Eggplant Rolls with Tomato Sauce

Yaprakes de Berenjena

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Instead of hollowing out eggplants and carving them into shells to hold the meat mixture, try Méri Badi’s wonderful recipe for fried eggplant slices rolled around little meatballs, which are then baked with tomato sauce. A word about eggplant size: Our average eggplants are larger than those found in Spain, Greece, and Turkey. They usually seem to weigh about a pound. So where the recipe called for four, two sufficed. The cooking time seemed excessively long, too, as the eggplants are already cooked and so is the tomato sauce. All you need is time to cook the meat filling. I would suggest getting ground meat that is not too lean, as you want the filling to be moist. I might like the sauce to be sweeter, with a touch of cinnamon, but that is my Greek-inspired palate talking. You can decide for yourself if you want this more Spanish in taste or more Middle Eastern.

Ingredients

For the Meatballs

  • ½ pound ground beef, not too lean
  • ¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small onion, grated (optional)
  • cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)

For the Eggplant

  • 2 longish globe eggplants, about 1 pound each, or 4 smaller eggplants, about ½ pound each olive oil for frying
  • 2 eggs
  • salt

For the Tomato Sauce

  • 8 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (about 3 pounds)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar, or more to taste
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • pinch of ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 ripe tomato, sliced

Method

To make the meatballs, combine the meat, bread crumbs, olive oil, salt, and pepper. If you like, add the onion or pine nuts as well. Mix well and form into walnut-sized balls, making them slightly oval. Set aside.

Peel the eggplants vertically in a striped pattern. Cut in half lengthwise and then cut each half crosswise into slices about inch thick. If you want the rolls to be larger, do not cut the eggplants in half. With full slices you will get 14 to 16 rolls. If you cut the wider ones in half, you will get about 26 rolls (the end pieces are already small enough).

Pour olive oil to a depth of ½ inch into 1 or 2 large sauté pans and heat over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a small bowl until blended. In batches, dip the eggplant slices in the beaten eggs and slip them into the hot oil. Fry, turning once, until golden on both sides and cooked through, about 8 minutes, adding more oil to the pans as needed. Using tongs or a slotted spatula, transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle lightly with salt and let cool.

To make the tomato sauce, combine the tomatoes, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and form a sauce, about 15 minutes. Stir in the olive oil and the cinnamon, if using. You will want 2½ to 3 cups of tomato sauce.

When the eggplant slices are cool, place 1 meatball at the bottom of each slice and roll up. As you roll, you may need to reshape the meatball slightly to make it fit in the eggplant slice.

Place the eggplant rolls, seam side down, in a wide sauté pan. Cover with the tomato sauce and then with the tomato slices. Place over very low heat, cover, and simmer until the filling is cooked, 20 to 30 minutes. Serve hot.