Our family are absolute meat eaters, make no bones about it (pardon the pun) but I am always looking for new inspiration when it comes to vegetarian meals as we also love vegetarian food.  I did a bit of research but as I usually roll, I took little bits of inspiration from many sources and set about creating this Puy Lentil Stuffed Eggplant dish.  My son used to look pretty disappointed when I told him we would be having a vegetarian meal for dinner but he has come to trust my ability in the kitchen (it’s only taken 24 years) and actually looked quite excited when I told him what I was creating and even declared it a new favourite!  The use of Puy Lentils in this dish is a must as they really hold together beautifully (more so than red lentils) and give this dish a delicious texture, more like a bolognese.  I predict even the harshest critics of vegetarian food would rate this one as it is packed full of flavour and the molten Mozzarella topping was the absolute piece de resistance!

Prep time:  30  Minutes

Cooking time:  About 1 hour

$$ Medium Budget

Serves 4

Ingredients for Puy Lentil Stuffed Eggplant:

Extra virgin olive oil for frying

4 medium sized eggplants

3 garlic cloves

1 brown onion, roughly chopped

2 celery stalks, roughly chopped

1 carrot, ends removed & roughly chopped

4 oregano sprigs, leaves removed & stalks discarded

8 thyme sprigs, leaves removed and woody stalks discarded

1 punnet of grape tomatoes

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 tsp of dried oregano

1 cup of dry white wine

2 cups of chicken stock

1 cup of dried Puy lentils, rinsed and drained to remove any grit

1 tbs of tomato paste

1 tsp of sugar

Sea salt & cracked pepper

1/2 a cup of grated parmesan cheese

1 whole fresh Mozzarella, sliced into 1/2cm thick rounds

Chilli flakes, grated lemon rind & oregano leaves for garnish

Leafy green salad to serve

To prepare the Puy Lentil Stuffed Eggplant:

Cut each eggplant in half and use a small sharp knife to run around the edge of the flesh about 1cm from the edge, being careful not to pierce the skin.  Use your hands or a serving spoon to scoop out the flesh (it doesn’t matter if it looks a bit haggard) and then dice the flesh into 1cm cubes.

Preheat the oven to 180°c and line a large oven tray with baking paper.  Place the empty eggplant halves on the tray and drizzle with olive oil & season with salt & pepper.  Bake them for approximately 20-25 minutes or until tender. Remove from the oven once cooked.

While the eggplant is cooking, prepare the Puy lentils by placing the garlic, onion, celery, carrot & fresh herbs in a small processor or blender.  Process the mixture until it resembles a pesto or bread crumb like consistency.

Heat a large fry pan and pour in a good amount of olive oil and once hot, fry the eggplant cubed flesh until golden brown.  Eggplant is very thirsty when it comes to oil and will absorb it very quickly but once it starts to colour, it will release some of the oil.  Pop the golden eggplant on a plate and add a touch more oil to the pan, fry the vegetable mixture in the pan for about 5 minutes or until it noticeably changes colour then place the cooked eggplant flesh, dried oregano and the punnet of grape tomatoes in the pan.  Stir to combine and cook for a few more minutes before adding the lentils, lemon juice & wine.  Allow the wine to reduce by half before pouring in half of the stock, stir, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally and adding the remainder of the stock as it reduces.  About half way through the cook, when the tomatoes have softened, use a potato masher or the back of a fork to bust them open, this will release the liquid from the tomatoes and flavour the lentils.  You want the lentil mixture to be quite dry once cooked, with only a small amount of liquid left in the pan.  Once the lentils have cooked (they should be tender but still have a bit of bite to them) season the mixture with tomato paste, sugar, salt & pepper and stir to combine, allowing the mixture to come back to a simmer for a few minutes.

Spoon the lentil mixture into the eggplant halves, making sure they are nice and full, sprinkle over the parmesan and top each eggplant half with a couple of slices of the Mozzarella.  Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden, you can flick the grill on to make them extra golden and bubbly if you wish.

To serve the Puy Lentil Stuffed Eggplant, place two halves on each plate, scatter over a few chilli flakes and grated lemon rind and top with fresh oregano leaves.  I like to finish them with a final drizzle of good Extra Virgin Olive Oil and serve with a leafy side salad.

Looking for more vegetarian recipe inspiration?  You might like this Mediterranean Grilled Vegetable Salad recipe!