As I was cooking this dish over the course of a quiet Saturday, the sky slowly darkened. The wind started to pick up, pressing the leaves against their branches, soon howling around our house and its creaky windows. Rain sputtered, the city got quieter. By the time I had dinner on the table, a full hail storm was in effect. The Algerian rainy season has begun my friends.
It hailed for nearly two days, pelting us with chunks of ice that found their way down my coat to melt coolly against my back as I dashed across the street. I always thought hail was an intermittent thing, something that happened only for a few minutes, but Algiers seems to have the hail thing down.
When we didn't have internet at home (thank goodness that's over), I spent a lot of time re-reading some favorite cookbooks. It's interesting how your perspective of cookbooks change over the years as you yourself change as a cook. I can always find something new to appreciate in some of my favorites. I was flipping through Aromas of Aleppo when the recipe for stuffed eggplants with quince caught my eye. Such an odd combination of flavors, I thought I had to try it.
My usual vegetable vendor is closed for renovation, and I feel a bit bereft without them, but I headed over to Premeir Mai to get some quince. Quince with meat is quite common (the Turks stuff quince with ground lamb, while Iranians serve braised quince with lamb shanks). The eggplant combination is unusual, but it actually works quite well.
The recipe seems a bit long, but it is actually quite simple to make. If you haven't hollowed an eggplant before use a proper coring device (even an old school peeler/corer works fine), and after a bit of practice you'll be a pro. Plus, you readers were really into the last absurdly complicated recipe I posted, so what's one more?! I really like the technique of braising the stuffed eggplants in the oven, it gives the dish a more concentrated and deep flavor. Perfect for a cold rainy, hailing day.
Stuffed Eggplants with Quince
My eggplants were not tiny, so I used only six when I made this, and I regretted it. The eggplants cook down a lot and so I'd advise that, even if your eggplants aren't tiny, you use at the least 9-10 medium smallish ones. You'll be surprised at how quickly they disappear! The quince will not turn rosy red during cooking, but will be a bit closer to the flavor of a savory baked apple.
12 small eggplants
1 large quince (or 2 small)
3/4 lb ground beef
1/3 cup short-grain white rice, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 cup pine nuts (optional)
1/2 cup chopped parsley (optional)
3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 pieces candied quince, for garnish (optional)*
1. Make the stuffing: Pulse the onion in a food processor with the spices, salt, and pepper until the onion is very very finely chopped. Add the ground beef and parsley and pulse to combine. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, fold in the rice, and refrigerate the stuffing.
2. Prep the quince: Prepare a large bowl of water with a spoonful of vinegar. Peel and core the quince and cut the quince into slices. Add the slices to the acidulated water to prevent discoloring.
3. Core the eggplants. Stuff the eggplants with the stuffing (you may have extra filling).
4. Preheat the oven to 300F. Place the stuffed eggplant and the quince in a pot, packing them tightly. In a bowl, combine the tamarind, lemon, sugar, salt, and 1 cup of the quince soaking liquid. Pour the mixture over the eggplant.
5. Place the pot on the heat and weight the eggplant down with a heavy weighted heat-proof plate. Let the mixture come to a low boil until the eggplant releases its liquid -- you will be able tell as there will be a lot more liquid in the pot. The liquid should come up 3/4 of the way over the eggplant at this point (if not, add a touch of water). Let the pot continue to simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
6. Transfer the pot to the oven, cover with a lid, and let braise another 45 minutes. Uncover the pot and let braise uncovered another 30 minutes. There should be a thin syrup of liquid left int he bottom of the pot. Remove from the oven, garnish with candied quince if using. Serve the eggplants warm, with rice, spooning some of the sauce over top.
* Candied Quince: I did not do this, but I think serving this with the candied quince garnish would make it even better. I will have a candied quince recipe forthcoming, but in the meantime, there are lots out there on the internet, and this poached sweet quince recipe would also work.
** What to do with the eggplant stuffing? Chop it finely, then cook it in a pan with lots of garlic and olive oil over very low heat, until you can mash it all together with the back of a spoon. Season with salt, scoops it into a bowl, and garnish with mint and Aleppo pepper. Serve as a dip.