Tag Archive | eggplant

Mtabbal: Easy Roasted Eggplant Dip

It’s been almost a year since I posted a recipe on this blog, during which I got engaged, then married – much sooner than was initially planned! -, and moved to Turkey to pursue a masters degree in Turkish Studies. It’s been a hectic but rewarding chapter of my life, and I’ve really missed posting new recipes throughout.

I finally decided to make the commitment to try and update the blog regularly again, even if the interval between posts is longer than I would like. I’ve received comments and feedback from family, friends, and readers, who have both asked for more recipes, and have given me useful suggestions on how to improve my posts!

To start off, I’m sharing a very simple recipe for mtabbal (sometimes spelled mutabbal), a creamy roasted eggplant dip that makes a great appetizer or a side to grilled meat dishes. A lot of non-Arabic speakers might be familiar with the term Baba ghannouj, which is basically very similar. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Mtabbal 

Poke a few holes with a fork into two whole eggplants and roast in oven until the skins start to blacken. Peel them, discard skins, then mash up the insides in a bowl.

Add a spoonful of crushed garlic, some chopped parsley, three spoonfuls of tahini paste, the juice of two lemons, a bit of cold water, olive oil, and salt to taste. Mix well until all incorporated. Mix in some diced tomatoes if desired.

Serve drizzled with olive oil, and decorated with diced tomatoes or fresh pomegranate seeds.

 

 

(If you don’t want to turn on your oven, you can roast the eggplants over a gas stove by placing the eggplant directly on the burner, and turning it every few minutes until cooked through.) 

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Keep Stuffing: Stuffed Eggplants

So to keep with the whole stuffing theme, I’m posting my aunt Hanan’s recipe for another kind of mahshi (stuffed vegetables): stuffed eggplants. The steps are very similar to the stuffed turnips recipe, but this one calls for less ingredients.

Eggplants occupy a special place in my heart. They have the most amazing taste, and a very rich, creamy texture. The simplest way Palestinians fix eggplant is to fry slices in hot oil till they turn golden, then garnish them with crushed garlic, lemon juice, and hot chili peppers. We serve this with bread, and you have the simplest, most delicious melt-in-your-mouth meal ever. Aside from that, there is a multitude of ways to prepare eggplant, ranging from layering it between tomatoes and ground beef like a casserole, to pickling it with a stuffing of walnuts and ground hot chilis.

It is such a versatile vegetable, and an absolute pleasure to consume.

Of course, in keeping with their love of stuffed things, my Khalili relatives make stuffed eggplants at least once a month (usually more, especially if my uncle Abed happens to get a good deal on eggplants at the vegetable market and comes home with 30 lbs of the stuff, to the exasperated groans of my aunt). So here you go: Batinjan Mahshi!

Note: In Palestine and Jordan, they use medium-sized to large, round-shaped eggplants for stuffing. When I made stuffed eggplants recently and took pictures for this blog, we only had a slender, long, kind on hand that was somewhat like a Japanese variety. Worked just fine.

Ingredients (serves approx 5)

1 batch of Best Mahshi Stuffing Ever

approx 9 lbs of eggplants

2/3 cup salt

6-7 cups pureed tomatoes (puree fresh tomatoes in a blender/food processor for best taste)

2 tomatoes, sliced

1 cup of water or stock (beef/lamb/chicken/vegetable)

salt&pepper to taste


Method

Cut the green tops off the eggplants. Using a ma’warah (coring tool), core the eggplants, removing as much of the insides as possible without poking a hole through the skin. If the eggplants are big enough, you might be able to use a spoon to help make the process faster.

As you can see, the eggplants we had on hand were this slender type that were unfortunately very difficult to core without poking holes through the skins or cracking them near the tops.

Discard the insides of the eggplants.

Try not to crack the eggplants near the "mouth," like I did here. Little cracks like these can expand with cooking and make the whole eggplant burst.

Next, fill a big bowl with water and add the 2/3 cup of salt, stirring until the salt dissolves completely. Take each eggplant and dunk it in the salty water, letting it become completely immersed, before removing it and putting it off to the side for stuffing.

