I returned from Istanbul a few weeks ago with an eggplant monkey on my back. When I wasn’t stuffing myself with Turkish baklava, I was slavering over Turkish eggplant. The aubergine highlight of my travels was a braised veal shank wrapped in eggplant, a dish so meltingly tender than it was difficult to tell from texture alone where the eggplant ended and the meat began. The ubiquity of cooked eggplant in Turkey isn’t duplicated in this country so an eggplant lover must often fall back on his own devices. Stuffed Eggplant with Farro, Ginger and Pomegranate is not nearly so complicated as the veal shank I ate, but it is tender, and so deeply satisfying that the absence of meat in the recipe seems irrelevant.
A surfeit of over-rosemaried, bitter ratatouilles in my twenties made by well-intentioned vegetarian roommates, followed by experience as a dad whose kids turned up their noses at the stuff, made it easy for me to leave eggplant (and zucchini) off grocery lists for much of my adult life. I did eat eggplant parmesan during lonely guy nights out, but I wasn’t about to try cooking that at home. Regardless, in the last ten years eggplant has slyly insinuated itself back into out kitchen, first as a modest grilled accompaniment to lamb, next posturing as a deconstructed version of an Italian classic, Simple Eggplant Parmesan. Finally, after a bicycle trip to Puglia, for no reason other than it tasted incredible, we duplicated the culinary highlight of our trip, Burnt Wheat Cavatelli with Tomato Eggplant Sauce (omitting the traditional horse meat ingredient), a meal so good that I’ve been known to make and eat it alone, as long as there’s a bottle of sturdy red wine within reach. Eggplant is cunning.
We no longer bother salting eggplant to remove bitterness. When I grill slices of large globe eggplants, using salt only as a last-minute seasoning, bitterness isn’t a problem, and bitterness has never been an issue for the smaller eggplants used in this recipe.
Anyone familiar with scooping raw eggplant might wonder why we didn’t just slice the damn things lengthwise before cooking and save ourselves the hassle of hollowing out whole ones. The answer is simple. Halving the eggplants would require twice as many pans and twice as much sauce to simmer all the halves simultaneously. Also, in order for the farro stuffing to finish cooking evenly, we’d have to use a parchment seal under the lid of each pan. It seemed easier to go ahead and scoop out the shells. FYI: make sure you have a sharp-edged melon baller. Once that’s done, you’re practically home free. Oh, and our kids, especially our daughter, who was with me in Istanbul, now pretend that they’ve always loved eggplant. Enjoy. Ken
Stuffed Eggplant with Farro, Ginger and Pomegranate
- 4 small eggplant, 8 ounces each
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups finely chopped onion
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- ¾ cup semi-pearled farro, rinsed
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup chopped mint + some leaves for garnish
- ½ cup chopped parsley + some leaves for garnish
- ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
- 2 cups chopped peeled fresh or canned tomatoes
- ½ cup pomegranate juice
- One at a time, roll the eggplants back and forth under your palms, leaning over and putting some weight into it. This will soften the skin, and make it a bit easier to remove the flesh. Cut off and reserve the stalked tops. Using a melon baller, scoop out the flesh, leaving a hollow eggplant behind with walls roughly a ¼-inch thick. Chop the flesh.
- Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over low heat. Add the onions, garlic and ginger, season with salt and pepper, cover with a lid and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove the lid, scoop out half the onion mixture and transfer to a bowl.* Add the chopped eggplant, cumin and coriander to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the eggplant starts to sear, about 6 minutes.
- Add the farro, reduce the heat to low, cook 2 minutes, season with salt and pepper; add the water, cover and cook 10 minutes. Remove the cover and cook until the mixture is dry. Stir in the chopped herbs and all but 1 tablespoon of the sesame seeds. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
- Stuff the eggplant shells with the farro mixture and secure each with a stalk top with tooth picks.
- While the farro is cooling, wipe out the pan, then add the reserved onion mixture. Add the tomatoes and pomegranate juice and cook 10 minutes over low heat. Lay the eggplant into the pan and spoon the tomato mixture over the top. Cover and cook for 45 minutes, turning the eggplants every ten minutes or so.
- Split each eggplant lengthwise, sprinkle with sesame seeds, leaves of mint and parsley, and serve.
I was excited to realize, once I started to cook, that this is a vegan recipe. It wasn’t intentional. It’s just a great recipe. Roxanne, who passed through the kitchen while I was carrying on about it and she said, “Vegan is no longer cool. Didn’t you know that, mom”? I guess I didn’t get the memo, but what I do know is that sometimes, all of us, want to eat something delicious with lots of vegetables.
I had to leave our blogging session before the eggplant finished cooking, so I was surprised to discover later that Ken had split the eggplant lengthwise instead of doing what I’d imagined but never explained – cutting the cooked eggplant crosswise into rounds. You can serve it either way. It’s probably easier lengthwise, instead of in rounds, when you have to take care not to let the stuffing fall out.
*I bolded the instruction so you don’t make the same mistake as me. I forgot to set aside half the onion mixture, as indicated in Step 2, before adding the chopped eggplant to the pan. When I realized my oversight, I had to slalom around the eggplant with a teaspoon to get enough sautéed onion out to make the sauce.