toss well. Heat 1 Tbs. canola oil over medium high heat in large sauté pan. Add garlic and sauté until golden. Add lamb and sauté, stirring and breaking up any clumps, until just browned, about 2-3 minutes. Drain and discard any excess liquid and add lamb to onions. Cut tomatoes into 1/2” chunks and add with tomato paste, paprika, pepper, sugar, dill, mint, parsley and lemon juice, mix well.
Prepare eggplants. Trim off leaves, but leave stems. Slice in half lengthwise. Use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove 3 lengthwise strips (each about 3/4”-1” wide) of eggplant skin from each half, starting at the stem end and leaving the skin intact between strips, creating a striped pattern. If needed, slice a bit off the rounded bottom to stabilize. Use a large spoon to hollow out the eggplants, being careful not to pierce to skin. Leave 1/2" of flesh all around. Reserve scooped out eggplant pieces for another use or discard.
Pack each half with the filling and mound more on top, covering the surface of the eggplant to the edge. Place eggplants skin side down and side by side in a 14” x 9” baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over tops. Pour water down the sides of the pan. Loosely cover with aluminum foil. Bake for about 60 to 75 minutes (timing can vary greatly, so it may take more or less time), until onions are tender and eggplants are very soft. Check every 30 minutes, basting with cooking liquid and adding more water to the pan if necessary. When done, baste once more and remove from the pan, discarding cooking liquid. Sprinkle with chopped herbs if desired. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Note: To peel tomatoes, cut a cross into the stem end about 1/8” deep. Place in pot of boiling water to cover. Let simmer 2-3 minutes until skin is loosened. Remove, let cool and rub or peel off skin. To seed, slice in half and gently squeeze out seeds.
*I am long overdue for writing up more about my trip to Istanbul last year, including the cooking class were I first made the vegetarian version of this dish. I'll update this post with a link to those experiences when I finally do the write ups.