When people learn that I love to cook, they always ask, “What’s your favorite thing to make?” For years, I struggled with the answer. Everything, I would think, but that always seemed too boring. Now, I can easily say that my favorite things to cook are vegetables. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at cooking vegetables over the years, and thanks to Tucson CSA I’ve branched out to cook vegetables that are a little bit outside of my comfort zone, like kohlrabi, sunchokes, and nopales. After so many years of eating flavorful veggie curry, crunchy breaded zucchini, and sweet potato-stuffed sandwiches, I find it hard to understand why people don’t like vegetables. They’re incredibly versatile, extraordinarily flavorful, and undoubtedly good for you. Eggplant seems to be one of those vegetables that folks feel especially strongly about. I’ve heard people say that eggplant is rubbery, tasteless, and spongy. Yet, these purple beauties shine in my recipes for Eggplant-Stuffed Bell Peppers, Roasted Vegetable Polenta, and Smoky Stuffed Eggplant.
Smoky Stuffed Eggplant is my latest plant-based obsession, and here’s why: eggplant halves are hollowed out and transferred to the oven, where they’re transformed into tender roasted eggplant boats. After they’ve been roasted, they make the perfect bed for the all-star filling: onion and garlic sautéed eggplant (the same stuff you scooped out to make those dreamy eggplant boats), mashed with a smoky paprika romesco sauce, nutty tahini, zippy lemon juice, and plenty of fresh parsley. Add a few spoonfuls of brown rice and you have yourself a hearty, delicious, and plant-based meal.
Let’s talk about this smoky paprika romesco sauce for a sec. Is it smoky? Yes. Is it tomato-y? Yes. Is it a little spicy? Yes. And trust me when I say that there’s almost nothing better than a smoky, tomato-y, spicy sauce to coat your perfectly cooked local vegetables in. Especially when those perfectly cooked vegetables happen to be Smoky Stuffed Eggplant.
You could eat the romesco sauce all on its own and life would be O.K.
But while you’re at it, make the Smoky Stuffed Eggplant, too.
Heat the broiler. Place the bell pepper and jalapeño on a baking sheet. Place the peppers under the broiler for 5 minutes, or until they are charred. Flip the peppers and broil for another 5 minutes. Remove them from the broiler and use tongs to place them in a plastic bag or tupperware container. Seal the bag (or container) and set it aside. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skins, stems, and the seeds from the bell pepper.
Place the pepitas/sunflower seeds, roasted peppers, garlic, paprika, tomato paste, parsley, apple cider vinegar, sea salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the ingredients together until they form a thick paste. With the machine running on low, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the bowl of the food processor until everything is evenly combined. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed. Spoon the sauce into a container.
Heat the oven to 350º. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Use a small, sharp knife to cut all the way around the perimeter of each eggplant half, about 1/8" from the skin. Use a soup spoon to carefully scoop out the flesh, being careful not to break the skin. Roughly dice the flesh and set it aside. Place the eggplant halves, flesh side up, on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast the eggplants for 20 minutes, or until they are light brown and tender.
While the eggplant halves are roasting, Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic to the pan and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add the diced eggplant flesh, salt, and pepper, and continue cooking for another 7-10 minutes, or until the eggplant is tender. Place the cooked eggplant mixture, 1/4 cup of the smokey romesco sauce, lemon, and tahini in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a chunky paste forms. There should still be small pieces of eggplant visible. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Stuff the roasted eggplant shells, half with the stuffing mixture and half with brown rice. Top each stuffed eggplant half with extra sauce, chopped herbs, or cheese. Serve hot.