I’ve been inspired only recently again when it comes to food. I mean, who could not be inspired by donut cake? Seriously, after Hazel was born I spent about 3 months without much desire for food. I would be hungry, belly rumbling, and I could not name a single thing that sounded good to eat. I blamed hormones, and it put me in an interesting position as a foodie. It’s reason I stopped writing about food here; everything was sustenance, nothing exciting. Well, well, well, the tides have turned. I can’t get two pages into a magazine and I am cutting out recipes and affiixing post-it notes. My mouth is watering and I am meal planning weeks in advance. We’re back.

This recipe called to me on so many levels. There’s eggplant (that’s for you, Linda), pine nuts, and caramelized onions. But really it was the rice that made it one of my first post-partum culinary ventures. I remember going to middle eastern restaurants growing up and being fascinated by the succulent rice with tiny brown worms running through it. Turns out they are fried noodle pieces, and this recipe does it in butter. This was originally adapted by the author from her grandma’s recipe to be suitable for a vegetarian magazine. I went back and made grandma proud by making it with lamb, but you could sub TVP if you like. Be sure to salt at various stages throughout cooking, especially if your canned goods are low sodium.

Stuffed Eggplant & Butter-Saffron Rice (from Vegetarian Times)

  • 3 large eggplants, cut into 3″ thick rounds
  • 2 medium onions, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 lb ground lamb, or beef
  • 1 1/2 tsp all spice
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes (NOT low-sodium)
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup broken angel hair pasta (1″ pieces)
  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • 1/2 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Salt eggplant on both sides and set on platter for 20 minutes. Rinse and dry, then drizzle with olive oil and arrange in a 9×13 baking pan. Bake 35-40 minutes, until tender.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp oil over med-low heat. Slowly cook onion, about 20 minutes, until nice and caramelized. Add pine nuts and cook about 5 minutes more until browned. Remove to plate.
  3. Add lamb or beef to skillet and brown. Drain most of the fat and add the spices, cooking a minute longer. Add onion/pinenut mixture to skillet and off the heat. Adjust salt & pepper.
  4. Go to your eggplant, making sure the wider surface is face up in the pan. Use a spoon to push the softened middles down to create a depression. Smear each with 1 Tbsp tomato paste, then pile on the lamb filling. Top each with a generous spoon of diced tomatoes. Pour about 1/2 cup water in the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil and bake about 30 minutes at 300F. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes longer. Take it out of the oven, allow to rest 10 minutes under foil.
  5. For rice, heat butter in a large soup pot. Add noodles and fry until golden. Add rice until covered with butter. Add saffron, salt and 4 cups water or broth, bringing to a boil. Then reduce heat to low, cover and cook 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let stand 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
  6. Place a mound of rice then top with a crown of eggplant. I see why the original author called this “royale”, it’s stunning.