There is something about the food for Sukkot that has always appealed to me. Maybe it’s because the dishes we eat during the holiday celebrate the bounty of the harvest and are meant to be shared with others. I’m also fond of another Sukkot food tradition: serving stuffed foods, especially filled vegetables, as a symbol of abundance.
This year Sukkot starts at sundown on Sept. 30, and I already know that I’ll be making this version of an eggplant dish I first ate during a visit to Istanbul. Like most stuffed vegetable dishes, this one does have a lot of steps, but the entire dish can be made ahead and served reheated or at room temperature. The rich lamb is tempered by the onions, garlic, tomatoes and fresh herbs, and its eggplant casing becomes silky soft and delectable as it bakes. Serve with rice, couscous or a small pasta such as orzo on the side.
Turkish-Style Stuffed Eggplant
1 tsp. salt
4 cups very thinly sliced onions (no thicker than 1⁄8 inch)
1 Tbs. canola oil
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1 lb. ground lamb
1 lb. medium tomatoes, peeled and seeded (see note)
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. paprika
1⁄2 tsp. ground black pepper
1⁄8 tsp. sugar
1⁄3 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1⁄3 cup finely chopped fresh mint
2⁄3 cup finely chopped fresh, flat leaf parsley
4 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 medium eggplants (1 lb. each)
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 cup water
chopped dill, mint and/or parsley for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, sprinkle salt over onion slices; toss well. Heat 1 Tbs. canola oil over medium-high heat in large sauté pan. Add garlic and sauté until golden. Add lamb and sauté, stirring and breaking up any clumps, until just browned, about 2-3 minutes. Drain and discard any excess liquid and add lamb to onions. Cut tomatoes into 1⁄2-inch chunks and add with tomato paste, paprika, pepper, sugar, dill, mint, parsley and lemon juice; mix well.
Prepare eggplants. Trim off leaves, but leave stems. Slice in half lengthwise. Use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove 3 lengthwise strips (each about 3⁄4- to 1-inch wide) of eggplant skin from each half, starting at the stem end and leaving the skin intact between strips, creating a striped pattern. If needed, slice a bit off the rounded bottom to stabilize. Use a large spoon to hollow out the eggplants, being careful not to pierce the skin. Leave 1⁄2 inch of flesh all around. Reserve scooped out eggplant pieces for another use or discard.
Pack each half with the filling and mound more on top, covering the surface of the eggplant to the edge. Place eggplants skin side down and side-by-side in a 14-by-9-inch baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over tops. Pour water down the sides of the pan. Loosely cover with aluminum foil. Bake for about 60 to 75 minutes (timing can vary greatly, so it may take more or less time), until onions are tender and eggplants are very soft. Check every 30 minutes, basting with cooking liquid and adding more water to the pan if necessary. When done, baste once more and remove from the pan, discarding cooking liquid. Sprinkle with chopped herbs if desired. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Note: To peel tomatoes, cut a cross into the stem end about 1⁄8-inch deep. Place in pot of boiling water to cover. Let simmer 2-3 minutes until skin is loosened. Remove, let cool and rub or peel off skin. To seed, slice in half and gently squeeze out seeds.
Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs at www.clickblogappetit.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.