lebanese-style stuffed baby eggplants

The city is finally shedding its white crust. Our luminous winter cover is turning to brown slush, as snow melts into blinding, sunlit puddles. After spending last Monday, Wednesday and Thursday working from home (or battling treacherous sidewalks hunting for coffee and wifi), I was craving company and food more nuanced than snowbound snacks of popcorn, toast, and leftovers.

Thankfully, Mark was on the way, offering not only companionship, but a car to chauffeur me around on my quest for baby eggplants.

I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for some time; waiting, I guess, for the right opportunity to try it. Saturday seemed as good a day as any to host my first dinner guests since moving to Hyattsville in January. (I guess most weekends have had me out exploring the city, or more recently, surviving “Snowpocalypse 2010.” But as spring approaches, it’s high time I picked up the dinner party pace.)

The day provided the perfect foundation on which to build a good meal: A lazy morning, good coffee, an exercise day off, and a kitchen confidant/soux chef rolled into one. We set out around noon to explore the collection of international markets near my neighborhood.

Things didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped. The traffic was horrendous: I’m not sure if Marylanders were still dealing with these foreign driving conditions, or that people were venturing out to restock their shelves. Then, after sitting through about 10 cycles of green lights near our destination (where baby eggplants were not to be found), I had to make an unexpected trip home to troubleshoot something work-related. Disappointment threatened.  Frustration encroached on my formerly good mood.

When we set out again it was already two o’clock and I still didn’t have my main ingredient. Mark had been on the phone with the local grocery chains, only to be met with busy signals and reports of large eggplants. I started scheming Plan B. But Oh how I’d coveted those eggplants!

We weren’t ready to give up quite yet. Recently equipped with smart phones, Mark could drive while I perused the nearby grocery options. A Halal Meat Market showed up on my map, and I clicked their phone number. I was met with cheerful answers to my questions: Yes, they had ground lamb. What about eggplants? “Yes, we got a vegetable delivery just today,” came the reply. “I’m looking for the small ones, not the big ones…” I began. “The Indian eggplants, yes.” The voice sounded confident enough.

We fought more traffic to the little shop, aromas of patchouli and spice wafting out the jingling front door. Sure enough, there beside the limes and chili peppers a box overflowed with deep purple globes no bigger than a child’s fist. The proprietor had spoken the truth. I immediately squashed Plan B, and left with a warm samosa and plenty of time to make dessert.

The dish was a hit: Stuffed with raw rice, ground lamb, onions, garlic, pine nuts and allspice, a simmering tomato sauce slowly cooks the vegetables into tender purple dumplings. On the plate, garnished with saffron yogurt, goat feta, and parsley, each one bursts with robust and game-y flavors. I followed the eggplants with a lemon pie (post forthcoming), making the meal into a well-rounded foray not only into international flavors, but back into cooking and entertaining.

I can’t wait to do it all over again soon.

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mark’s monday marinades

Why is life always like this? Just when I start getting used to the weekly regularity of Mark’s Monday evening antics in the kitchen, he goes and leaves me.

Don’t panic, dear readers! We’re simply taking the month of June to pursue separate economic endeavors that have dragged us away from our happy existence. <pout> This arrangement will undoubtedly be good for the regularity of posting, for my writing in general, and for my discipline with triathlon training. It won’t be so much for meeting my daily goofiness and hugs quota.

And so, a little tribute to Mark’s wonderful Monday concoctions is in order:

If you’re the one who usually take the reigns in food preparation, you’ll know how utterly fantastic it is to have dinner prepared for you. I think just as many women fantasize about Alton Brown and Mark Bittman as men do about Angelina Jolie.

It’s not the labour I most appreciate the break from (see picture on the right) – it’s the mental energy expended in planning and executing a pleasing and nourishing meal (see picture on the left). Don’t get me wrong, at least half of the pleasure I take in food is thinking, reading and talking about it. Maybe it’s that very pleasure that, when suspended for a moment to allow me some non-food-oriented thoughts, charges through to my palate when it beholds a meal made by someone else. Hence my love for everyone else’s salads (which always taste better than mine), for my mother’s cooking, for great restaurants.

Among the many enjoyable things about the past few May Mondays have been two meaty meals, prepared by my sous chef himself. Since we eat an 87% vegetarian diet (yes, that’s an exact percentage), these morsels of protein shone in their bath of tangy marinade. My muscles and my tastebuds cheered for hours afterwards.

The lamb was local, pasture-raised and organic, thanks again to Wendy of Sweet Grass Farms. When you seldom eat meat, you really appreciate the good stuff. Michael Pollan catches the sentiment better than I could, reflecting on his first experience of shooting a wild animal: “Respect for what is points us in the direction from which we came–to that place and time where humans looked at the animals they killed, regarded them with reverence, and never ate them except with gratitude.” Hm.

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