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-ish 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. 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. A saucy thing with lightly charred vegetables and hecka good bread to mop the plate. 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 pure sunflower seed one is delicious and blissfully nut-free for those who need it to be. You guys 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, 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.
I’ve offered a ton of mods for this recipe in the headnotes, but for now I’ll suggest that you wait for a cooler evening to make this one since you’ll need the oven. And one more thing to mention before I pop out: If you’re in the Niagara region, I’m hosting a very cool event at Shannon Passero’s The Post Office on the evening of Thursday, July 27th. If you’ve been there, you know that the boutique is incredible, but there will also be wine, and I’ll be preparing so many delicious bites to eat from my cookbook. This is a free event, but we’d love for you to register HERE if you’re thinking about coming. Love and sunshine to you all this week :)
STUFFED EGGPLANT WITH SUNFLOWER ROMESCO
Print the recipe here!
Notes: If you want to keep this more traditional or “authentic” (not my fave word lol), 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!
SUNFLOWER ROMESCO (makes extra):
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
scant ½ cup virgin olive oil
2 small-medium eggplants
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
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 degrees 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 saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and saute until fragrant and slightly soft, about 2 minutes. Add the chopped eggplant, and season with salt and pepper. Stir. Saute 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.