Eggplants and Ithaca

I haven’t discussed cookbooks very much on this blog because, well, I guess you can say I don’t really follow one. The Internet offers a plethora of recipes, and the photography on some food blogs makes you want to practically lick the screen in hopes that the image will taste as tantalizing as it looks. With all that variety, how can you cook out of just a book? The pages appear limiting and I confess to passing up on recipes which are bound to a book spine.

All that being said, cookbooks become more than a general reference when someone recommends one to you. That’s how I came across “Moosewood Cookbook”, which even has its own Wikipedia page. I got on a dank charter bus and slept-sat eight hours south of the border to visit a friend who’s doing her PhD at Cornell University. New York! But Ithaca is not that kind of New York. On a cool November weekend, she brought me to campus where brainwaves seem to emanate from authoritative-looking edifices; to a neat bagel cafe saddled with students; to the downtown square for a happy cobblestoned stroll through second-hand stores and artisan kiosks with no particular agenda. It was only three days I spent in Ithaca, but I got the sense that the town was a pedestrian’s homeland (even if my friend had a car and lived a good steady hike up a hill). Of course, that’s just a first impression, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong with a second visit.

Apparently, one of the heroes of Ithaca is Mollie Katzen, author of Moosewood Cookbook. She was involved in the creation of Moosewood Restaurant in the early ’70s, an eatery where there was no fixed chef and menu planning was a shared role among experienced and inspired cooks. “There’s no specific dogma attached to the Moosewood cuisine,” the cookbook introduction reads, “Cheese, eggs, nuts, grains, beans and bean curd are the staples upon which this cuisine is designed, and most of the recipes here, in addition to glorifying the vegetable, take these basics into account.”

And so I think my friend was right when she made this recommendation. What I like about “Moosewood”, in addition to the ink illustrations in this cookbook (even with pictorial instructions to slice vegetables), is that this it combines the everyday, functional and nutritious. With a giant Italian eggplant in my fridge waiting to be cooked, my first thought was to consult “Moosewood” for ideas. A recipe for stuffed eggplant is supplied with not two, but three variations, and a giant coloured eggplant drawn on the opposite-facing page. The oblong purplish vegetable is very versatile, just as I found Ithaca to be.

Stuffed Eggplant made Three Ways from “Moosewood Cookbook”

1. Stuffed Eggplant I, Hippie-Style

  • 3 medium eggplants
  • 1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (or 1/2 cup raw)
  • 1 cup cheddar, grated
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • a few drops of Tabasco
  • 1/4 cup toasted sunflower sees
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • butter for sauté
  • paprika
  • Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise. Use soup spoons and/or grapefruit spoons to scoop out the insides, right down to 1/4″ of skin.
  • Chop the eggplant innards into 1/2″ bits, and sauté it with the onions, garlic, mushrooms, salt and pepper until onions are clear and eggplant soft.
  • Combine everything, and season it according to your nature. Stuff the shells generously and with love. Dust with paprika, and bake uncovered (cover, if it seems dry) on a buttered tray at 350°C for 35-40 minutes.

2. Stuffed Eggplant II, Mimi’s Elegant

  • 3 medium eggplants
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 medium green peppers
  • 2 medium (3 small) tomatoes
  • 1 heaping tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp tarragon (more, to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp oregano (more, to taste)
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
  • 1 cup fine bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil for sauté
  • Slice eggplants in half lengthwise, and bake them face-down on an oiled tray at 350°C for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out the insides and mince them. 
  • Sauté eggplant insides with the onions, garlic, bay leaf and peppers until onions are clear. Combine with everything except half the parmesan and the bread crumbs. Let stand for 20 minutes, then drain off all excess liquid.
  • Stuff the shells. Top with combined bread crumbs and remaining Parmesan in the oven at 350°C for 35-40 minutes, uncovered.

3. Stuffed Eggplant III, Greek style

  • 3 medium eggplants
  • Greek pilaf*
  • 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • Slice eggplants in half lengthwise, and bake face-down  on an oiled tray at 350°C for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out insides and mince.
  • Follow recipe for Greek pilaf*, and make it 1 1/2 times.
  • Combine eggplant, pilaf and feta. Stuff the shells and bake in the oven at 350°C for 24-30 minutes.

*Greek Pilaf recipe

  • 1 cup onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2-3 tsp olive oil
  • Sauté all ingredients listed above until onions are soft. Then, combine with
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked brown rice (1 1/4 cups raw)
  • 1-2 tsp dried mint
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • Serve topped with crumbled feta cheese, or lemon-egg sauce (recipe in Moosewood Cookbook. These recipes are overlap each other like orbits!)

One Response to “Eggplants and Ithaca”

  1. […] week’s cooking adventure: Moosewood-inspired, “Greek style” stuffed eggplant with ground beef, quinoa, feta, onions, tomato, and […]

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