He Needs Food, where I found a lot of tempting recipes, many of which I want to try. John Bek (it is he who needs the food) is a self-described "camera wielding dumpling crazed ex chef also visits markets, provides recipes and travels abroad, snapping the foodie action for all to see." I highly recommend that you visit his site for some really creative recipes and truly beautiful photography.
He slices the eggplants partially through and stuffs them with an aromatic lamb mixture, then roasts them with tomatoes and broth on top. That was the one. The recipe that turned my head.
Double Check Ranch, eggplant and onion from one of the green grocers, had leftover feta cheese from Chiva Risa and a couple of fresh tomatoes for salad. I made it exactly as John prescribed.
Chiva Risa goat cheese (instead of feta). Then I channeled Yotam Ottolenghi and made a Middle Eastern-Italian creation - individual sformati of lamb and eggplant, napped in a spicy tomato sauce.
Sformati of Lamb and Eggplant
2 long Japanese eggplants, about 1 pound
1 pound ground lamb
1 large shallot, finely minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon baharat (recipe follows)
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
¾ cup cooked rice
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large pinch chile flakes
1 32-ounce can tomato purée, preferably Italian
Preheat the oven 375°F - and - preheat grill.
Cut the eggplants lengthwise into 3/16-inch thick slices using a mandoline. (Helpful hint: eggplant doesn't slice smoothly so spray or rub your mandoline with cooking oil to make slicing easier.) Brush both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for just about two minutes on each side until pliable and nicely marked from the grill.
Spray four ramekins (4-inch diameter) with cooking spray, then line bottoms with a circle of parchment or waxed paper. Then line each ramekin with eggplant slices - sides and bottoms.
Combine the lamb, onion, mint, baharat, goat cheese, Aleppo pepper, cooked rice and salt in a large bowl. Mix with your hands. Divide the meat mixture into four portions and stuff into the eggplant-lined ramekins. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lamb is cooked through.
While the sformati are baking, heat 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan and add the pepper flakes. Let them cook in the butter for about 30 seconds, then add the puréed tomatoes. Let simmer for about 20 minutes; keep warm.
Remove the sformati from the oven and let cool a few minutes. Run a thin knife blade around the sides to loosen, then turn the sformati out onto a cutting board. Spread about 1/4 cup of the tomato sauce on 4 individual serving plates, then carefully place a sformato in the center of each plate. Garnish with mint leaves.
Baharat is a North African spice blend (very similar to Moroccan berbere) that is widely used in the Middle East and has many, many variations. Here’s John's recipe with a little Aleppo pepper added:
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
1½ tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons cardamom seeds
a 2-inch piece stick cinnamon
1 tablespoon cloves
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 tablespoons paprika
Combine all ingredients in a spice grinder or mortar & pestle and grind until smooth. I used my coffee grinder and just cleaned it well after use. These quantities make about 1 cup of baharat.