Two weeks ago, just as I was about to head for the farmers market, I checked my email and there were several comments on my beet risotto post, Think Pink! Before going out, I looked them over, responded and noted that a couple were from people I don't know who write blogs that I don't know.

When I get comments from co-bloggers, I go to their sites right away and peruse their recipes. One such blog last Sunday was 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.

Since I had one foot out the door to the market with no cooking plan for the day, I decided to find one of his recipes and give it a whirl. I came across his version of a Persian stuffed eggplant dish called dolmeh-ye bademjan.

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.

I picked up some lamb from 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.

This kind of Middle Eastern food really hits the spot, even on a hot summer day in the desert. Heck, when you think about it, it is probably what someone in the Persian desert is eating right now, too.

It was delicious. John's presentation (as you can see on his blog) was beautiful while mine was pathetic. Once I sliced it, it collapsed immediately and the stuffing fell out leaving a not-so-attractive mess on our plates.

But, as he was inspired to create his version of dolmeh-ye bademjan, I was inspired by his to create a new dish for you using most of the same ingredients but in a different form. I returned to the market last week for some more lamb, eggplant and 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.

It plates beautifully and the flavors remain very similar to the original with the added smokiness of the grilled eggplant - a welcome nuance.

Thanks, John, for the inspiration!

~ David

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.

Serves 4.

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.


  1. Beautiful dish David. I have been following John's blog for quite a while. I love it.

  2. Hmmm... Maybe John found me through you!

  3. Wow another great Saturday morning inspiration.

  4. My top ten food ingredients include eggplants, chevre and lamb. How did I miss this recipe from OUR book???? Kidding aside, awesome recipe. It should come with a note: this post should not be read on an empty stomach. I wish you posted more often...in the meantime, I´m heading over to your recommended site. Have a good week!

  5. Thank you, Paula! Yes, I agree that these ingredients are the best! The thing I like about this version is the do-ahead qualities. When guests are getting hungry, just pop them in the oven and minutes later, dinner is ready!

    Jill, knowing that you don't love lamb, you could definitely try this with beef, pork or a mixture. Hope it inspired you to play in the kitchen! See you at the market tomorrow?

  6. David, thanks so much for the mention and praise! Great to see that you were inspired by something I made back in my early blogging days. I think I need to revisit that recipe, or perhaps try your rendition. Yours looks great!

    FYI, I actually found out about your blog from Anna (The Littlest Anchovy). We often have chats about food, what we're cooking on the weekend and other blogs worth checking out. Anna loves your work, and now that I'm here, so do I!

  7. Thanks, John! It was fun to look through your archives and find all those great recipes. Glad you enjoyed being the inspiration!

    It's great to know you and Anna are friends - she is a lot of fun, and I love her work, too. I learn so much form you all.

    I guess if someone were to ask me which famous people I would invite to a dinner if I could, I would forgo the rock stars, politicians and Mother Teresa to have dinner with you guys, and some other blogging friends who really love their eats!

  8. Sorry no market tomorrow - still finishing melon and beets then going on vacation - but soon!

  9. Aw can you feel the love!? I think you have no excuse now but to get down here for a wine with us! PS- This looks incredible and I just love the flavours! I also just adore your mortar and pestle!

  10. Anna - just wine and no food?? :) Someday we will get down there. The mortar and pestle are from Italy (Lucca) - I love them, too.

  11. i will check out John's blog! This looks delicious and different! Your photos make the dish look terrific. So many recipes to try....so little time!

  12. Thanks, Susan! Looking forward to your post later today!


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