Not very flavorful, mushy when cooked and with a horrible name – eggplants aren’t as friendly a summer veggie as their relatives, the tomatoes, and I get myself in trouble every time I’m buying them. Because my mind is stuck on the idea of “eggplant salad” and there isn’t any other recipe idea blinking.
But yesterday I was enlightened. Watching “Mediterranean Escapes with Rick Stein”, all my memories from the lovely countries I visited on the edge of the sea were suddenly alive. I again saw myself tasting delicious stuffed eggplants in a lovely little restaurant in Corfu Town, indulging with homemade pasta a la Norma at a table with a view towards Isola Bella in Taormina, or sipping a sangria while waiting for the flavored eggplant stew in a clay pot, cooked in a traditional oven, at a tiny table in Sintra. It was all there, the smell of the Mediterranean, dramatic views, the paved old pedestrian streets, the smiling locals, the smell of the fresh cooked food, with sun-blessed ingredients. How could I ever forget that eggplants were the main ingredient of almost all my vegetarian meals on the shores of the Mediterranean. Definitely, they deserve a much interesting interpretation than a plain salad.
Eggplants being a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet is not at all a random fact. They aren’t only versatile and hearty, but they’re also nourishing, containing vitamins (B1, B3, B6, and K), bone-building manganese, copper, potassium and antioxidants.
The deep magenta color of the eggplant skin is the place in which most of its nutrients are hidden. Nasunin, their main flavonoid, is a powerful antioxidant maintaining the health of brain cells and a booster of tumor-fighting activity. And the good news is that eggplants are low in calories and high in fibers, so they’re the perfect combination if you are on a diet. However, they quickly absorb a lot of oil, making them a hidden calorie trap, so make sure you don’t use too much oil when cooking them.Their flavor is best highlighted if you pair them with any of these: basil, oregano, mint, onion, garlic, lemon, pomegranate, tomato juice – it isn’t a surprise, these are all classic Mediterranean ingredients!
So I filed the cookbooks I brought with me from my travels, I recalled my favorite Mediterranean flavors and I managed to create something really special. A dish with Italian-Lebanese roots – spicy eggplant meatballs, bathed in refreshing minty yogurt sauce with pomegranate, all wrapped in fresh wholemeal flat bread. It is a delicious and nourishing meal, beautifully spiced and flavored, perfect for a summer lunch, while dreaming of your next holiday.
- For the Eggplant Balls
- 3 medium eggplants
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 1 large organic egg
- 1 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp Chili flakes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the Yogurt Sauce
- ½ cup low fat yogurt
- 1 handful mint leaves
- 1 garlic clove
- Fresh juice from one lime
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For assembling
- Pomegranate seeds, mint leaves, wholemeal flat bread
- Preheat the oven 175 °C/ 347°F.
- Wash the eggplants with plenty of water, drain well and cut in small cubes.
- Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a cast iron skillet.
- Add the crushed garlic and fry for 30 seconds, just to flavor the oil.
- Add the eggplant cubes and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften.
- Transfer the eggplant in the food processor, add the egg, bread crumbs, parsley and onion and pulse two or three times to combine. Don't over-process, as the balls should have texture. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper, and shape small balls from the eggplant mixture, using your hands. Line them on the baking tray.
- Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, flip over and bake for 10 more minutes.
- While the eggplant balls are baking, prepare the yogurt sauce. Place all ingredients in the blender and process to obtain a creamy sauce.
- For serving, heat the flat bread, spread with yogurt sauce, add 3-4 eggplant balls, top with some more yogurt sauce, pomegranate seeds and mint leaves. Serve right away.