Well-seasoned cuisine: Stuffed eggplant fills the plate with lots of flavor

Shish kebabs with spanikopita orzo uses Greek flavors to make a tasty meal.

It’s summer and it’s a great time to get eggplant at farmers markets or local grocery stores. Even though I don’t always like eggplant because of the super soft texture it gets when it is cooked too long, I decided to try a recipe my fiancé picked out of one of our cookbooks a few weeks ago. The recipe called for cooking the eggplant in two ways – sautéing chopped up bits of some of it with a flavorful filling mixture of ground beef, raisins, pine nuts and more, as well as roasting some whole eggplants which are then topped with the filling.

The filling mixture reminded me a bit of the stuffing recipe I make at Thanksgiving because it includes pine nuts, raisins

and a mixture of herbs. The filling has a nice mix of textures in flavors between the meat, tomato paste and the sautéed eggplant. The toasted pine nuts give it a little crunch while the raisins give it a little sweetness that works well with the mild flavor of the eggplant.

In recent weeks, we also tried another dish for which we swapped out lamb and used beef. The recipe packs in a lot of flavor with feta cheese and dried herbs.

Quick fake-out “stuffed” eggplant

Recipe courtesy of Rachael Ray

5 small firm eggplants, about 6 to 7 inches long and 3 inches wide or 5 Japanese eggplants about the same size

5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. ground beef or lamb

2 tbsp. tomato paste

1 small to medium onion, finely chopped

3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

A small handful raisins

Splash white wine or chicken stock

3 to 4 tbsp. toasted pine nuts

A handful basil leaves, torn or chopped

3 tbsp. butter

1 c. bread crumbs

1/2 c. finely chopped parsley leaves, a couple generous handfuls

1/2 c. finely grated pecorino cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat the oven to 475 degrees F.

Halve 4 eggplants lengthwise. Pour about 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Season the cut eggplant with salt and pepper, to taste, and arrange, cut side down, in the oil. Put in the oven and roast until tender, about 20 minutes.

Peel the remaining eggplant and dice into 1/2-inch pieces. In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. Stir in the beef or lamb, the tomato paste, onions, garlic, diced eggplant and raisins. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the wine or stock, and cook until the eggplant and onions are soft, about 8 to 10 mixnutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the pine nuts and basil.

While the meat cooks, melt the butter in small skillet over medium heat, add the bread crumbs and toast until golden. Transfer to a bowl and cool.

Stir the parsley and cheese into the bread crumbs and add half of this mixture to the meat.

Remove the eggplant from the oven, flip it over and transfer to a serving platter. Top each halved eggplant with a mound of stuffing and sprinkle the remaining cheesy bread crumbs over the top before serving.

Serves four.

Shish Kebabs with Spanikopita Orzo

Recipe courtesy of Rachael Ray

Salt

3 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tsp. dried oregano or 1 tbsp. fresh oregano or marjoram

1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

Ground black pepper

2 lbs. lamb top round or shoulder steaks, cut into bite-sized cubes

For the orzo:

1/2 lb. orzo

2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated

1/2 c. vegetable stock

3 c. spinach, divided

1 c. feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat broiler or grill. Place a large pot of water over high heat to boil the orzo. Salt the boiling water and cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions. Drain the cooked pasta and reserve.

While the pasta is cooking, in a large mixing bowl whisk together 3 tablespoons EVOO with the oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, some salt and pepper. Toss the lamb cubes in the mixture to coat. Thread the lamb onto metal skewers (wooden skewers are ok, too, just soak them in water for 20 minutes prior to use). Broil or grill the lamb until seared and cooked to medium, about 2-3 minutes per side.

While the lamb is cooking, prepare the orzo: Place a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 turns of the pan of EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.

While the veggies are cooking, add the vegetable stock and about 2 cups of spinach to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the puree to the pan with the onion and garlic to heat through, about 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat and stir in the reserved orzo, remaining whole leaves of spinach, feta, some salt and pepper.

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