x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Stuffed aubergines with Italian and Iranian twists

Recipes Aubergines are one of the best vegetables for stuffing and make great starters or mains.

As they're easy to hollow out and keep their shape well, aubergines are one of the best vegetables for stuffing. This southern Italian recipe has a more intensely-flavoured stuffing than most, with the capers, olives and anchovies giving it plenty of flavour. If you dislike anchovies, you can use an equivalent amount of parmesan cheese instead, perhaps adding a teaspoonful of finely chopped, blanched lemon zest as well. I include instructions for salting the aubergines to remove their juices here, because I find this stops the stuffing getting too soggy - but if you can't be bothered with this step, it's fine to miss it out.

6 aubergines 2 ripe tomatoes 200 grams breadcrumbs 2 cloves garlic 25 grams anchovies 100 grams capers 100 grams green olives, pitted 1 tablespoon flat-leaved parsley ½ wine glass olive oil 1 teaspoon dried oregano salt and pepper Drain and rinse the capers of their brine or salt. Chop the capers, olives, anchovies, parsley and garlic to a fine hash and mix well. Stir this into the breadcrumbs and season. Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise. Score the inner flesh of the aubergines with a crisscross pattern, then use a spoon to remove it, leaving about half a centimetre of flesh still attached to the skin. Chop the flesh into chunks and toss it with a good amount of salt. Leave it in a colander for 45 minutes to weep off most of its juices, then rinse off the salt and dry thoroughly with kitchen paper. Cover the tomatoes with boiling water, leave for 30 seconds, then peel off the skins. Remove the tomatoes' seeded cores and chop the remaining flesh into small chunks. Mix the aubergine flesh, tomatoes and stuffing mixture together. Place the aubergine shells on a baking tray and fill up with the stuffing. Pour olive oil generously over each shell and place the tray at the bottom of an oven preheated to 190 degrees centigrade (25 degrees less for a fan assisted model). Bake for 45 minutes, then serve the aubergines either tepid or cold. Serves three.

This is an Iranian-inspired version of stuffed aubergines, with its mild spices and mix of saltiness and sweetness typical of the country. They work well as a starter but are rich and substantial enough to eat as a main course as well. Because I can't be sure of exactly how big the aubergines you'll be using will be, I've erred on the side of caution with this recipe, which makes a little more stuffing than you'll probably need.

6 aubergines 2 onions 2 teaspoons ground cumin 1 teaspoon ground turmeric 2 ripe tomatoes 70 grams green lentils 70 grams rice 150 grams pine nuts or flaked almonds 1 tablespoon flat-leaved parsley 100 grams dried apricots salt and pepper Put the lentils in a pan and cover with plenty of boiling water. Simmer them for twenty minutes then add the rice, already thoroughly rinsed in a sieve. Cook for another 15 minutes, then drain and set aside (the lentils and rice can also be cooked separately, but the method above means there's less washing up). Chop the onions finely and sweat them in a little olive oil until they start to go translucent. Add the cumin and turmeric and fry for another minute to bring out the spices' flavours. Scald, peel and chop the tomatoes as in the recipe at left and mix them in with the onions. Slice the apricots into little chunks, chop the parsley to a fine hash and add these along with the almonds to the onion mixture. Taste the stuffing and season it well with a little salt and plenty of black pepper. Prepare the aubergines as in the recipe above, mixing their chopped-up flesh with the stuffing mix, and cook in the oven at 190 degrees centigrade for 30 minutes. Like the previous recipe, this dish also tastes good cold or lukewarm.