Middle East spices bring out the best in eggplant, peaches

August 25, 1993|By Susan Herr | Susan Herr,Contributing Writer United Feature Syndicate

Middle Eastern flavors have inspired our light vegetarian menu for a warm summer evening. For the main course, slices of eggplant and halved plum tomatoes are quickly roasted in the oven. The eggplant is then wrapped around a filling of whole-wheat couscous accented with fresh mint and feta cheese, and the tomatoes are mashed with a bit of olive oil and spooned over the top. A salad of grated carrots flavored with garlic and cumin and flecked with a handful of parsley is a colorful accompaniment. Warmed pita bread rounds out the meal.

It somehow seems appropriate that the dinner end with peaches. We bake them in a lemon-ginger syrup for a quarter of an hour, and they are divine. Both the main course and dessert are also delicious served at room temperature, so you can certainly eat this fragrant supper at your leisure. Reclining, perhaps.

Eggplant-couscous rolls with roasted tomato sauce

Serves 4

2 1-pound eggplants

4 teaspoons olive oil

9 ripe plum tomatoes (1 1/4 pounds total)

1 cup whole-wheat couscous

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese plus 2 tablespoons for garnish, preferably imported

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Trim both ends of the eggplants. Stand each eggplant on end and remove a thin slice of skin from two opposite sides and discard. Cut eggplants lengthwise into 1/3 -inch-thick slices. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with 2 teaspoons oil and arrange in a single layer on the baking sheets.

Core tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Place them, cut-side down, in the remaining space on the baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, turn eggplant slices over and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until it is lightly browned and tender and the tomato skins are blistered.

Meanwhile, in a medium-sized saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Stir in the couscous, thyme, salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Uncover and let cool for 15 minutes. With a fork, stir in the feta, mint and pepper.

Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Put some of the couscous mixture in the center of each eggplant slice. Roll up the eggplant slices firmly around the filling and place, seam-side down, in the prepared dish. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the skin away from the roasted tomatoes and put them in a small saucepan. Mash with a fork and add the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Heat gently over low heat. To serve, spoon the tomato sauce over the eggplant rolls and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons feta cheese.

Gingered peach gratin

Serves 4

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

4 small ripe peaches (1 pound), halved and pitted

4 gingersnaps, crushed

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, lemon juice, ginger and 2 tablespoon water; bring to a simmer. Place the peaches, cut-side up, in a shallow 1-quart baking dish. Pour the ginger syrup over the peaches and sprinkle with gingersnap crumbs. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the peaches are tender when pierced with a knife and the syrup is thickened.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with the sauce spooned over.

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