You know you’re a food snob when you’re looking forward to writing about eggplants, just to refer to them as aubergines. In the world of culinary aficionados, aubergine is the more elegant, proper English name given to the sweet-spicy vegetables, otherwise known as eggplant to the rest of the English-speaking (unsophisticated) world. I’m joking – kind of. I really do prefer the French-inspired wording when it comes to food. Wouldn’t you agree that courgette sounds more enticing than zucchini, and mangetout more interesting than boring ol’ snow peas? Even more interesting than nomenclature is the actual recipe though, so steamed aubergines with no spices won’t cut it!
In Arabic, it’s bitinjan or bitingan if you’re saying it in an Egyptian dialect, in case you’re wondering … In Egypt, there are three popular types of eggplant, and each variety stars in its own dish. The most popular is the large, purple-brown globe variety, known as bitinjan rumi, or translated literally as Roman eggplant (it’s safe to assume that it was originally imported from southern Europe). There’s also the purple-brown, long slender ones called bitinjan ‘arus – literally ‘bride’ eggplants, and I have no idea why. Finally, there’re the white, slender eggplants – which come either stocky or long – called bitinjan abyad, literally ‘white eggplant’. In this post, I’ll be sharing about the bitinjan abyad, which I’ve noticed are more popular in Eastern cuisine than in the West, where the globe variety takes center stage.
In traditional Egyptian cuisine, aubergines have been popularized by two main meals – moussaka (which is typically a baked casserole consisting of rumi eggplants, tomato sauce and ground beef), and bitinjan mahshi, or stuffed eggplant. For the latter dish, either the ‘arus or abyad varieties work, although the white eggplants are the original stars in their stuffed role. Ask any Egyptian grandma, and you’ll get the same answer: “White eggplants are ideal for stuffing, firstly because of the smaller size, and more importantly because their flavor is subtle and their flesh is tender.” Rumi is often baked, fried or stewed, ‘arus is either pickled or stuffed, and abyad is almost always stuffed.
When my mom and I spotted white eggplants at the Saturday farmer’s market here in Virginia, we both had the same reaction: “Let’s stuff them!” Something about Middle Easterners and stuffing vegetables – I haven’t figured it out, but it’s a comforting culinary tradition, and as you’ll see from my posts, I’ve come to embrace it, even though – I won’t lie – it is time consuming!
Stuffed White Eggplant (Bitinjan Abyad Mahshi)
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 30 – 40 minutes
- 3-4 white eggplants per person (for 4 people, we stuffed 12)
- 1 lb. organic, grass-fed ground beef
- 1/2 cup organic Egyptian rice (other varieties, like Basmati, would probably work)
- 1 tablespoon grass-fed organic ghee (I ordered mine here)
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1 can/small glass jar of organic tomato paste
- 1 large onion, chopped
- unrefined mineral salt and ground black pepper, to taste