Here's a small secret: I'm not a fan of eggplant. I usually pick around it when served something that incorporates eggplant. Baba ganoush is one of my worst nightmares, since there are fewer culinary horrors than being served something you don't like that has been pureed and presented to you cold. So learning to love the eggplant has been a venture for me. I've been making Mnazzalleh for about a year now, and it's a frequent repeat recipe for me -- easy to make, healthy to eat, and a recipe that really makes the eggplant tasty, firm, chewable, and memorable.
Mnazzalleh is a type of Iraqi stew that features eggplant, beans, and tomatoes. Served over rice, you have a one-dish dinner that does require preparing ingredients the night before, but that needs only about an hour to bring to the table. This version of the stew comes from Paula Wolfort's book Mediterranean Cooking. I was first given the recipe by my good friend Walt Holcombe, the cartoonist. I was looking for eggplant recipes, and he referred me to the website for the World Hearth Circle of International Cooking, which has turned out to be a gold mine of delicious and well-tested recipes. Highly recommended.
Paula Wolfort's Mediterranean Cooking
Paula Wolfort's Mediterranean Cooking
1/2 c chickpeas, dried, soaked overnight
4 small eggplant
1/2 c olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, minted
3 medium tomatoes, chopped (I used canned)
1/2 c parsley, chopped
1 T sugar
1/2 T mint leaves, chopped
2 T cilantro, chopped
Begin with two "overnight" preparations. (You can use "overnight" loosely -- if you want, take both of these steps in the morning so that your ingredients will be ready for dinner. I tend to take these steps in the evening, and then just let things hang out in the fridge during the day until I am ready to prepare the Mnazzalleh.
1. Soak the chickpeas over night in a bean:water ratio of about 1:3. In the morning, examine the water level in the pot; depending on the age of your beans, it could be that all of your soaking water has been absorbed. If that is the case, add more water to cover by plenty. Bring the pot of water to a boil, partially cover, and simmer 90 minutes, or until beans are tender.
Dried chickepeas, compared to chickpeas that have been soaked overnight.
2. Choose your eggplant. Remove three vertical strips of skin from each eggplant, making them striped. (I don't know the history of this step, but I do find that it gives the eggplant a more interesting texture to have the pieces half-skinned. It seems to help the eggplant keep its texture when cooked, but also, to not be too tough.) Cut each eggplant into large bite-sized chunks -- we will be salting and draining the eggplant, so they will shrink; therefore, make your chunks slightly bigger than the size you actually want to eat. Salt the eggplant and leave them to drain overnight.
Eggplant with three strips of skin removed.
When ready to prepare the stew, rinse the eggplant and squeeze dry.
(The original recipe calls for the cooked chickpeas to be cut in half, but I have never taken that step as it sounds kind of boring to do.)
Heat oil in a skillet (once again, I use my trusty large cast-iron skillet). Add eggplant and fry until golden brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Reheat oil in a skillet. Add onions and 1/2 c water and cook for 20 minutes.
Photo: simmering the onions in hot oil and water.
When the water has evaporated and the onions have turned golden, add garlic, chickpeas and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, for a minute. Then, add another 1 1/2 c water. Bring to a boil. Cover, and cook 20 minutes.
Add eggplant, along with half the parsley. Add salt, sugar, mint and nutmeg. Simmer until the eggplant is very soft, about 20 minutes. (Test this step!! -- it's no good serving eggplant that is still too firm.)
Remove from heat, and garnish with cilantro and remaining parsley.