Friday, March 11, 2011

quinoa and roasted vegetable stuffed eggplant: the dish that made whitney kinda sorta tolerate peppers

Quinoa and roasted vegetable stuffed eggplant, hereby known as 
the dish that made Whitney kinda sorta tolerate peppers

Last weekend, my sister Bollie came to DC before flying to Costa Rica for her Spring Break and brought me a bounty of vegetables to eat before they spoiled.  In a little brown bag were about a dozen mini bell peppers, a large zucchini, and a beautiful eggplant.  I knew immediately what I was going to make.  Stuffed eggplant.  Back this summer, before going on a vacation of my own, I had a bunch of stuff in my fridge - leftover ground turkey, couscous, roasted vegetables, and an eggplant.  Well, I stuffed the eggplant, topped it with breadcrumbs and grated parmesan, and voilà! - a light, but complete, summer supper.  Whitney, my roommate, and I both loved it.

Allow me a minute to introduce Whit, because she will be making several appearances on the blog.

Whitney and me on New Years Eve

Whitney is one of my closest friends and my official taste-tester.   We've been friends for five years and have lived together for two and a half.  Whitney likes most foods, but she has a particular affinity for white bread, bacon, peanut butter, and bananas - sometimes all at the same time.  When cooking for herself, she tends to gravitate toward meat, eggs, and pasta.  Her principle food aversions are watermelon, peas, and lima beans, but most of all, she despises all peppers.  When I first learned this, I didn't understand, because I love all peppers indiscriminately.  But, then again, I suppose I haven't shared with y'all my own dislikes.  I have very few food aversions, so in general, my top dislikes are 1) snow 2) animals and 3) bacon.  Yes, I realize all of those things give most people great pleasure....don't judge me. 

When I told Whitney I was going to make a vegetarian stuffed eggplant using Bollie's produce, she was skeptical.  Much like all of you are after reading my dislikes.  Anyway, I explained to Whitney that I would cut out the turkey and, as a protein source, substitute quinoa for the couscous.  I warned her that there were too many peppers in the stuffing for her to pick them out.  I knew exactly what she was thinking, "Maybe I should top mine with bacon bits."  The great thing about this recipe is that it can be adapted to your likes and dislikes, and can include whatever you have in your fridge or pantry. 

A little note about quinoa:  though it is seems like a grain, quinoa is actually a seed.  It is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine amino acids essential for human dietary needs.  It has an earthy, slightly nutty flavor, and is a nutritious superstar with its mixture of heart-healthy fats, carbohydrates, and protein.  Over the last year or so, it's become the trendy yuppie "it" ingredient of choice.  Consequently, there are varying theories of the best way to cook it.  To soak or not to soak?  Toast or not to toast?  What proportion of quinoa to liquid?  Not to be all holier-than-thou, but I've been eating quinoa for years.  My mom, as most of y'all know, grew up in Ecuador, and, as a child, I sometimes ate "weird" Ecuadorian foods prepared by my mom and Mamis, my grandmother.  Quinoa, which grows prolifically in the Andes, was one of these foods, and the star of my favorite soup growing up.  Imagine my amusement when fifteen years later, it starts selling for $6 a box at Safeway.  (Tip:  Buy it from the bulk bins at Whole Foods - it's much cheaper this way.)  The recipe for quinoa that follows the recipe is the way my mom and grandmother make it, but feel free to use any method you'd like.

Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Stuffed Eggplant, the 40-day Vegetarian way
Serves two

For the stuffing:
1 eggplant, sliced lengthwise and hollowed out like boats
1 cup of cooked quinoa (instructions to prepare quinoa below)
10-12 mini bell peppers (if I had to guess, I'd say the equivalent of 1.5 regular sized bell peppers)
10-12 cherry tomatoes, halfed
1 medium zucchini
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons feta cheese (optional)

For the topping:
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon grated parmesan
garlic salt, pepper, oregano, and cumin, to taste 

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  (Tip: preheat the oven with the roasting pan inside!  This is a tip my mom recently taught me, and it really helps prevent the eggplant from sticking to the pan.)
2.  Slice an eggplant lengthwise and spoon out approximately three-quarters of the flesh so that there is a deep, wide cavity inside each half.  You want to keep enough eggplant on the bottom and sides so that it is a sturdy vessel for your stuffing.  Dice the hollowed-out flesh into bite-sized pieces.
3.  Cut the zucchini and bell peppers into similar sized pieces, and half the cherry tomatoes.  Toss the veggies with approximately two-thirds of the olive oil, and sprinkle with garlic salt, pepper, oregano, and cumin.  Sprinkle the eggplant boats with seasoning and remaining olive oil, and place them on a separate baking sheet.  Roast the vegetables and the boats at the same time, for 25-30 minutes, or until tomatoes have blistered and vegetables are lightly browned.
4.  While the veggies are roasting, prepare the quinoa.  To yield one cup of cooked quinoa, you will need 1/2 onion, one clove garlic, a bit of butter, 1/3 cup quinoa and 1/2 cup vegetable broth, chicken broth, or water.  Finely chop the onion and mince the garlic.  Over medium-high heat, saute the onion and garlic in the butter and a few drops of olive oil until fragrant and transluscent, or about 3-5 minutes.  Of course, if you prefer, you can use all olive oil, but everything is better with a bit of butter.  Add the dried quinoa and mix together with the cooked onions, stirring constantly, for a minute.  This is called "toasting" the quinoa.  Finally, add the water or broth and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed.  Once water is absorbed, turn off heat and leave covered for five minutes.  Fluff with a fork.
5.  Once your veggies and quinoa have cooked, combine them, adding feta cheese if you choose.  In a small bowl, combine the parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.  Spoon mixture into the eggplant "boats" and top each boat with the breadcrumb mixture.
6.  Place stuffed eggplant under the broiler for 7-10 minutes, or until topping is golden brown

Notes:  It's possible you may only use closer to 3/4 cup of quinoa depending on how hungry you are and the size of your eggplant.  When mixing with the veggies, just eyeball it and reserve any leftovers.   Be sure to mash the roasted tomatoes into the quinoa using the back of the fork.  This releases the tomato juices into the mixture.  Also, you may have a good part of the breadcrumb topping left over (I did), so either save it for later or half each portion.  

So what's the verdict?  I personally really loved this version, partially because I don't think ground turkey has that much flavor to begin with!   Also, I am proud to report that not only did Whitney eat the entire serving (sans bacon), but she actually liked it - and she admitted that she didn't miss the meat!  When I prodded her a bit on the pepper issue, she said that she didn't mind them in this recipe, even though if she made it herself, she would omit them.  So, overall, the dish was a keeper!  Whit seemed particularly enthused about the possibility of a spinach-mushroom-feta-quinoa mixture.

I am off to New York this weekend to celebrate a dear friend's birthday.  I don't know how I am going to survive a trip to NYC without pork bánh mì, my favorite sandwich (the District lacks a decent one).  Until next time, I'll leave you with some questions - What are your gastronomic likes and dislikes?  Do you have any food aversions, like Whitney hates peppers?  If you made stuffed eggplant, what would you put in it?  Leave your answers in the comments!  Until next time.

1 comment:

  1. Likes: Carbs. Dislikes: Most vegetables. Definitely dislike eggplant (I tried it - you were there!), but peppers are ok. No stuffed eggplant for me but you can make me Ecuadorian quinoa anytime :)