At this time of year I always have a surge of wanderlust. After all the holiday festivities and seasonal cocooning, the calendar turns a page, and I find myself looking ahead to a new year of infinite possibilities and potential travel. Yet, while my imagination is packing its passport, reality dictates that I stay put, at least for the moment. Children need to be delivered to school, money must be saved, work deadlines have to be met. So, I turn to the kitchen for a little escape. After all, if I can’t jump on the next airplane, at least I can transport my palate to a far-flung destination.
These stuffed tomatoes do just that. They are a variation of Middle Eastern dolmas. Dolmas are vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplant that are stuffed with rice or bulghur, spices and sometimes ground meat. Meatless dolmas are served cold or at room temperature, while meat dolmas are served warm. This is my version in which I have added feta and sautéed eggplant to the filling for extra body and flavor. They are best eaten at room temperature, and can be made a day in advance. They are also guaranteed to bring a little exotic warmth to your dinner plate.
Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Spiced Eggplant and Couscous Filling
These are a lovely light dish or accompaniment to roasted meat, fish or chicken. Makes 8.
10 vine-ripened tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 cup couscous
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 medium eggplant, ends trimmed, peeled, finely chopped
1 small green pepper, stemmed, seeded, ribs removed, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, plus additional leaves for garnish
1 tablespoon harissa sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 lbs. (350 g.) feta cheese, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Selet 8 tomatoes that have the best presentation. Slice off the tops. Scoop out the centers with a spoon, taking care not to pierce the outer flesh. Lightly salt the inside of the tomatoes and turn upside down on a plate. Set aside with tops reserved.
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Cut remaining 2 tomatoes in half. Remove seeds and stems. Finely dice the tomatoes and place in a large bowl.
Bring stock to boil in a sauce pan. Add couscous, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt and remove from heat. Let steam, covered, for 5 minutes.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add chopped eggplant. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Sauté until softened and turning golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to bowl with tomatoes.
Fluff couscous with fork and add to bowl with tomatoes and eggplant. Add shallots, green pepper, garlic, chopped mint, harissa, cumin and cinnamon. Stir to combine well.
Set aside 2 tablespoons crumbled feta. Gently stir remaining feta into couscous. Taste to see if more salt is needed.
Blot the inside of the whole tomatoes gently with a paper towel. Fill the centers with the couscous. Top with reserved feta.
Arrange tomatoes in a lightly oiled baking dish. Drizzle additional olive oil over tomatoes. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast in oven until cheese is golden, 20-25 minutes. Remove and allow tomatoes to cool to room temperature.
Before serving, drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and reserved tomato tops.