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Although eggplant in the Middle East is mainly limited to two types, the large and the gradually smaller in size, appetizing meals prepared with eggplant are seemingly endless. It is pickled, sauteed, stuffed, cooked in a variety of sauces and made into nutritious salads. A creative aunt of mine even made it into jam; but then this creatively frugal aunt once ventured into making her own salt by drying sea water from her nearby shoreline!

2 large eggplants
15 mL (1tbsp) salt
375 mL (1 1/2 cups) long grain rice
vegetable oil for deep frying
2 large onions, diced
1 kg (2 pounds) lean beef, cut up into grape-size pieces
7 mL (1 1/2 tsp) salt
2 mL (1/2 tsp) black pepper
3 mL (3/4 tsp) cinnamon
5 mL (1 tsp) allspice
375 mL (1 1/2 cups) boiling water
50 mL (1/4 cup) pine nuts fried in a bit of oil

Peel (or partially peel) eggplants, cut into slightly smaller than walnut size cubes, sprinkle with salt and set aside for at least one hour. Soak the rice in boiling water to cover, for one hour or more. (All this could be done in the morning if you plan to cook the meal in the afternoon.)

Squeeze eggplant to remove excess moisture and deep fry in oil (in batches) until well browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a heavy (preferably shallow) casserole. Pour out most of the oil, leaving 5-6 tbsp in the pot. Fry onions until golden, add meat and brown. Add to eggplant along with the spices and mix together well. Drain rice and spoon over eggplant and meat mixture; spread out to cover. Pour boiling water over rice and bring to a boil. Cover; lower heat to very low and cook until all water is absorbed (about 30 minutes).

Remove lid, invert a large platter over the pot and flip over pot and platter together so the meal settles on the platter. Do not remove the pot – keep as is. Bundle up in a blanket or place in a warm oven until mealtime.

When ready to serve, remove the pot, garnish with fried pine nuts.

Accompany with a lettuce or tomato salad; and with a bowlful of Laban/Yogurt to spoon over individual servings if desired

Makes 6 servings

Note 1: Another classic version to this recipe is made with fried cauliflower.

Note 2: For additional tartness lemon juice may be squeezed over individual servings.

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