Stuff the eggplants with the rice stuffing, making sure to leave about an inch worth of space at the top for the rice to expand upon cooking. Insert slices of tomato to plug the mouths of the eggplants so the stuffing doesn’t fall out.

You will need a large pot to cook the eggplants. When making mahshi, always remember that you have to make a protective layer at the bottom of the pot to keep the actual vegetables up off the direct heat. Some people slice up a potato and layer the slices at the bottom of the pot, others use soup or chop bones – this is definitely the best option because it gives the dish a lot of extra flavor, and the meat fans at your table can munch on the little bits of meat amid bites of eggplant and rice. If you don’t have bones on hand, and don’t want to cut up a potato, you can wash the green tops that you cut off the eggplants, and layer those down instead. (Just remember to fish them out of the pot later and not accidentally serve them!)

Arrange the eggplants in the pot.

Combine the pureed tomatoes, the cup of water or stock, and salt&pepper to taste, then pour the mixture over the eggplants in the pot. Place something heavy, such as a plate or bowl, on the eggplants to keep them pressed down, so they don’t float around in the liquid.

Cook on high heat until the tomato mixture starts to boil. Let boil for two minutes, then turn the heat down to medium-low. Cover the pot, and let it cook for about an hour to an hour and a half.

To serve: Arrange the eggplants on a serving platter; serve the tomato sauce in individual bowls too, for dipping the eggplants in. Also serve fresh yogurt on the side.

“Upside-Down”: Chicken Ma’loubeh with Eggplant

You knew this was coming, didn’t you?

Of course. If there is a dish of which absolutely every Palestinian is fond, it would be ma’loubeh. Ma’loubeh is like roast beef and mashed potatoes for Americans. Or chicken noodle soup. Or spaghetti. My family is from the Palestinian city of Khalil (known as Hebron in English), and ma’loubeh is definitely a favorite among Khalilis. It is one of about four possible dishes you will be served if you are invited to dinner by a Khalili family, especially in Ramadan (a “3azoomeh”). Ma’loubeh is easy, relatively cheap to make, and everyone likes it. Even if you don’t like eggplant or cauliflower, you can still eat the rice and meat.

The name means “Upside-down;” perfectly fitting, because the dish is literally constructed upside down and then flipped upon serving! Q-l-b is the verb root meaning “to flip,” and m-q-l-ou-b-ah is that which is flipped :)

Also pronounced maqloubeh, magloubeh, makloubeh – depending on which region of Palestine you’re from -, ma’loubeh is basically rice, meat, and a vegetable, layered in a pot then cooked. The rice can be either Egyptian or American short grain, the meat can be chicken, beef or lamb, and the vegetable can be either cauliflower or eggplant (although I have even seen some people use potatoes, tomatoes, peas, and carrots!). The best part of this dish is the “flipping” of it; you pull off the pot to reveal a steaming hot layered “cake” of delicious, spiced rice, tender chicken, and succulent eggplant.

Today I’d like to post my aunt Hala’s recipe for the most delicious chicken ma’loubeh with eggplant you’ll ever eat :) She is known in the family for her excellent ma’loubeh.

Tip #1: If you live in the Middle East, cauliflower is known to be tastier in the winter. It is softer, more flavorful, and fries well. Ma’loubeh with cauliflower always tastes better in the winter :)

Tip #2: The eggplant used in ma’loubeh is fried. The best type of eggplant for frying is the short, “fat”, round, purple eggplant; it does not absorb much oil in frying. If you can only find the longer, oval-shaped eggplant (which is all I could ever find back in Minnesota), be warned that you’re going to be using a LOT of oil. The stuff soaks up the grease like a sponge.

Ingredients:

1 chicken, washed and quartered – best way to wash a chicken explained here

3 large eggplants (add more if you like!)

1 kilogram of American short grain rice, washed and soaked (if using Egyptian rice, do not soak!)

Spices: 2 tablespoons each of allspice, black pepper, ground ginger, ground coriander and 1 tablespoon each of cinnamon,  cardamom, turmeric, yellow curry powder, and half a tablespoon of cumin 

Salt to taste

Vegetable oil for frying

Method:

First, get the chicken cooking because this is what takes the most time. Put your washed pieces of chicken into a pot, and add enough water to cover. Add three quarters of the spices to the water, stir, then cover. Let the chicken boil for about half an hour, or until just cooked. When it’s done, take out the chicken and set aside. Add the remaining quarter of the spices to this broth, or put in even more of each spice if you like extra flavor! (I do.) Set this spiced broth aside.

