lentil and rice-stuffed baby eggplants
I had a dream the other night that I was swept away by a strong current of water and I was being pulled quickly down a stream. My head was above water, barely, but I could not neither stop the raging rapids nor could I find a way out of the water. And then I saw the sign, “Welcome to September.” Seriously, this month has been a whirlwind, a blur. My three kids started school (three different schools, mind you), I cooked and cooked for the Jewish holidays which came very early this year, I resumed teaching cooking classes four days a week, soccer season started and two of my kids have September birthdays. I told Mr. Picky that his birthday party, as usual, would be in October. Can I ask you people a question? How do you do it all? I am in awe!
Quite honestly, the only area of my life where I am organized is food. I sit down every Sunday night and plan my meals and grocery list for the whole week. If I didn’t do that, I can guarantee we’d be eating cereal and not-homemade almond milk for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or at least meals that could be prepared at the last minute. And whereas there are a lot of fabulous quickies out there, I would hate to miss out on a recipe like this one here.
Lentil and rice-stuffed baby eggplant will never win an award for fastest dish in the West, but it’s also not that complicated either and it is mighty, mighty tasty. In fact, it is one of my favorite vegetarian entrees. I only make it in summer and early fall when I can find these adorable baby eggplants, sometimes referred to as Italian eggplants, Baby Bells or bambino eggplants. So cute! By the way, eggplants contain many heart-healthy nutrients including dietary fiber, folate, Vitamins B3 and B6, magnesium and potassium. Eggplant is also rich in many phytonutrients and antioxidants which are important for reducing free radical formation and preventing cellular damage. However, eggplant is a member of the nightshade family of vegetables which also includes tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. Nightshades can aggravate nerve-related or inflammatory health conditions, such as arthritis. Just good to know.
My family loves this dish, although Mr. Picky will only eat the rice and lentil mixture from the inside. No problem. The recipe that inspired this one was a meat and rice-stuffed eggplant, which is good, but I like this veggie version much more. I almost always do this dish ahead or in stages, so at the end of the day all I have to do is put it back on the stove to simmer and cook through. You can prep all the ingredients in advance and then sauté and cook everything later. Or you can go so far as to stuff the eggplant and refrigerate everything in the pan until the end of the day. Keep in mind this recipe calls for uncooked white rice because uncooked brown rice wouldn’t cook properly inside the eggplant. If you wanted to use brown rice, you will have to precook it. Use 1/2 cup raw or 1 1/2 cups cooked. You can also use precooked lentils and this recipe is much quicker.
I have even eaten this eggplant the next day as a cold or room temperature leftover and it is delicious. I hope you try this one!
rice and lentil-stuffed baby eggplants
inspired by epicurious
You can also use this mixture to stuff halved bell peppers.
½ cup uncooked black or French lentils (or 1 ½ cups COOKED)
6 (6- to 7-inch long) small Italian eggplants (about 7-8 ounces each)
¼ cup unrefined cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons pine nuts
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced or boxed/canned with juice
2 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
2 ¼ teaspoons sea salt, divided
freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup uncooked long-grain white rice (I like basmati)
3 Tablespoons golden raisins
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon ground allspice
a few tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional, but pretty)
- Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil and add the uncooked lentils and a healthy pinch of salt. Simmer 20 minutes and drain. Skip this step if you use cooked lentils.
- Slice a sliver off the bottom of each eggplant and discard. Using a melon baller, a mini ice cream scooper or a small metal measuring spoon, hollow out each eggplant while keeping the skin intact. Reserve scooped out eggplant flesh, if desired.
- In a large 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Fry the pine nuts until golden, about 1 minute. Do not walk away from the pan! Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl.
- Sauté onion and garlic in the skillet until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer ½ cup of onion mixture to the bowl with the pine nuts. To the skillet add the tomatoes, a little of the reserved eggplant flesh if you want, stock, 1 teaspoon sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer while you stuff the eggplants.
- Add cooked lentils, rice, raisins, cumin, allspice, 1 ¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste to the bowl with the onions and pine nuts. Combine well. Stuff the mixture into the eggplants and transfer the stuffed eggplants to the skillet (along with any unstuffed filling). You don’t have to fill the eggplants to the top since the stuffing will expand a bit. Simmer, covered, carefully turning once (if you remember), until everything is cooked through, 50 – 60 minutes.
- Squeeze lemon over everything and sprinkle with parsley.
Notes: you can substitute ¾ lb. ground beef or lamb for the lentils. If using grass-fed beef, add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the meat mixture, otherwise it will be too dry.