Paleo Stuffed Eggplant – Lebanese Style (Sort of)

I’m back!  I had a bit of a hard time food-wise this winter and early spring.  After my knee surgery in January, what started out as a simple indulgence in some “medicinal” M&M’s, quickly lead the way back into that vicious sugar/bad carb cycle.   This is particularly bad for me because I have discovered that sugar and/or refined carbs really wreak havoc with my moods and ability to deal with stress.  A depressed/stressed Tricia is a sugar craving beast.  Very bad stuff.  I become the hormonal equivalent of the Incredible Hulk — prone to crankiness and busting out of my clothes.   I quickly gained 20 pounds and was spiralling out of control.  Fortunately I realized how horrible I was feeling and dragged my butt back to Crossfit and dusted off my kitchen gadgetry and got back to cooking good stuff.   I’ve been eating pretty clean for a few weeks again and already feel 1,000% better.  Moods are better.  Sleep cycle is normalizing. Lost 11 pounds.  Let’s hear it for happy hormones!   If any of you are reading this and haven’t tried Paleo, do yourself a favor and try it for 30 days.  Even if you think the diet is whack (what do you mean grains are the devil?!?), give it a whirl, see how you feel after.  A-M-A-Z-I-N-G what a difference it can make.  I’ve been kicking myself in the ass for wasting 3 months.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled recipe…

Paleo Stuffed Eggplant – Lebanese Style

So you guys know my food tastes are all over the place.   I’ve dabbled in Indian a few times on here already, but I haven’t messed with Middle Eastern.  Mostly because there was a fabulous Lebanese deli just down the street, and I liked the food there so much that it wasn’t worth the effort of trying to reproduce it.  However, they recently changed owners and switched cooks.  After a few marginal meals, I sadly have decided it just isn’t quite the same.  On the bright side, now I have no choice but to learn how to do it myself.  For my first attempt, I thought I’d try a stuffed eggplant.

Most Lebanese versions of stuffed eggplant work with the small baby size eggplant.  I know they have a name/type, but I don’t know what it is — baby eggplant works for me.   The grocery store only had the larger size eggplants in the organic section, so I went with the big ones.  (I’m really trying to eat organic veggies where I can).  I couldn’t really find a single recipe online that I liked, so I cobbled together a couple and added a few touches of my own.  The result was pretty good.  I think I may tweak it a bit next time. Maybe add some parsley to the stuffing and possibly add some additional cinnamon and allspice to the meat a few hours before cooking to up the flavor (I really love the taste of cinnamon with ground beef in middle eastern dishes).   I’ll update the recipe with future experiments.  Feel free to post your additions in the comments section and let me know how yours comes out.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Medium-ish Eggplants
  • About 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (These really add a little something something and I highly recommend not omitting them)
  • 1 pound ground beef or ground lamb (grass-fed preferably).  I used beef.
  • 1 Large onion – finely chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves – chopped
  • 1 – 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen fire roasted)
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (fresh ground is best if you have a spice mill)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut stem end off of each eggplant and cut in half long-ways.  Scoop out most of the flesh, leaving about 1/3 – 1/2 inch of flesh inside the skin.  This was the first time I’ve actually hollowed an eggplant, so I didn’t have my method perfected, but I found cutting with a paring knife to be the most effective for me.   Coarsely chop the eggplant innards and set aside in a bowl.

Liberally sprinkle salt on the inside of the eggplant shells and place them upside down on a paper towel to drain for about a half hour.  Being pretty much an eggplant virgin, I had to call my friend Erica to find out why.  Apparently the salt draws some of the bitterness out of the eggplant.  She actually soaks her halves in salt water before scooping out the innards.  I was happy with the sprinkle and drain method.

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat.  Add pine nuts and toast until lightly brown.  Watch these.  They tend to cook very quickly — you don’t want burned nuts.  When done scoop them out with a slotted spoon (leaving oil behind) and set aside.

Add garlic and onions to the pan and saute until translucent.

Add ground meat and eggplant.  Cook until the meat is done and the eggplant is tender (about 10 minutes).  Add can of tomatoes (juice and all), pine nuts, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and pepper (I also plan to add some parsley next time.  I needed a little something extra).  Stir to mix and continue cooking for a couple of minutes to let the flavors blend.

Divide mixture evenly into eggplant shells and place in a baking dish.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes until shells are tender. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Best Freakin’ Lamb Roast Ever!

Did you ever take a bite of your dinner and hear angels sing?  If not, you need to try this lamb recipe pronto!   My tummy is still humming with delight.

We didn’t eat a lot of lamb growing up. I remember grandma making it for Easter a few times when I was pretty young, but ham became our traditional meal long ago.  I didn’t have lamb again until 6 years ago when my brother and I took our dad to Ireland.  There was quite a bit of lamb on the menu over there.  As we were there in the spring, there were oodles of new lambs in pretty much every field across the country.  This was a little off-putting when trying to order the fluffy little fellows for lunch.  Eventually I just started referring to them as “lunch” or “dinner” instead of “cute lamb” whenever we’d see one in a field.  After that, I found that I had much less apprehension about eating one.   Since then, I have eatten various lamb entrees periodically at Middle Eastern restaurants.  However, this is by far the best lamb I’ve had.

Ingredients:

1 semi-boneless lamb leg roast (mine was about 4.5 pounds) You can use boneless as well.

2 medium lemons, zested and juiced (about 2 – 2.5 Tbsp of zest)

3 Tbsp. fresh oregano, minced

3 Tbsp. fresh thyme, minced

1 1/2 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 – 3 cloves of garlic, sliced into slivers

1 – 2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves

2 pounds carrots, cut into pieces (optional)

1 – 2 pounds turnips (I used 1 lb, but could have had more) (optional)

8 oz. button mushrooms, halved (or quartered for the big ones)(optional)

2 cups beef broth/stock (could probably use chicken or veggie broth/stock also) for bottom of roaster to keep things moist and make enough juice. (optional — if not roasting veggies, the lamb will make its own juices.)

Directions:

In a small bowl, thoroughly combine lemon zest, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Pat meat dry with paper towels.

Brush lamb with lemon juice, then olive oil, then massage in herb/seasoning mixture. Do both sides.

Fresh herbs massaged onto both sides of roast

Using a thin paring knife, cut deep slits all over the leg.  Stuff each slit with a sliver of garlic and rosemary leaves.  Let leg warm on kitchen counter for three hours. (Because I was in a bit of a hurry, I only let mine sit out for about an hour.  It turned out fine).  Note: The lamb can be prepped an entire day in advance then simply allowed to warm up on the counter before cooking.

Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put carrots, turnips, and mushrooms in bottom of roasting pan. Add 2 cups beef broth to pan (I’m paranoid about my meat drying and I wanted some extra liquid with the veggies in there).  Put rack in pan and position the leg on the rack.

Veggies & roast in roaster. Ready to roast!

Cover with aluminum foil and  roast to the desired doneness.  I cooked mine to an internal temperature of 160 degrees and it came out nicely medium.  Cook to 140 degrees for medium rare.

Remove from oven, leaving foil in place, and let rest for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat oven to it’s highest setting (475 – 500 degrees).

Uncover roast, return to oven, and cook until browned – 10 to 15 minutes.

Best Freakin' Lamb Roast Ever!

Remove from oven and let sit 15 minutes before carving.  Top meat with juices from the pan.  You can put juices in a saucepan and reduce a bit if desired.