Mediterranean Couscous-Stuffed Eggplant

Tried a recipe last night that tested my knife skills: stuffed eggplants. The trick, of course, was to remove the eggplant meat without piercing the shell so that the shell could be stuffed. And it helps to use a very sharp knife, though this can also endanger the integrity of the shell, as I quickly found out. First, you halve the eggplant and cut off the stem, then, using a paring knife, you edge the eggplant about one-third of an inch from the edge, cutting into it about ¾ of an inch or so. Then what I did was to make a parallel slice into the neck underneath the meat, and then slice down through the cut side in ¼ inch strips. Whenever I had successfully cut through underneath the meat and sliced down through the top, I could then remove the strip and dice it into ¼” squares. After I had removed all of the meat from the half, I drizzled a little olive oil over the empty shell, and sprinkled it with salt and pepper. Once all the halves were ready, I baked the shells at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

The first eggplant half proceeded rather slowly—my sous-chef Tahlia finely diced an onion and several cayenne and jalapeno peppers, and sliced a cup or so of cherry tomatoes in the time it took me to finish that first half. And I sliced the shell in several places—swearing all the while!—but after I got the hang of it, the next three halves went more quickly.

The rest of the recipe is easy. While the shells are baking, saute the onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft, 4-6 minutes. Add the diced eggplant and pepper(s), and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. While the eggplant mixture cooks, mix the ricotta with the cooked couscous, and add the lemon zest, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix, then add in the tomatoes and garlic (if using). When the eggplant mixture is done, mix that into the couscous mixture.

Once the shells come out of the oven, stuff them with the filling, and sprinkle with panko crumbs and parmesan. If you’re lucky, you will have extra filling, which you might serve with poached eggs the next morning.

The lemon zest stars in this recipe, imparting a subtle yet distinct flavor that pulls the other ingredients together very nicely. If you’re in hurry and don’t want to bother with the shells, you could just dice up the eggplant and serve it as a delicious side dish.