There are some dishes that just don’t photograph well. This is one of them. No matter how much I tried to make it pretty, it comes out like a brown and black mess when I take its picture. I guess I could have sprinkled some fresh parsley on it or nestled a few lemon wedges between the eggplant pieces in order to give it some color. But I decided not to. It’s not necessary. Because no matter what the photos look like, this is one of the best dishes you will ever taste. It is, by far, my favorite recipe out of Jerusalem: A Cookbook. And that says a lot. I love just about every recipe in that book.
For starters, it’s an easy eggplant recipe. I don’t know why, but as soon as I see a recipe that calls for salting eggplant pieces and letting them drain in a colander before cooking them, I have an instant reaction of “no way!” I just don’t have the patience for that. The great thing about this recipe is that it simply calls for cutting the eggplant down the middle, scoring the flesh and brushing it with olive oil. From that point on, it just cooks in the oven for a long time, at first on its own and then covered with the ground meat mixture, until it becomes melt-in-your-mouth soft.
If I’ve learned one thing out of this amazing cookbook (and I’ve learned a lot), it is the power of the holy trinity of Middle Eastern spices: cumin, paprika, and cinnamon. When combined, they produce an intoxicating mix that is sweet (from the paprika), earthy (from the cumin), and spicy (from the cinnamon), all at the same time. Along with onions, pine nuts, and parsley, they turn the ground lamb “stuffing” of this dish into something entirely exotic but wonderfully comforting as well.
Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Pine Nuts – From Jerusalem: A Cookbook
4 medium eggplants
(about 2 pounds/1.2 kg), halved lengthwise
6 tablespoons/90 ml olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 medium onions (12 ounces/340 grams in total), finely chopped
1 pound/500 grams ground lamb
7 tablespoons/50 grams pine nuts
2/3 ounces/20 grams flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons tomato paste
3 teaspoons superfine sugar
2/3 cup/150 ml water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
4 cinnamon sticks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Place the eggplant halves, skin side down, in a roasting pan large enough to accommodate them snugly. Brush the flesh with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
While the eggplants are cooking, you can start making the stuffing by heating the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan. Mix together the cumin, paprika, and ground cinnamon and add half of this spice mix to the pan, along with the onions. Cook over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, stirring often, before adding the lamb, pine nuts, parsley, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper. Continue to cook and stir for another 8 minutes, until the meat is cooked.
Place the remaining spice mix in a bowl and add the water, lemon juice, tamarind, the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, the cinnamon sticks, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; mix well.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F/195°C. Pour the spice mix into the bottom of the eggplant roasting pan. Spoon the lamb mixture on top of each eggplant. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, return to the oven, and roast for 1 1/2 hours, by which point the eggplants should be completely soft and the sauce thick; twice during the cooking, remove the foil and baste the eggplants with the sauce, adding some water if the sauce dries out. Serve warm, not hot, or at room temperature.