Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Eggplant Bake, or Mnezzali




Oh.  My. 

This is delicious. 

When I gave my husband a spoonful, his reply was:  Holy Cow. 

My kiddos each had to have a bite as soon as it came out of the oven. 

This is one of my very favorite Palestinian dishes, one that I requested whenever I came home from college, jet-lagged, with bags under my eyes and breaking out from the stress of exams and the less-than-nourishing cafeteria food.  One bowlful of this hearty, flavorful dish and I had a smile on my face again. 

Eggplant has since become one of my favorite vegetables.  It's smoky and rich flavor shines in this dish, and paired with tomatoes and beef, allspice and cinnamon, with the faint spicy taste of olive oil--this is one dish that you won't be able to stop sneaking spoonfuls. 

There are so many rules in Palestinian cuisine and one of them is that eggplant must always be cooked with tomatoes.  And while I used to throw out the rules left and right (why bother soak the rice?)  I have learned my lesson.  In fact, Arabs are not the only ones to pair eggplant with tomatoes: consider Greek moussaka and Indian baigan bharta.  Maybe there is a nutritional advantage to it?  I don't know.  All I know that it's magic. 




 

 

Mnezzali


3 medium eggplants
Olive oil and/or ghee, for frying
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb grass fed ground beef
2 cups tomato sauce, homemade preferred (see recipe for details)
3 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Peel the eggplants and slice into 1/2 inch slices.  Arrange on paper towels or on a cooling rack.  Sprinkle salt on each piece and let stand for at least half an hour, to let the bitter juices drain.  Then pat dry with paper towels, removing some of the salt. 

2.  Prepare the eggplant:
  • To fry eggplant: Fry the eggplant slices in olive oil and/or ghee in batches until browned and soft.  This will take a fair amount of fat because the eggplants are very absorbent.  Season with pepper as you go.  Drain eggplant slices on paper towels
  • To roast eggplant:  Preheat oven to 400F.  Place eggplant slices in a single layer on baking sheets, and brush each slice with olive oil.  Sprinkle with pepper.  Roast until softened and browned, about 30 minutes, flipping once halfway through the cooking time.  

3.  Saute the onions in olive oil until lightly browned.  Add beef and break up with a spoon as it browns, and season with salt, pepper, allspice and cinnamon. 

4.  Add tomato sauce to your meat mixture. Let this simmer for a few minutes, until flavors come together.  Taste and check seasoning. 

5.  Arrange eggplant slices and and meat in a 9x13 inch casserole dish in alternating layers.  Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly. 


Serve next to basmati rice, seasoned with more allspice and cinnamon. 







8 comments:

  1. This looks delicious! I read somewhere that foods that grow together in the same place during the same season are natural culinary partners. Doesn't that just make sense? Maybe it helps explain the eggplant-tomato pairing. :)

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  2. You know, that does! A clever explanation. Thank you!

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  3. Can't wait to try this! We LOVE moussaka at our house, and this seems like it is reminiscent of that so I'm sure it will be a hit. Thanks for sharing! Keep these recipes coming ;)

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  4. yum, this looks so good! Can't wait to try it.

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  5. If you like moussaka, you will enjoy this too, I think! Hope you all enjoy this.

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  6. Jessica - I made this tonight, and it was unbelievable! Thanks for the new favorite...I'm always looking for new ways to use eggplant as smothering it in sauce and cheese gets old :) Loving your blog!

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  7. Andrea - so very glad that you liked it! That makes me very happy! Sahtain!

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  8. When you call for eggplant, do you mean Italian purple globe type? Or Asian long and slender? Weight would be helpful. And all your eggplant dishes sound fabulous!

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Trying this recipe? A question or a comment? I'd love to hear from you!