This rice filling is delicious and redolent with mediterranean spices and it’s vegetarian. I’ve made the recipe using zucchini, peppers and added ground beef or lamb to the filling. I love that the dish can be served warm or at room temperature. Perfect for a hot day, I think! You can easily prepare the rice filling the day before and refrigerate. Bring up to room temperature before continuing making the peppers.
Makes 8 Servings
½ cup EVO
1/3 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds (see below)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup short-grain rice or Uncle Ben’s rice
¼ cup currants
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. granulated sugar
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. pepper
4 small Italian eggplants, not Asian eggplants
4 large red bell peppers, or mini sweet peppers, cubanelle or banana peppers (you will need more as they are small)
2 green onions, chopped
¼ cup each chopped fresh parsley & dill
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Optional: Brown 8 oz. lean ground beef or lamb in skillet with a bit of EVO before adding eggplant; draining off any extra fat. If I’m not making a vegetarian meal like adding a bit of meat to the filling.
In a large saucepan, heat 2 Tbsp. EVO over medium heat, sauté nuts until slightly darkened being careful not to burn them. Add chopped onion and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the rice, currants, 1 ¼ tsp. of salt, sugar, cinnamon, allspice and pepper; stir well. Add 2 cups boiling water; reduce heat, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed but rice is still slightly firm, about 18 minutes. Scrape into a bowl; let cool.
Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise; with a spoon or melon baller, carefully scoop out the flesh, leaving about ¼” thick walls; set shells aside. Chop the eggplant flesh. Core and chop the tomato. In skillet heat 1 Tbsp. EVO over medium-high heat; (add lamb or beef if using and brown, breaking up any lumps), sauté chopped eggplant along with tomato add remaining salt, until eggplant is softened, about 5 minutes; let cool. Add to rice mixture along with green onions, parsley, dill and mint; toss with a fork; season to taste with salt and pepper. Either cut the peppers in half or cut the top 1/2″ off them. Sprinkle the eggplants with a small amount of salt, filling the eggplants and peppers with the rice mixture; place in a roasting pan just large enough to hold vegetables snugly. Drizzle with remaining oil, ½ cup water and lemon juice; cover with lightly greased foil or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake in a preheated 400 F oven for 1 hour. Uncover and bake until veggies are very tender, 15 – 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with pan juices spooned over top.
Note: Another option you might like to try would be to substitute 2 of the peppers for 2 large, in season tomatoes, hollowed out, leaving 1/4″ thick walls.