Looking back at my last few posts, it seems clear that I am momentarily obsessed with 1. eggplant and 2. stuffing things into vegetables. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing; I figure the heart (or stomach) wants what it wants, and sometimes it's good to roll with that.
The good thing is that these stuffed eggplants are one of the most delicious things I've had the pleasure of eating for a long while, and I hope you enjoy them too. They're nearly-vegan (omit the feta and you're golden, though upping the salt factor would be needed - perhaps in the form of nutritional yeast?) and packed with protein from the quinoa, nuts, and cheese. They're pretty. They're nearly infinitely adaptable: I riffed on this recipe from The Kitchn to make these, switching out the grain, the herbs, the fruit, and the nuts, and adding the cheese, and the results were super. I would absolutely like to try this with pomegranate seeds another time, since my grocery stores were fresh out this week. Fortunately the dregs of a box of dried cranberries in my pantry rescued me.
Still enjoying my newly-discovered like of quinoa, but couscous or the suggested bulgur would both be terrific here, though their lower protein content would make this more of a side dish than a main, as we ate it. Chris loved it too: "This is f**king good," he shouted up at me just now, noshing on the leftovers. Best compliment ever.
Quinoa-stuffed eggplants with feta, walnuts, and mint
Serves 3 as a main or 6 as a side
3 medium purple eggplants
5 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp za'atar
1 tsp salt
3 cups cooked quinoa
1 cup toasted walnuts or other nut of choice
1/2 cup dried cranberries (or raisins, pomegranate seeds, dried cherries, etc.)
1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves, washed and chopped
2 scallions, green parts only, sliced into thin rings
juice of one lemon
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (or cotija, ricotta salata, or queso fresco)
Preheat your oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with foil. Slice your eggplants lengthwise and lay them down cut sides up. Score them in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife, being careful not to cut through skin at any point. Brush each half with 1/2 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with salt and za'atar. Bake for 45 min to 1 hour or until eggplants are completely soft. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine quinoa, nuts, cranberries, mint, scallions, and feta. Toss to combine, then drizzle with lemon juice and remaining 2 tbsp olive oil. Toss again and taste for seasoning (I salted my quinoa generously and found that the feta took care of the rest).
Mound quinoa on top of each eggplant half (about 3/4 cup per eggplant piece) and serve hot or at room temperature. Leftovers reheat well in microwave and the flavours get even better with a bit of time.
Note that you can eat the eggplant skin; it softens with baking but retains a nice chewiness that adds flavour and texture to the dish. If you prefer not to, you can scoop out the flesh as you would with a baked potato.