There aren’t too many ways I don’t like eggplant, if it’s cooked right. And that often involves an ungodly amount of olive oil, since eggplant soaks up the stuff as if there were an impending shortage.
I love the traditional version of the dish: Even when the oil use is more restrained, the eggplant — stuffed with a garlicky tomato-onion mixture — ends up with a luxuriously soft, rich texture.
My friend Aglaia Kremezi keeps a light touch with the oil in her Greek take on the dish and ups the ante with the stuffing. Greek cooks are masters at stuffing vegetables, and Kremezi adds bell peppers, walnuts and cheese to this party, along with the warming touch of cumin, the spark of chili flakes and a blanket of tomato sauce.
It’s exactly what I feel like cooking right now, letting the eggplants bake twice just as the nights turn into sweater weather — and what I feel like eating, too, as I put behind me the raw tomatoes, salads and cold soups of summer. Like so many other Mediterranean vegetable dishes, it also tastes great at room temperature and as leftovers a day, two or three later. That makes it good anytime, anywhere.
Eggplant Stuffed With Onions, Peppers, Cheese and Nuts
4 small Italian eggplants (1½ to 2 pounds total)
2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
3 small yellow onions (12 ounces), halved and thinly sliced
3 medium red bell peppers (1 pound), stemmed, seeded and cut into ¼-inch strips
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup walnuts (4 ounces), chopped
1 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese or cheddar cheese (3 ounces; may substitute shredded vegan cheese, such as Violife or Daiya)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more as needed
1 large beefsteak tomato, cored and cut into 8 slices
1 cup store-bought marinara or other plain tomato sauce
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise, keeping the stem. Score the flesh lightly with a knife and generously season the eggplants with 2 tablespoons salt. Let them drain in a colander set over a bowl for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Rinse with cold water and pat dry with a clean dish towel.
Preheat the oven to 400 F with a rack in the middle. Place the eggplants, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Brush liberally with oil on both sides. Bake until the eggplants are golden, about 20 minutes.
In a deep skillet over medium heat, warm the ¼ cup oil until shimmering. Add the onions and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the bell peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Stir in the walnuts, cheese, cumin and red pepper flakes. Taste, and add more salt and/or red pepper flakes, as needed.
Choose a baking dish that will hold the eggplants snugly. Brush the pan with oil and line with the tomato slices. Place the eggplants on the tomatoes, skin-side down. Using a spoon, press into the eggplants’ softened flesh to create indentations for the stuffing. Fill each eggplant half with the onion-pepper mixture and top with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the tomato sauce. Push any extra stuffing into the gaps between the eggplants, and pour any remaining sauce around them.
Bake until bubbling and browned on top, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer the eggplants and tomato slices to a serving dish. Garnish with parsley; serve warm or at room temperature.
Make Ahead: You can bake the eggplants up to 3 days in advance, cool them and refrigerate until needed, or you can freeze them for up to 6 months. Bring to room temperature before cooking.
Nutrition information: Calories: 580; total fat: 42 g; saturated fat: 8 g; cholesterol: 20 mg; sodium: 850 mg; carbohydrates: 40 g; dietary fiber: 12 g; sugars: 21 g; protein: 18 g.
Adapted from “Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts” by Aglaia Kremezi. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2014.