(Tip #3: If you are hesitant about your “chicken cleaning” skills or the quality of the chicken you are using, try this tip. It will make for an even “cleaner” chicken experience if you let the chicken boil in plain water (no spices) for a few minutes. You will notice that a grayish foam will start to form on the surface of the water. Scoop that off and dump it! We call this foam “zafar.” When the foam no longer continues to form (or it turns white instead of gray), you can add the spices, cover the pot, and let the chicken cook. )

Next, prepare your eggplant for frying! Wash your eggplant, then cut off the green stem. You can peel the eggplant if you don’t like the skin, or think it’s too tough (my aunt does). Cut off any brown, hard spots on the purple skin if leaving the skin on. Slice the eggplant into slices of medium thickness. Put the slices in a colander in the sink, then sprinkle them generously with salt. Leave them to “salt” for 20 minutes. This process gets rid of any bitter juices in the eggplant, and also ensures that they don’t absorb much oil when fried.

After they have salted for twenty minutes, rinse the slices of eggplant, and fry them on each side in hot vegetable oil until golden brown. Don’t crowd them in your fryer!

Now start layering!

Layer 1: In a large pot, put a few spoonfuls of vegetable oil, then take your boiled chicken pieces and layer them on the bottom.

Layer 2: On top of the chicken, layer your fried eggplant.

The big pot of ma’loubeh (chicken and eggplant have already gone in)..

A closer look at what’s in the pot so far…The eggplant is so tender!

Layer 3: On top of the eggplant, layer the washed and soaked American rice evenly (or just washed, if using Egyptian).

Finally, here is the tricky part: you want to pour enough of the spiced chicken broth you’d set aside into the pot of ma’loubeh to just barely cover the rice. As you pour the broth in, the rice you’d layered evenly in the pot might get unsettled and form little hills; use a spoon to even it all out.

Cover the pot of ma’loubeh and let it cook on high heat until the broth starts to boil. Let it boil for two minutes on high heat, then turn your stove down to the lowest heat setting. Leave it to cook – covered – for about 20 minutes. Check on it: if it looks terribly dry, add some more broth (or water if you don’t have any broth left). Use a fork to turn over the grains of rice on the top; they will be the least cooked, so you want to mix the layer of rice a little bit just so the topmost grains can get their fair share of cooking!

The ma’loubeh shouldn’t take more than 35-40 minutes of cooking time, max. Check on it throughout; fork through the layer of rice, and whenever the rice is done, your dish is complete.

Flipping!: You’ll need to be very careful with this step. Uncover the pot of ma’loubeh and place a large, round serving dish face down on it. With both hands, grab the handles of your pot and the edges of the serving dish, and flip the entire thing upside down onto a table in front of you. It would be good to have someone standing nearby to help grab in case you feel like the pot or serving dish is slipping! My father or uncles usually get called in to the kitchen to take care of this step. Tap the upside down pot with a spoon to try and make sure the rice doesn’t stick inside, so you get a nice clean “cake.” After a few seconds, pull the pot off slowly! The result is indescribable. Dig in!

The flipped ma’loubeh! It’s still steaming hot. We had already dug into it before I could even take the picture. Notice the layers you create: rice on the bottom, eggplant, then chicken. We serve it family-style and all eat off the one communal serving dish. The aluminum dish in the photo is called a “sidir.”

Traditional sides to serve with ma’loubeh: fresh yogurt and salad, like fettoush.

I have some pictures of a chicken cauliflower ma’loubeh we made a few months ago when my friend Cat was visiting me here in Jordan.  These Ma’loubeh Memories are for her :)

Ma’loubeh Memories: Just flipped…

Slowly pulling off the pot…check out the fancy pinky move..

Ta-da! Success! The thing on top is a round piece of metal that you put in the bottom of your pot before starting to layer the various items in. This prevents whatever is on the bottom from burning and sticking. I have no idea if it has an actual name in English.

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