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RECIPE A Mediterranean favourite, try this for a wholesome meal

T ravel anywhere in the Mediterranean region, and you will find stuffed vegetables. In Provence, they tend to be filled with meat (a way to stretch leftover stews), but in the Middle East and Greece rice and grain fillings prevail.

Regional cooks make abundant use of fresh herbs such as parsley, dill and mint, and sweet spices such as cinnamon and allspice.

Fragrant stuffed vegetables can be made ahead of the meal and served hot or at room temperature.

They don't require a lot of patience to assemble — they just need a long simmer and then a rest to let the flavours mingle and intensify.

Eat them as a main dish or a side, and serve up leftovers for lunch.

This recipe serves 6.

Eggplant stuffed with rice and tomatoes

The filling for these irresistible stuffed eggplants is also good for peppers and squash. Substitute the chopped flesh of the summer squash for the eggplant, and just use the rice and tomatoes for peppers. Make these a day ahead for best results.

Ingredients

Small or medium eggplants: 11/2 kg

Salt: to taste

Tomatoes, grated on the large holes of a box grater: 3/4 kg

Extra virgin olive oil: 3 tbsp

Garlic cloves, minced: 4-6

Uncooked long-grain or basmati rice: 1/2 cup

Cilantro, finely chopped: 1/2 cup

Mint, finely chopped: 3 tbsp

Freshly ground pepper: to taste

Juice of 2 lemons

Allspice, ground: 1/2 tsp

Cinnamon, ground: 1/2 tsp

Sugar: 1/4 tsp

Tomato paste: 3 tbsp

Method

Cut the eggplants in half. With a grapefruit spoon or a small knife, remove the flesh to within 1/2 inch of the skins. Sprinkle the eggplant shells with salt, and let sit for 30 minutes while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Chop the flesh, and steam for 20 minutes until tender. In a large bowl, combine a third of the tomatoes, the steamed eggplant, 2 tbsp of the olive oil, all but 1 clove of the garlic, the rice, herbs and the juice of one of the lemons. Season with salt and pepper.

Oil a large flameproof casserole or an earthenware casserole set over a flame tamer. Combine the remaining tomatoes, olive oil, allspice, cinnamon, lemon juice, sugar, tomato paste and remaining garlic in the casserole. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Fill the shells with the rice mixture, and arrange in the casserole in a single layer. Add water if neeeded to cover about a third of the eggplant. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, cover tightly and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 45 minutes to an hour until the eggplant and rice are tender.Remove from the heat. Using two spatulas (the eggplants are soft at this point), transfer them to a platter. Bring the sauce to a boil until thick and fragrant. Pour over the eggplants and allow to cool. Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro if desired.

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