I love eggplant. Strangely, though, I’ve been avoiding them thus far this year at the farmer’s market. I think this is actually more a function of trying to avoid reflux-causing acidic foods like tomatoes rather than really avoiding eggplant because I always want to put tomatoes together with eggplant since they are just so wonderful together…
But they’ve been looking so good, I couldn’t avoid them any longer. I did not grow up eating eggplant. My eggplant love came from moving to the East Coast in my twenties and discovering the joys of eggplant parm. Not that I wasn’t familiar with eggplant parm before moving east, it’s just that there’s so much amazing eggplant parm to be had out there. And eggplant pizza. And babaganoush. And moussaka. And ratatouille. And caponata. I could go on…
I think the first time I ever saw or heard of eggplant was when I was about 8 or 9 years old. My dad’s sisters, who were vegetarians, came to visit our family, and my mother was at a complete loss as to what to feed them, since we were carnivores. She went through cookbook after cookbook trying to find something vegetarian to make that would seem substantial and offer protein. Since she was diabetic, she was always concerned about us getting enough protein.
I remember my mom painstakingly preparing some eggplant parm for the relatives, completely unsure of herself and what she was doing with this purple vegetable she’d never touched before. She may have burned it or something—all I remember is having the impression that she didn’t feel the eggplant went off that well. I’m not sure if I tried it or not. I may have—if I did, I think my impression of eggplant was just that it was mushy. No matter the real outcome, my dad’s sisters, who were always extremely polite, would had declared it good even if my mom thought it was a disaster…
Fun fact about eggplant – it’s a nightshade, so it’s actually slightly poisonous. Make sure you cook it through–it’s not meant to be eaten raw. Ever. Once when I was doing a cleanse, I went to a raw-leaning, vegan resto to celebrate someone’s birthday. We were all doing the cleanse together, led by an erstwhile naturopath, who was also at the birthday. The resto was serving semi-raw eggplant on their menu. The naturopath flipped. Before we left the restaurant, she gave the staff a lecture about the dangers of raw eggplant and how you can’t eat it raw because it’s a nightshade and that they needed to stop serving it lest they poison their customers!
Anyway, I didn’t feel like making eggplant parm this week or even ratatouille, but I did feel like seeking out the purple bulb at the market. But what to do with it if I didn’t do that? I can’t make a whole moussaka for one…
So I took to Epicurious.com to see what I could come up with and came across a stuffed eggplant recipe, which inspired me to come up with today’s creation.
I like stuffed vegetables. Stuffed green peppers were a childhood favorite of mine. My mother didn’t make them very often, but I always liked when she did. My mother’s recipe for stuffed peppers was, like most of her recipes, very 60s and like a mini-meatloaf stuffed inside a pepper, which is probably why I liked them because I’ve always liked meatloaf. I mean, who doesn’t? It’s an ultimate comfort food! I think I was in college before I saw the more ubiquitous rice-stuffed versions of peppers, which I always thought were a bit weird. Why stuff the pepper with just rice? I mean that’s not really a meal. Of course, since my mom made them with hamburger, that was pretty much the meal when she made them – everyone got a pepper to eat and maybe some other veggie or something. It didn’t occur to me at the time, that a rice-stuffed pepper could be either a meal or a side. Again, the need for protein was drilled into me at an early age…
Of course the stuffed eggplant recipe I found on Epicurous called for stuffing the thing with rice. Meh. I’m not that big of a rice fan. But I liked the idea of having some sort of grain in the stuffing, along with some meat, so I decided that quinoa and turkey sausage would make for a good stuffing, along with the eggplant insides, some breadcrumbs, spices and parmesan, of course.
I didn’t want the stuffing to be too dry, though, so I decided that some homemade sauce made with some fresh heirloom tomatoes would make for a good topping. I figured if I was making the sauce myself, I’d at least be avoiding the acid they add to tinned tomatoes and I could take more advantage of heirloom tomato season.
The recipe below is what I came up with. I ended up making waaaaaaaay too much stuffing, so I’d recommend stuffing at least two, if not three, eggplants with the quantities below or you can cut down on the amounts. One sausage could actually be plenty to use. Or you could use more quinoa. I like to make quinoa with some chicken or veggie stock to give it a bit more flavor, so that’s also an option. You could also use all quinoa and no meat or use veggie sausage if you want. More breadcrumbs would also be an option, and if you wanted to bind this more rather than have it be loose, add a beaten egg. I opted not to add an egg, but thought about it.
This one is a bit more labor intensive than some of the stuff I post, so plan for it to take 1½-2 hours to make. Good for a lazy Sunday!
Stuffed Eggplant with Quinoa, Turkey Sausage and Fresh Heirloom Tomato Sauce
2-3 medium eggplants
¼ large onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, mined
½ bell pepper (red, yellow, orange) diced
1-2 Italian turkey sausage
3-5 button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1-2 cups cooked quinoa
½- ¾ c. panko breadcrumbs
⅓ c. parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. basil
1 tbsp. oregano
½ tsp. marjoram
(You could substitute 2-3 tbsp. Italian seasoning for the above herbs)
½ large onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 large heirloom tomatoes, large dice
1 tbsp. basil
½-1 c. white wine (optional)
Pinch sugar (optional)
1) Fill large stockpot with water and bring to boil. Prick eggplants with fork. Place in boiling water and cook for approximately 20 minutes to soften eggplant.
2) While preparing eggplant, begin stuffing. Prepare quinoa as directed on package. (Can use some chicken stock or veggie broth to help give it extra flavor)
3) Sauté onion, pepper and garlic with a bit of salt in some olive oil. When softened, add sausage and brown until sausage is cooked through. Add chopped mushrooms and sauté.
4) Dump sausage and veggie mixture into large mixing bowl. Once quinoa is cooked, add to sausage mixture, then add panko, parmesan, and spices. Mix well.
5) When stuffing is ready, begin tomato sauce by sautéing onion and garlic in same pan used for stuffing. When the onions are translucent, add tomatoes and their juice with some salt and pepper. Cook down tomatoes until they are the consistency of a chunky sauce. If sauce begins getting dry, add white wine or water to keep it a saucy consistency. Add basil, salt, pepper and a bit of sugar, if desired, to cut acidity.
6) When eggplants have boiled, remove from water. Once cool, cut in half and scoop out insides. Coarsely chop eggplant innards and add to stuffing mixture – stir in.
7) Place eggplant shells in baking dish or on baking sheet. Stuff generously with sausage/quinoa/eggplant mixture, rounding on top.
8) Top with a couple large dollops of sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes.
9) Serve with extra sauce as desired.
The finished texture of the stuffing does tend to be a bit on the mushy side with all that quinoa, so you could add some toasted pine nuts to the stuffing to add a bit of crunch.
I also think there are any number of flavor directions you could take this, so here are some ideas for some funky variations, as well:
– To give this more of a French flavor, add some chopped zucchini to the stuffing and use herbes de provence instead of Italian herbs. You could also substitute white beans for the sausage.
– Leave out sausage and sauce and add 1-2 tsp. curry to the quinoa mixture, as well as about ¼ c. golden raisins and ¾-1 c. garbanzo beans.
– Leave out sausage and sauce. Add raisins and garbanzo beans as above, but also add 2 tbsp. fresh chopped mint and oregano.
– Leave out sausage and sauce. To raisin/garbanzo variation, add 1 tsp. cumin and 1 tsp. cinnamon.
You could probably play with making Greek, Moroccan or Indian tomato-based sauces to top these, as well if you just add spices that tend in those directions to the basic onion/garlic/tomato sauce. Or top with a tzatziki!
Play with it!
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