Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
There’s a rustic elegance to stuffed vegetables—they're a meal and a presentation platter all in one package. Among your options, eggplant doesn’t require much fuss. Just scoop out the fleshy insides and roast; it holds its shape well in the oven. I combined it here with lamb, but you can easily substitute beef if you prefer.
I chose to do a couple things differently from other stuffed-eggplant recipes I’ve seen. Many will have you boil the fleshy inside portion before adding it to the filling. This seemed like unnecessary work. The oven is already in use to roast the outer portion, so why not simply drizzle the inside pieces with a little olive oil and lemon juice and roast them in a separate baking dish? This worked quite well, requiring little attention. Once ready, the pieces melted right into the rest of the filling.
Many recipes will have you add breadcrumbs and eggs to the filling, creating a texture more in line with meatballs or meatloaf. I preferred to maintain a more straightforwardly meaty consistency and emphasize the ground lamb. Once all the components were mixed, I stuffed the eggplants and cooked everything an additional 10 minutes to allow the flavors to come together. Note that you’ll want to salt fairly liberally, as eggplant will just soak up the seasoning, much like potatoes do.
A simple yogurt sauce flavored with mint and lemon finishes the dish off. If you want to round out the meal, add a simple green salad.
A couple of medium to large eggplants will make four very generous dinner servings, but you could easily scale this recipe up to meet your entertaining needs. This would also make a beautiful appetizer if you use smaller varieties of eggplant.
Certain full-bodied white wines could work here, but the lamb had me in the mood for a red. I tried a Merlot from Washington, a Morellino di Scansano from Italy's Tuscany region and an Alentejo blend from Portugal.
I’m really not one to knock Merlot, as is the fashion in some circles, but I just did not care for this one. It was overly jammy, felt a bit flabby and weighed down the food. Next.
The Morellino was promising. This Sangiovese had tart black cherry and tobacco notes that complemented the food. It was the sleekest of the three wines and initially my favorite. Sadly, as we took more bites of the dish, the wine would occasionally strike bitter notes, growing less pleasing over time. Not quite there.
Finally, we came to the Alentejo. Ripe and juicy, with red berries and plums, it also had plenty of spice notes that resonated with the flavors in the dish. The red, a blend of native grape varieties, hit a weight and mouthfeel just between the other two wines. As Goldilocks would say, this one was just right.
Pair with a juicy, spicy Portuguese red such as Vincente Gandía Alentejo Boâbrisa 2013 (87 points, $9)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Approximate food costs: $26
1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
2. Slice eggplants into halves lengthwise. Using an ice cream scoop or spoon, scoop out the majority of the spongy interior from each half, leaving enough so that the halves hold their form. Mix together half the lemon juice with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then lightly brush over the eggplant halves. Place the halves on a greased baking sheet and season generously with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Roughly chop the eggplant interiors into pieces, then place in a greased baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining olive oil–lemon juice mixture over the eggplant pieces, season liberally with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Place both the baking dish and the sheet with the eggplant halves in the oven.
4. Heat a small amount of oil in a large pan. Add the ground lamb and cook over medium-high heat until browned, about 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the ground meat to a platter lined with paper towels.
5. Return the pan to the stove and deglaze the pan with a little water. Add the diced onion, pepper and garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until all the vegetables have softened, approximately 10 to 12 minutes.
6. After the eggplant has been in the oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, check to see if the eggplant pieces are tender and cooked through. If so, remove from the oven and add the pieces to the pan with the vegetables. Add in the browned lamb and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat.
7. Check that the eggplant halves are tender and completely cooked. Spoon the lamb mixture into the cavity of each eggplant half. Return the baking sheet to the oven and continue to cook for 10 more minutes to integrate the flavors.
8. While the stuffed eggplant finishes cooking, combine the yogurt with the remaining lemon juice, lemon zest to taste, and mint leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the eggplant from the oven and lightly drizzle the yogurt sauce on top. Serves 4