Eggplant And Peppers With Rice Filling

The rice filling is delicious and redolent with mediterranean spices and it’s vegetarian.**  I have made this recipe using zucchini, peppers & added ground beef to the filling. Love that it 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.

Makes 8 Servings

½ cup EVO
1/3 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds (I normally use the almonds)
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
1 tomato
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.  I happen to like adding a bit of meat if I am not seeking a vegetarian meal.

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 & garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the rice, currants, 1 ¼ tsp. of salt, sugar, cinnamon, allspice & pepper; stir well. Add 2 cups boiling water; reduce heat, cover & 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 & 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 & tomato & remaining salt until eggplant is softened, about 5 minutes; let cool. Add to rice mixture along with green onions, parsley, dill & mint; toss with a fork; season to taste with salt & 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 & 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 (easiest way is to spray with cooking spray). Bake in a preheated 400 F oven for 1 hour. Uncover & bake until veggies are very tender, 15 – 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with pan juices spooned over top.

**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.

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