Have you ever tasted what happens to eggplant when you roast or grill it until the skin is charred black and blistered? It takes on this indescribably blissful smoky quality. It’s amazing. That’s the underlying flavor of this Mediterranean style stuffed eggplant. Oh yeah. There are no eggs involved. No meat. No dairy. It’s totally vegan.
Stuffed Eggplant and Big Mediterranean Flavors
I’ve been indulging a minor Tunisian food obsession lately. While this smoky Mediterranean stuffed eggplant isn’t a traditional Tunisian dish by any means, it’s definitely loaded with Tunisian flavors. Tunisian harissa-spiked chickpeas, lemony paprika tahini, bright, salty preserved lemon, and fresh mint. That’s the ‘stuffing’. Now about this matter of stuffing…
I should confess that if “stuffing” means scooping out the eggplant to make a hollow little “eggplant boat” you can stuff with, um, stuff, then this stuffed eggplant isn’t really stuffed. There is just no way I would remove any of that incredible smoky eggplant. So I guess these that technically these eggplant halves are more topped that stuffed. But you get the idea.
Cooking the Daylights Out of Stuffed Eggplant
The venerable eggplant. It might be an aubergine where you live. It’s sort of the vodka of the vegetable world–meaning it’s neutral vegetable in the way that vodka is a neutral spirit. That’s a nice way of saying it’s mostly flavorless. Nothing wrong with that! It’s also like a sponge. It soaks up whatever you put on it. In fact, be careful. One large eggplant can probably soak up half a litre of olive oil if you’re not careful. Being neutral and spongey, eggplant is thus a great vehicle for other flavors. I council being bold with those flavors. This makes boring old eggplant into a rock star.
That said, I should also note that when you cook the living daylights out of an eggplant it seems to just taste better and better. It can take quite a bit of abuse.
What I’d never really appreciated until this stuffed eggplant recipe, however, is that if you char the living hell out of the outer skin of an eggplant–I mean char it until it is carbonized and blistered black–it develops this deep, rich, incredible smokiness. It quite frankly tastes like you had it in a smoker with wood chips and the works–even if you roast it under the broiler in your kitchen. I did it this way, in my trusty old vegetable roasting baking sheet (it’s so encrusted with carbonized vegetable matter that I doesn’t even wash clean anymore). It’s so so good!
I’ve been making eggplant dishes for years. I’ve even published a good number of eggplant recipes on this blog. I’ve made elegant little Italian Eggplant Involtini, Provincial style Eggplant gratin, zesty Sicilian Caponata, and smoky, garlicky ajvar sauce from the Balkans. But this charring the skin until it’s black and blistered thing? This was something of a revelation for me. You really owe it to yourself to try it.
Stuffed Eggplant in the Mediterranean Style
There is a lot of stuffed eggplant in the Mediterranean region. However, most are stuffed with some kind of meat. Lamb or beef usually. And maybe they’re topped with cheese. When I was exploring various stuffed eggplant recipes these meat stuffed versions just seemed, I dunno. They seemed heavy. It’s the kind of fare that leaves you in a food coma. That’s not to say my version is light. With olive oil and tahini there’s plenty of fat. But I think that’s why it’s so satisfying as a meatless main course.
This was one of those “surprise yourself” kind of cooking experiences for me. I took the first bite and thought to myself “Whoa! This is ridiculously good!” Does that ever happen to you? Try this. You’ll see what I mean. Cook it for friends or family. They’ll be impressed. No really. I’m not kidding even a little bit.
- 2 large eggplants (aubergines)
- 1 Cup sesame tahini
- ¼ Cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ Cup extra virgin olive oil
- Additional water to thin to a thick but pourable dressing
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 whole roasted red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, coarsely chopped
- 2 medium ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- ½ teaspoon ground toasted caraway seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground toasted coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground toasted fennel seeds
- 2 Cups cooked chickpeas
- 2 Tablespoons harissa paste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Finely diced preserved lemon
- Fresh pomegranate arils
- Pistachios, coarsely chopped
- Fresh mint leaves
- Preheat the broiler in your oven (alternatively, you could do these outside on a grill).
- Cut each eggplant in half lenghtwise and place the halves cut side down on a baking sheet. Place them under the broiler and allow them to cook until the skins of the eggplant blister and char (this may take 10 - 15 minutes even under intense heat). If the smoke alarm goes (mine did) turn it off. The exteriors should be charred black.
- Remove the eggplant halves from the oven and allow them to cool. They’ll soften and collapse a bit as they cool.
- While the eggplant roasts, combine all dressing ingredients except the olive oil and the water in a bowl and wisk together with a fork until smooth and well incorporated. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and continue to mix until you have a smooth dressing. Thin with water as necessary to make it just thin enough to pour.
- Saute the onion in olive oil in a skillet over medium heat with a pinch of salt.
- When the onions become translucent, add the garlic and cook a few minutes more. Then add the pepper, tomato, and ground spices. Cook until mixture becomes hot and bubbly.
- Add the chickpeas, harissa, and salt and pepper.. Cook several minutes more until mixture is thick (you don’t want it to be too juicy).
- With a spatula, carefully scoop each eggplant half up from the baking sheet and place cut side up (charred side down) on serving plates. Cover each with ¼ of the harissa chickpea mixture.
- Drizzle the tops of each eggplant with tahini dressing and garnish with the garnish items. Serve warm or at room temperature.