“If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Some of the most vivid memories about cooking are about first tastes. I remember the first time I had sushi. The cool freshness of the fish, the sticky rice, and the slow wasabi burn creeping up into my nose was, and still is, one of my favorite food experiences. In my mind, curry was just a strange smelling yellow unknown until I tasted Thai green curry. Fresh and bracing, it was not at all what I was expecting. I have always loved trying new foods. Growing up, I don’t think I ever ordered the same thing twice, except at Calico County in Amarillo. (smothered steak, mashed potatos, and chicken fried corn on the cob, thank you very much) I love adventurous eating, comfort food notwithstanding.
I love walking around farmer’s markets. Beautiful bins of kohlrabi, winter squash, and unknown leafy greens are an invitation to something new and exciting. The butcher is a playground for me. I love to look at a piece of meat I have never cooked and wonder what it could be in my pans. Odd little guava pastries, bottles of chili oils, tiny quail eggs, exotic dragon fruit, gnarled buddha’s hand and plastic packs of bright seaweed all make me salivate. Walking through a vast spice aisle makes my wallet cringe. I know this probably makes me strange, but it isn’t the only thing that separates me from normalcy.
So much of life is mundane. We go to our jobs or wash the kid’s face or pull up the same facebook every day of our lives. We drive the same roads, at the same time, alongside the same people, from the same driveway, to the same jobs, to talk to the same people ad nauseum. When we have a chance to do something truly new, we should take it. New experiences create new memories. There is nothing wrong with comforting food that allows us to recall past memories, but sometimes new memories need to be formed. New food is the simplest way I know to have a brush with something foreign. New ingredients give us something to be excited about. My son went nuts over star fruit. It was cheap, but for him, it was novel, memorable.
I was in the vegetable stand and saw a beautiful eggplant. I bought it not knowing what I would do with it. In the grocery store, I saw ground lamb, only slightly more expensive than ground beef. I don’t use either of these very often, but I decided on stuffed eggplant with lamb. It was delicious. Lamb is not something we use very much in the states, but it is really delicious and approachable. It is just enough different that you notice. I think eggplant is the most beautiful vegetable, deep purple skin wrapped around that creamy white interior. The beauty of this recipe is that it can go toward any nationality. I went Italian, with parmesan, basil, and bread, but it could just as easily go to Greece, with mint, feta, and pita. It could go Indian, with ginger, curry, and rice. Maybe you could take this to the middle east with couscous, ras el hanout, and pine nuts. The idea is that you take something new to you and use it. You might just enjoy it.
Italian Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb
Recipe adapted from Lidia Bastianich
- 2 large eggplants
- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 2 cups cubed, day old bread (french baguette works great)
- 1 C milk
- 1 C grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 hard boiled egg, peeled and chopped
- 1/4 C fresh chopped parsley
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
- 1 large tomato, diced
- black pepper
- 4 tbsp olive oil
Preheat oven to 350.
Cut eggplants in half and scoop out the interior, leaving about 1/3″ of flesh left. Drizzle 2 tbsp of olive oil over eggplant and salt lightly. Chop the meat from the eggplant and set aside. In large frying pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil. Saute onion, pepper, and garlic until translucent. Add lamb and cook until brown. Set aside to cool. Add cubed bread to a small bowl and top with milk. Let sit until the bread has softened. Squeeze milk out of bread and add to meat mixture, along with 3/4 C of the Parmesan, egg, herbs, tomato, and salt and pepper to taste. Stuff the eggplant shells with the meat mixture and top with remaining 1/4 C of Parmesan. Place stuffed eggplant in casserole or deep cake pan, cover with foil. Bake until the eggplant is soft, about 45 minutes. Remove foil, then cook for 15 more minutes, or until the top is browned.