GREEK STUFFED EGGPLANT Melitzanes Gemistes

recipe + photography BILLY DOUKAS

A superb summer alternative to moussaka, this dish is lighter, quicker, easier, and takes full advantage of perfectly ripened eggplant and tomatoes, the two primary ingredients. The flavorful feta cheese and tomato stuffing is popular in Crete where tomatoes are spectacular at harvest. Our locally grown tomatoes pack a similar punch. The meat stuffing, with its slightly sweet bechamel sauce, has similar notes to moussaka. Either option will be delicious!

Serves 8
Prep and cooking time: 80 minutes

Eggplant Shells
4 large eggplants
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Feta-Tomato Stuffing
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces of feta cheese
4 fresh tomatoes, cored and chopped coarsely
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup of grated pecorino Romano or parmesan cheese

Meat Stuffing
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces of ground lamb or beef (85% lean to 15% fat)
2 fresh tomatoes, cored and chopped coarsely
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste
¼  teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup of grated pecorino Romano or parmesan cheese

Bechamel Sauce for Meat Stuffed Eggplant
2 cups whole milk
2 ounces roux (see below)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon 
½ teaspoon nutmeg

Roux
2 ounces salted butter
⅔ cup flour, regular white

Eggplant Preparation
After rinsing, cut off stalks, cut in half lengthwise and using a melon baller spoon to remove a portion of the pulp ensuring the halves remain intact and have a ½-inch thick wall. Set pulp on a cutting board and chop coarsely. Rinse and sprinkle inside of eggplant halves with salt and set in a colander to drain in order to draw water out of the eggplant. Preheat oven to 350℉, spray oil on a cookie sheet, set halves cut side up, brush inside with olive oil and bake for 20 minutes.

Feta-Tomato Stuffing Preparation
Place chopped tomato in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Place feta in a mixing bowl, mash with a fork until it becomes a fairly uniform paste. Add beaten egg, mix and set aside. In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat till shimmering, add garlic and sauté till slightly brown. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add coarsely chopped eggplant pulp, parsley, oregano, tomato paste, black and cayenne pepper. Continue cooking for 6-7 minutes, on medium-low heat. Let cool to room temperature, add tomatoes and combine with feta and egg mixture.

Beef or Lamb Stuffing Preparation
Place chopped tomato in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl, sprinkle with salt and set aside. Heat oil over medium heat till shimmering, add garlic and sauté till slightly brown, in a large saucepan. Add onion and continue cooking for 6-7 minutes, on medium-low heat, till translucent before adding ground beef, or lamb, and turning heat up to medium-high. Using a long spoon, break up meat and gradually mix, allowing the bottom layer to brown. Stir and cook on medium heat for another 7-10 minutes, or until the meat is a uniform brown color. Pour off excess liquid (always 2 hands and 2 mitts) and return to a low heat. Repeat this again in 5 minutes. Add parsley, oregano, tomato paste, cayenne, black pepper and mix thoroughly. Taste at this point, adding salt, pepper to your preference. Set aside and allow to cool. Combine with chopped tomatoes and mix gently.

Bechamel Sauce Preparation: Beef or Lamb Version
Prepare roux by melting butter in a small saucepan. Gradually whisk in flour over a simmering heat and set aside.

Heat milk slowly over a low-medium heat, adding cinnamon, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Once heated, never boiling, add roux ½ ounce (or 1 tablespoon) at a time, until all 2 ounces are added, while consistently whisking. The heat and roux will thicken the milk to a creamy consistency, which takes approximately 15 minutes.

Assembly and Baking
Spoon equal amounts of stuffing (either Feta-Tomato or Meat) into eggplant halves.

For the Feta-Tomato version: sprinkle top with parsley and grated pecorino Romano or parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 ℉ for 20 minutes.

For the Beef or Lamb version, prepare Bechamel Sauce as described above, and pour equal amounts over each eggplant half. Sprinkle top with parsley and grated pecorino Romano or parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 ℉ for 20 minutes.

Pairings
In keeping with the Greek theme, Agiorgitiko (aka St. George) by Skouras ($18/750 ml), a cherry-red colored red wine—with hints of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon—will work very well with the eggplant stuffing composition and tomato flavor. A Chianti, Sangiovese, or Syrah, will also be excellent wine choices.

Sides
A Greek salad, particularly horiatiki, is the perfect accompaniment. It offers chunks of fresh tomato, cucumber, red onion and feta dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and oregano. Be sure to visit your local farmers market for ingredients!

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