I love buying fruits and vegetables that look a little different than the norm. Face it, purple cauliflower, baby bananas, and red carrots are just fun. Same goes for the different squash and eggplant varieties you can find in abundance during the summer months. I adore those striped zucchinis, flat and yellow squashes, and long thin eggplants. Better yet, my kids think they're cool. And when kids think vegetables are cool, they're far more likely to eat them.
My daughters love to go to the farmers' market with me to pick out the vegetables that look the most appealing to them that week (although this is not as much fun as the bounce house they have there). During our visit last week, my kids were intrigued by the small globe squash and eggplant available at one of my favorite stands. They thought they looked like little vegetable planets and started deciding which one was Venus and which was Jupiter. If there's anything better than "cool" vegetables, it's vegetables that make my kids think, so obviously I bought two bags. As I handed over my money, I realized that in addition to the minor science lesson, this was the perfect opportunity to make one of my favorite summer dishes: stuffed squash and eggplant.
Stuffed squash and eggplant really make a great mid-week meal as the shape of the veggies are ideal for stuffing with leftovers. Sure you could cook up some fresh items for the stuffing, but this is really the perfect opportunity to use the rest of the chicken or beef you made on Monday, or the rice leftover from Chinese takeout the day before.
I start off by scooping the inner meat from the vegetables (this is easily accomplished with a grapefruit spoon if you have one) and then making a type of quick ratatouille out of it with some tomatoes, garlic and onion. I then mix in whatever grain I have in the fridge (although you could of course make some if you don't have any handy) and then toss in some chopped meat. When I made the dish this week I used some leftover beef brisket from the 4th of July. By the time I made this dish my husband and I were a little tired of the BBQ flavor of the brisket, but stuffed inside the vegetables with the ratatouille, rice and some cheeses, its flavors added a depth to the dish that really wowed us. Chicken, pork, or marinated tofu would also work well, as would lentils or chick peas.
Usually I bake my stuffed squash and eggplant in the oven, but this week I wanted to try grilling them. The result was really quite good. The intense heat from the grill brought out a sweetness in the squash and eggplant that baking hadn't in the past. The dish also cooked in about half the time it takes in the oven. The only problem was keeping everything upright on the grill so the stuffing didn’t spill out; this was easily remedied, however, by a muffin pan.
As we sat down to dinner, my kids saw a fun-shaped vegetable they were excited to eat, while I was marveling at how that leftover brisket and rice looked so mouthwatering inside the fresh squash and eggplant. The frugal side of me was quite pleased not to waste those perfectly good leftovers. Everyone was happy.
Stuffed Globe Squash and Eggplant
Makes: Enough for 4 - 6 people
6 baby globe squash (also known as summer squash) -- around 2 inches in diameter
6 baby globe eggplants -- around 2 inches in diameter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup cooked grains (such as rice, barley, couscous, or small pasta)
1 cup chopped tomatoes or drained canned tomatoes
1 medium or 2 small onions
2 cloves garlic
1 cup cooked meat (beef, chicken, or pork diced) or cooked beans such as lentils
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1/2 cup cheese (mozzarella, jack, or anything you like that melts smoothly) chopped into small cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Wash squash and eggplant and then slice off the top stem-side.
2. Scoop out the interior flesh of the vegetables, being sure to leave at least a 1/4-inch intact so the outer skin can hold the filling.
3. Chop all the vegetables (the onions, garlic and tomatoes, along with the squash and eggplant meat) into small pieces.
4. Heat about 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large non-reactive pan to medium heat. Add in the onions and garlic and cook for 1 - 2 minutes or until soft. Add in the squash and eggplant pieces and cook for another couple of minutes. Add more olive oil as needed at this point as the eggplant really soaks it up. Add in the tomatoes and cook until everything is soft. Season to taste.
5. Line squash and eggplant shells on a baking pan and sprinkle with olive oil and salt.
6. Add parsley and oregano to the mixed vegetables and then start scooping it into each squash and eggplant skin until half-way filled.
7. Add a cube or two of cheese to each vegetable and then continue stuffing until each vegetable is full. Top with the remainder of the cheese.
8. Heat your grill to medium high and then set each stuffed squash and eggplant onto direct heat (being careful to stand them up straight so the filling doesn’t fall out). Cook for around two minutes with the cover down.
9. With tongs, transfer the eggplant and squash to a muffin pan (you can pair up some of the smaller vegetables) and set the pan inside the grill with the cover down.
Note: Use an old muffin pan you no longer care much about or, if you have a nice one, cover each receptacle with aluminum foil.
10. Grill for another 5 minutes or until everything looks nicely cooked.
11. Repeat until all vegetables are cooked.
12. Serve with a salad or bread.