Monday, September 2, 2013

The Fruits of Summer: Eggplant and Tomato

The gorgeous fruits of summer's bounty are a delight to the eye but a challenge to the cook.  How to use not just one eggplant, but six or eight all at once?  And the tomatoes just keep on coming, despite numerous batches of sauce.  This sets off a search for dishes that use several of these fruits of summer at once.

Middle Eastern and "Mediterranean" dishes are a great source for such recipes.  Every summer I know that when the eggplants come in, I'll be making my favorite lamb and eggplant stew from Claudia Roden's classic A Book of Middle Eastern Food  (it has since come out in a revised version but I cling to my old one).

Note that most recipes in this book, and many other recipes using eggplant, call for sprinkling the cut eggplant with salt and then draining it after awhile.  I think this may have been intended to cut the "bitter factor" from the eggplant.  However, I do not use the large eggplants but rather a smaller variety, Neon. There are many varieties of pear-shaped eggplant that are similar but I have found this one to be sweet and mild even when fairly mature.  I never use the pre-salting technique.

Lamb and Eggplant Stew
adapted from Claudia Roden

1 large onion, chopped
1 pound or more of lamb stew meat (this can be made from leg of lamb)
3 tomatoes (quartered, peeled by immersing in boiling water)
1 tablespoon concentrated tomato paste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
olive oil
2-3  eggplants (medium size)
salt, black pepper

Brown the meat and onion together in scant oil.  Mash the tomatoes into the mixture and add the tomato paste, lemon juice and spices.  Add water to cover and simmer for about 1 hour until the meat is tender enough to cut with a cooking spatula.

Slice the peeled eggplants thinly and sauté in batches until translucent.  This will take up a lot of olive oil.  Some of it may be poured back into the skillet for the later batches.

Mix the eggplant into the meat mixture, cover and simmer for about 1/2 hour more.  Salt and pepper to taste.

This mixture is excellent over a bulgur wheat pilaf, but any grain pilaf should work.  It is also very nice with some yogurt on the side.