In this dish, the smoky roasted red pepper, the sharp resiny bite of rosemary, the sour tang of lemon, and the sticky sweetness of dates meld into a harmonious dance of flavors that will make you forget you’re eating a vegan entree. The textures have likewise been choreographed to please: creamy, protein-packed bean puree atop roasted eggplant, liberally garnished with crunchy pepitas and chewy bits of dried fruit.
It’s rare that my first attempt at a new idea in the kitchen turns out as I envisioned. Usually, I work and rework a recipe, tweaking ratios, removing one ingredient and adding in another, all the while taking notes in a small, blue lab notebook I keep stashed in a kitchen drawer. This recipe, however, sprang into my mind just as I’ve written it here, and it’s quickly become one of our favorites. I hope you will enjoy it, too!
Mediterranean Stuffed Eggplant
1 red bell peppers
1 tsp olive, avocado, or grapeseed oil
1 2/3 cups cooked cannellini beans or 1 (15-oz.) can, rinsed and drained
1 clove fresh garlic
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive, avocado, or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp fruity balsamic vinegar
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
3 Asian eggplants (about 1 1/2 lbs), trimmed and halved lengthwise
4 to 5 dates, finely chopped
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Slice the bell pepper into quarters and remove the stems and seeds. Toss with oil and lay out on a foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and roast for about 15 minutes, until soft and beginning to char lightly at the edges. Set aside and let cool, reserving half of the pepper for the bean puree and slicing the other half for the garnish.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup oil, vinegar, lemon zest, and salt. Place the eggplant halves on a foil-lined baking sheet and brush them with the marinade on all sides. Roast the eggplant, cut side down, at 450 F for 15 to 20 minutes, until peel is wrinkly and soft.
Meanwhile, make the bean puree: Combine the beans, half of the roasted red pepper, a clove of garlic, the juice of 1 lemon, and the herbs in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Adjust seasoning, and set aside.
When the eggplant is ready, remove the baking sheet from the oven, and preheat the broiler. Flip the eggplant halves over, and brush the cut side with a little more marinade. Broil the eggplant, cut side up, about 6″ away from the heating element, until lightly browned and cooked through (about 5 minutes). Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Carefully using a spoon or fork, gently mash the soft center of the eggplant a bit, to make a little room for the toppings. Dollop the bean puree onto the eggplant. Toss the chopped dates and pumpkin seeds with the remaining marinade, and spoon them on top of the bean puree, along with the sliced, roasted red pepper. Put the eggplants back under the broiler for another 5 minutes, until sizzling and toasty. Serve hot. Makes 2 to 3 servings.