Stuffed Eggplant With Sunflower Romesco Sauce

Simple stuffed eggplant with grains, herbs & a flavourful sunflower romesco sauce (that tastes good on everything) is a perfect vegan dinner. My version of romesco here is naturally nut-free.

An overhead shot of a stuffed eggplant "boat" with grains inside and a dab of a deep red/orange sauce.
Image shows a stuffed eggplant "boat" with a salad served alongside, on a blue plate.
Two images show eggplant being sautéed and sunflower romesco sauce being whipped up on a food processor.
Image shows hollowed out eggplant "shells" on a baking sheet.


I had been thinking and thinking about this dish, the idea of it, for so long. I imagined this charred/grilled smoky eggplant with a harissa-like sauce and herbed grains all stuffed inside, along with a light mash of the eggplant flesh that involved tahini and lemon. It seemed like the perfect summer entrée for the plant lovers.

My attempts at keeping sturdy eggplant “boats” on a grill were brutal though! They turned into mush–delicious mush, but still mush. And I realized I had already done a grilled eggplant and harissa thing a while ago (also have it in stew form here). I had to re-imagine this dreamy dinnertime scenario to bring it into reality.

When Jessica and I helped host a dinner at Botanica in LA, one of the courses was this moat of romesco on a plate that was served with golden-crispy potatoes and broccolini on top, and some grilled sourdough on the side. It was the dreamiest menu option I’ve ever experienced. Their romesco is something special, and while I’ve made and enjoyed the sauce so many times, I kept thinking about it after that trip. Romesco traditionally has a base of roasted peppers and almonds, but I was just making versions of it with whatever combination of nuts/seeds I needed to use up, and all of them were good!

This sunflower seed one is delicious and blissfully nut-free for those who need it to be. You all might already know how much I love having a 100% crave-worthy sauce around. Once I get a batch of something I like, I apply it to just about anything I’m making and I won’t stop craving it until I inevitably go into overkill territory (see also: açai bowls and most doughnuts). But simple things like sauces make the difference for a lot of people! Maybe you feel eeeenh about broccoli, but if I douse it in garlicky/smoky/lightly spicy romesco, you’ll probably eat the whole bowl.

For some folks, it’s the difference between eating vegetables and not. Really, my goal is always to get people to eat the vegetables/food that is kinder to them and the planet, so just please make some sauce for the people you love. Maybe start with this sunflower romesco sauce? ;)

Image shows sunflower romesco sauce ingredients on a wood countertop.
Image shows sunflower romesco sauce being whipped up in a food processor.
Two images show a kitchen scene and some lettuces and herbs on a wooden cutting board.
An overhead shot of stuffed eggplant "boats" with grains inside and a dab of a deep red/orange sauce.
An overhead image shows a blue enamelware plate with a stuffed eggplant half (filled with quinoa, herbs and a red sauce), and a side of dressed red leaf lettuce.
Stuffed Eggplant w/ Sunflower Romesco, Quinoa & Herbs - The First Mess
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Stuffed Eggplant with Sunflower Romesco Sauce

Simple stuffed eggplant with grains, herbs & a flavourful sunflower romesco sauce (that tastes good on everything) is a perfect vegan dinner. My version of romesco here is naturally nut-free.
PREP TIME20 mins
COOK TIME35 mins
TOTAL TIME55 mins
Diet Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 4
Author: Laura Wright

Ingredients

Sunflower Romesco Sauce

  • ½ cup toasted sunflower seeds
  • 2 roasted red peppers, homemade or from a jar
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon aleppo pepper or a pinch of cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons sherry OR apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • small handful flat parsley leaves
  • sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • scant ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Stuffed Eggplant

  • 2 small-medium eggplants
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • ¼ cup romesco
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 4 servings cooked grain of choice (I used quinoa)
  • big handful of fresh and leafy herbs, chopped (I used cilantro, parsley & a bit of dill)
  • toasted sunflower seeds or dukkah, for topping

Instructions

  • Make the sunflower romesco: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the sunflower seeds, roasted red peppers, garlic, paprika, aleppo pepper, vinegar, tomato paste, parsley, salt, and pepper. Pulse the mixture until all ingredients are finely chopped and lightly pasty. Scrape the bowl down. Then, with the motor on low, drizzle the olive oil in through the feed tube until fully incorporated. Check the sauce for seasoning. Transfer sauce to a sealable jar, and set aside in the fridge until ready to use.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, right through the stem. Using a paring knife, carve into the eggplant flesh all the way around the perimeter. Pry the eggplant flesh out of the eggplant halves with your fingers or a spoon and set it aside. Place eggplant halves on a baking sheet, facing up. Brush the eggplant halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake eggplant for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and lightly tender.
  • Roughly chop the scooped out eggplant. Heat a bit of oil in a medium-large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and sauté until fragrant and slightly soft, about 2 minutes. Add the chopped eggplant, and season with salt and pepper. Stir. Sauté the eggplant, stirring occasionally, until tender, browned, and slightly reduced in size, about 4 minutes.
  • Carefully transfer eggplant to the food processor. Add the ¼ cup of romesco, lemon juice, and tahini to the food processor as well. Pulse the mixture until you have a chunky paste.
  • To serve, divide the warm eggplant filling evenly among the eggplant “boats.” Then, spoon your cooked grain of choice on top along with a sprinkle of chopped herbs. Garnish the tops of the stuffed eggplants with more romesco and toasted sunflower seeds or dukkah. Enjoy warm.

Notes

  • If you want to keep this more traditional, use toasted almonds or even a mix of almonds and hazelnuts in place of the sunflower seeds.
  • If you’d like to make this grain-free, try stuffing the eggplant with herbed cauliflower rice, or something like this recipe of mine from way back.
  • I don’t have any concrete suggestions on lowering the amount of oil in the romesco, unfortunately. I found that the mixture tasted quite good before I added it though, but was a still little sharp/intense. Perhaps try ¼ cup of water in place of the oil and add more if necessary.
  • Romesco is good in a sealed jar in your refrigerator for 5-7 days. I dare you to even TRY making it last that long though. I love it with grilled/roasted vegetables, tossed with pasta and chickpeas and herbs, and swooped up with crusty bread, obviously.
  • If you’re starting from scratch with this recipe and finishing it to the end, no need to wash the food processor out after you make the romesco. You’ll need it for the eggplant!


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