Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stuffing Stuff

This post is meant to be instructional. It is carefully and lovingly designed to empower you in your own kitchen. Mostly this means that I don't use recipes when scrapping this kind of thing together, and thus cannot pass any on. But it also means that this is a really tasty, slightly elegant, delightfully contained way to feed yourself (in addition to others if necessary) out of what would otherwise seem like a bunch of disparate fridge items.

So, by way of example, let me tell you about two things we had for dinner this past week. Exhibit A: Eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, mushrooms and quinoa. And Exhibit B: Sweet potatoes stuffed with cauliflower-green beans-collards-and-quinoa (apparently no picture of this one).
Here's the strategy:

1. Get something with a skin, something that will hold its shape. Think squash, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc. Hollow it out. Some things are easier to scoop when they're raw, like eggplant. Some things are easier when they've been cooked a little, like potatoes. Sprinkle with oil, salt and pepper and throw it in the oven to soften up while you prepare the filling.

2. Scrabble together some filling ingredients that you will go ahead and cook, then stir together. You want everything to be cooked before it goes into the mix. I ALWAYS use the following and you must too:
  • Mixture of vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces and precooked (boiled, roasted, sauteed, microwaved--however you want), including whatever you scooped out of your containment vessel and always, always onions and garlic
  • Grain or bread crumbs to absorb some of the moisture; rice, barley, quinoa, any whole grains precooked, fresh or dried crumbs
  • Cheese: it's rich, it's creamy, it's delicious
  • Nuts: especially if you toast them first, they add a bit of umami
  • 1 egg, beaten: it holds the whole thing together
So what you will do is prepare all your bits: cook the vegetables, the grain, toast the nuts. Then, in a big bowl, toss it all together with some cheese, salt, pepper, and whatever other seasonings you think might be delicious. Taste and season accordingly. Stir in a beaten egg and scoop into your hollowed-out shells. Bake in a 375ยบ oven for 20-30 minutes, until cooked through and bubbly.
The key is proportions. I happen to live in a glorious grocery town where the abundant produce shelves let me buy as much or as little of anything as I want. Only need 3 mushrooms? There's a bin of them. Handful of green beans? Just one leek? When you're putting together your filling, consider what would be reasonable for 1 or 2 people to eat. I'll include some approximate measures below just to give you an idea.

Stuffed Eggplant: 1 medium eggplant, split and hollowed; eggplant meat, 1/4 lb. sliced mushrooms, 1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic--all sauteed together; 1 tomato diced, 1/4-ish cup grated parmesan; 1 cup cooked quinoa. Stirred together with an egg.

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes: 1 large sweet potato, microwaved 5 minutes, split, and scooped out; 1/4 head cauliflower florets, handful green beans, 4 collard leaves--all blanched; 1/2 onion and 2 cloves garlic sauteed; potato meat, 1/4-ish cup ricotta; toasted chopped pistachios; 1 cup cooked quinoa. Stirred together with an egg.

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