My love for eggplant! It is a never-ending love affair. I even have a childhood “trauma” associated with it. I remember that day clearly, now after so many years. I was probably about 7 or 8, or maybe even a little older. This happened back in Baku. My mom made stuffed eggplant dish for dinner. We were sitting around the table. Mom served everybody. I glanced at my sister’s plate, then at mine, and, to my utter “shock”, noticed that the stuffed eggplant on hers was just a little bigger!
I was enraged and voiced my strong disapproval, ignoring all the house-established rules of good manners. “I would not eat a smaller eggplant,” I said. I don’t remember the bits of conversation that followed after that, but what I clearly remember is that shortly after my revolt, I was sitting alone in our front yard (we had a small house with a gated front yard), sulking over the lost opportunity to enjoy that delicious stuffed eggplant, albeit its size. I do not remember if I was allowed to come back and finish my dinner. That doesn’t matter much.
What matters, my friends, is that I still do glance at other people’s plates comparing the eggplants on theirs to those on mine. Just kidding:)
My manners have gotten a little better since then. What hasn’t changed is that my love for eggplant remains unshaken. Particularly when the vegetable ends up in a super delicious dish. Like Turkish stuffed eggplant dish, called karniyarik.
Karniyarik means “split-belly” in Turkish. Luckily, it is the eggplant bellies that we split:) But for a good reason. To stuff them with the herb and garlic infused meat stuffing. Nefis! (delicious in Turkish). The dish resembles Azerbaijani-style stuffed eggplant but is slightly different in the method of preparation and the filling. My Turkish mother-in-law’s karniyarik is seriously the best I’ve seen on many Turkish tables. She taught me how to make it. And today I am sharing the recipe with you. I think you will love it.
Turkish “Split-Belly” Stuffed Eggplant
Makes 12 stuffed eggplants, enough to serve about 4
Traditionally, the eggplant is first fried on all sides in hot oil, then stuffed. Lately, there is tendency to roast the eggplants in the oven instead of frying, like I do in this recipe—a healthier and a no less delicious alternative!
For the Shells:
12 medium-sized dark-skin eggplants, such as Italian, uniform in size
Olive oil, for brushing
For the Stuffing:
5-6 tablespoon olive oil or unsalted butter
1 pound ground beef
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped (2 cups)
1 small green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6-7 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Ground black pepper
Handful of chopped fresh parsley
For the Top (optional):
Tomato slices or wedges
Small hot or sweet green peppers
For the Sauce:
2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with a little more than 1/2 cup water
Prepare the eggplant shells: Wash the eggplants and remove their stalks (if the stalks are neat and pretty, you can keep them). Peel the eggplants in a striped fashion, to create thick black and white stripes (see pictures). Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the eggplants on the parchment paper and brush them all over with some olive oil. Bake the eggplants on the middle rack of the oven until tender, about 30 minutes. Watch closely as the eggplants should not get mushy and should hold their shape nicely (they will cook more once they have been stuffed). Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Make the stuffing: Meanwhile make the stuffing. In a medium frying pan, heat the oil or butter over medium heat. Add the meat and cook, stirring from time to time, until the released juices have evaporated and the meat is light brown, about 10 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring from time to time, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the green pepper and cook another couple of minutes. Add the tomato and tomato paste. Cook a few minutes more. Add the garlic, season with salt and pepper to taste, stir to mix, and immediately remove from the heat. Bring to a room temperature, then add the parsley and stir to mix.
Stuff the eggplants: Using a sharp knife, make a slit on each eggplant, along one of the white stripes, taking care not to cut through the eggplant. Now, if you want, cut out the seeds from the eggplants (if you are worried they are bitter), or leave as is (I rarely cut out the seeds). Generously fill each eggplant with the stuffing. Arrange the stuffed eggplants in a large baking dish (I use a rectangular Pyrex dish and serve the dish right off it), without crowding the eggplants too much. If you wish, place a slice or a wedge of tomato and a small green pepper on top of each eggplant.
Cook the eggplants: Pour the tomato paste–sauce into the baking pan. Bake on the middle rack of a 380 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the eggplant is softer and the sauce has slightly thickened. If the sauce evaporates too quickly during the cooking, make some more and add to the pan. The finished dish should have some sauce in it, to spoon onto a serving plate, if desired. Serve with rice pilaf or bread. Afiyet olsun! (Enjoy!)