But as I paged through more and more cookbooks from that era, some really interesting savory recipes popped up, including those for vegetable dishes. In these days before refrigeration, fruits and vegetables were often pickled or preserved to ensure their availability through the winter when fresh produce was scarce or limited to the turnips and potatoes stored in root cellars. However, when fresh and in season, vegetables were enjoyed using a variety of techniques including boiling, frying, sautéing, baking and stewing. These unique and delicious sounding recipes included dishes such as boiled artichokes, fried cucumber, cauliflower macaroni, ragout of onions and stewed tomatoes.
For example, although the first cookbook published by 19th century cookbook author Eliza Leslie (a student of Mrs. Goodfellow) - 75 Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats (1828) - is chock-full of sweet recipes (which is made pretty clear by the title), there is a sprinkling of savory dishes tucked into the "Miscellaneous Receipts" section in the back. These include several oyster dishes, as well as chicken salad, a-la-mode beef, and collared pork. Many of her later cookbooks began to focus on all kinds of foods, branching away from just sweets. One recipe that stood out was stuffed eggplant from Directions for Cookery (1844). I loved the recipe's simplicity - parboil an eggplant, scoop out the seeds, stuff it with a mixture of breadcrumbs, egg yolk, butter and seasonings and bake. I later saw a "modern" baked eggplant recipe in Cooking Light Magazine: delicious-sounding Falafel-Stuffed Eggplant with Tahini Sauce and Tomato Relish. It was like Eliza's recipe taken to a more cosmopolitan level. So, I decided to combine the two in a kind of a "19th meets 21st century" food fusion. It was outstanding! I don't think Eliza would mind - she included plenty of international flavors in her later cookbooks including Indian curries, French ragouts and soufflés and Spanish cuisine such as Pollo Valenciano. And bonus: this dish is not only delicious, but nutritious too, as eggplant provides us with numerous health benefits. Learn more in this informative article from Well-Being Secrets: 27 Science-Based Health Benefits of Eggplant.
Hummus-stuffed eggplant with olive-tomato garnish
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 tbsp butter (or olive oil)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tsp minced oregano
1 egg yolk
prepared (or homemade!) hummus
1/2 cup chopped tomato
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
1/4 cup chopped olives (I used mix of green and black)
olive oil (opt.)
Gently wash eggplant and then prick surface all over with a fork. Wrap in a paper towel and microwave for two minutes or until soft, checking after the first minute. Trim off stem and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and generously spread hummus on either side (I used Cava Mezze Traditional Hummus).
Mix together breadcrumbs, butter or oil, basil, oregano and egg. Divide in half and sprinkle over each eggplant (on top of hummus). Bake in a 350-375 oven for about a half hour or until topping is crisp. When done, grate some fresh nutmeg over each half.
For relish: combine tomato, pepper, olives, basil and oregano in a small dish. (For more of a kick add a tablespoon of minced spicy pepper such as chile or jalapeño, or a dash of crushed red pepper). Sprinkle with some balsamic and olive oil (if desired). Mix gently and serve over eggplant.
This goes nicely with some salad greens tossed with chopped nectarine and goat cheese and a side of whole grain bread as a complete vegetarian meal.
Eliza's original recipe:
Stuffed Egg Plants - Parboil them to take off their bitterness. Then slit each one down the side, and extract the seeds. Have ready a stuffing made of grated breadcrumbs, butter, minced sweet herbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and beaten yolk of egg. Fill with it the cavity from whence you took the seeds, and bake the egg plants in a Dutch oven. Serve them up with a made gravy poured into the dish.
The modern recipe I adapted:
Falafel-Stuffed Eggplant with Tahini Sauce and Tomato Relish
- 3 tablespoons warm water
- 2 tablespoons tahini (roasted sesame seed paste)
- 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 eggplants (about 12 ounces each)
- Cooking spray
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon tahini (roasted sesame seed paste)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
- 1 cup chopped seeded tomato
- 1/2 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
- 1/2 cup vertically sliced red onion
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- To prepare sauce, combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl, and stir with a whisk. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 475°.
- To prepare eggplant, slice the eggplants in half lengthwise; score cut sides with a crosshatch pattern. Place the eggplant halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 475° for 7 minutes or until slightly tender and browned. Remove from oven; carefully scoop out pulp, leaving a 3/4-inch shell. Reserve pulp for another use. Season cut sides with 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- Combine remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, onion, and next 11 ingredients (through chickpeas) in a food processor; process until smooth. Spoon 1/2 cup chickpea mixture into each eggplant shell. Bake at 475° for 25 minutes or until eggplant halves are tender and chickpea mixture is lightly browned.
- To prepare relish, combine the tomato and remaining ingredients in a bowl; stir to combine.
- Place 1 eggplant half on each of 4 plates. Top each half with 1/4 cup relish and 1 1/2 tablespoons sauce.