As much as I love cooking, there are times when I just could not be bothered. Long days at the office, being focused, driven and cheery, while secretly wishing I was in the bath with a good book and a bottle of red, can be a sometimes be an inspiration drain. And don’t even get be started on the post-work supermarket free-for-all, some days I’d rather go hungry than face into that.
My poor Dad also seems to suffer from the same lack of culinary creativity. It’s his job to make the dinner on a Monday night (which, in fairness, is probably the most insipid of all the weekday nights); and so for the past 30 years he has made chili beef. Religiously. Every Monday. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like chili beef just as much as the next person. It’s just that after 30 years of it; I find it, well, not quite as exciting as it once was. Obviously I don’t get to spend that many Monday evenings with my folks, what with living on the other side of the plant and that. One major upside of which is not being subjected to what has become known in our family as ‘Monday night surprise’.
On evenings when I am feeling unimaginative and bored, I just need to open one of Tessa Kiros’ books to get the creative (and tummy) juices flowing. Her recipes are simple, wholesome and comforting and they are just so beautifully presented, I would challenge anyone not to fall in love with them.
This week I made her stuffed aubergines. Like all of her recipes, these are delicious and filling and a little bit different. Okay, so stuffed veggies ain’t exactly world-rockin’ stuff, but they may just brighten up an otherwise dull and same-y weekday evening. Who knows? Even my Dad might like them.
Midweek beef-stuffed aubergines
This recipe is adapted from the book Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes where it is described as serving 8; however I would suggest it will serve 6 with a side salad, but perhaps I’m a little greedy! Tessa recommends boiling the aubergines, which stops them being greasy and heavy (always a risk when mixing aubergines and olive oil) and I think it works really well.
8 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed with the flat of a knife
3 cups of tomato sauce (I made my own, by simmering two tins of tomatoes with half a shallot, a clove of garlic, a sprinking of dried basil and a dash of water and a dash of red wine until rich saucy)
4 medium aubergines, rinsed and cut lengthwise
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 tsp paprika
450 g mince beef
¾ cup grated Parmesan
1 cup feta, crumbled
4 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a saucepan with one of the garlic cloves. When you can smell the garlic, add the tomato sauce and 1 cup of water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until it is cooked and still rather liquid.
Preheat your oven to 180 °C and bring a saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil.
Scoop the flesh out of the aubergine so you have a boat-shaped, thin shell. Chop up the flesh and set aside. Boil the eggplant boats for about 10 minutes in the pan of water, testing them with a fork. They should be soft but still in shape. Drain.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil and garlic in a large non-stick saucepan. Add the eggplant flesh, celery, and paprika, and sauté over medium heat until it is softened and very lightly golden. Add the beef and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes, until the meat is lightly golden, seasoning lightly with salt. Mix in 1 cup of the cooked tomato sauce, cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, and then remove from the heat to cool slightly. Mix in the Parmesan, feta, and parsley. Check the seasoning and remove the garlic clove from the tomato sauce.
Ladle tomato sauce onto the bottom of a baking pan to a depth of 2 cm. Use a pan that is large enough to fit all the eggplants fairly compactly in a single layer. Fill the eggplant boats with meat filling, patting it in well with your hands, but don’t make it too compact. Arrange the eggplants on top of the tomato sauce and splash the tops with the rest of the tomato sauce, but don’t drown them.
Bake for 30 to 45 minutes (or longer if necessary), until the sauce is bubbling up and a little bit of a golden crust has formed on the top in places. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving.