Over the past few years, my food choices have increasingly vegetarian leanings. While I don't plan to become a total convert, most meat products have really lost their appeal, particularly in the US where industrial farms are something I can scarcely think about without feeling green. Recently, I read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver, and she makes some very good points about ethically-responsible meat. I suppose that motivated me for the first time to visit the meat man at the organic food market last week. Also a first, I bought lamb burgers. Markus really likes lamb, but I had never tried it. I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but I thought I would give it a try, as those animals were breed and raised ethically (locally, organically, open pasture) for that purpose. Those lamb burgers were pretty good. I only ate half of mine, but it was good enough to have me give lamb another try this week on market day. This time around, I chose a recipe from cookinglight.com for Baked Eggplant and Lamb. All of the ingredients (except the wine) came from the local organic market, and wow, the flavor is incredible! Unfortunately, it does not photograph well, and we were too impatient to eat it for me to try setting it up better, so you'll have to trust me on appearance and just go make it yourself.
Baked Eggplant and Lamb
8-10 (modest) servings
WARNING: this takes quite some time to prepare, so don't think you'll have dinner on the table within an hour.
2 pounds pounds eggplant
About 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices (1/2 in. thick and 4 to 5 in. long) French bread
1 pound ground lamb
1 onion (8 oz.), peeled and chopped
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce (Note: I would add more, maybe 2 cups or so. I thought the result with 1.5 was a little dry)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 ounces ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup chopped parsley (I omitted this, as parsley is unpopular around here)
1. Rinse and dry eggplant; slice crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, discarding ends. Brush both sides of rounds lightly with oil and place in a single layer on two 12- by 15-inch baking sheets. Bake in a 400° regular or convection oven until browned and tender when pierced, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cut or tear bread into 1/2-inch chunks. Put in a food processor or blender and whirl into coarse crumbs; you should have 1 cup. In a 10- to 12-inch nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, stir crumbs in 1/2 tablespoon olive oil until lightly browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Pour from pan.
3. In the same pan over medium-high heat, stir lamb until crumbled and no longer pink, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a bowl. Drain all but 1 teaspoon fat from pan. Add onion, mushrooms, and garlic and stir occasionally until onion is limp and mushrooms are browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomato sauce, wine, mustard, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and the browned lamb. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.
4. Arrange half the eggplant slices in a single layer over the bottom of a shallow 2- to 3-quart baking dish; top with half the lamb mixture. Repeat layers of eggplant and lamb mixture. Sprinkle top with bread crumbs and feta cheese.
5. Bake in a 350° regular or convection oven until browned and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley. Scoop out servings with a large spoon.
It took me so long to get this ready that Markus succumbed to the hunger demons and ate leftovers while I cooked. After we got the kids down, he tried this out on his stuffed belly and he was incredibly impressed. His sample was much larger than he'd meant for it to be, but he was very enthusiastic in his praise. It really is delicious!