Eggplant Casserole

Note: the source for this recipe is an Arabic cookbook. We found recipes for or references to similar dishes in both Jewish and Christian Spain. Eggplant was considered poisonous or dangerous in much of medieval Europe, but was commonly eaten in the Iberian Peninsula.

Original (1): Mahshi (a stuffed dish) with Eggplants

Take sweet eggplants, peel them and boil in salted water until done, then remove their seedy flesh to one side.Make mahmiyya for the eggplants in a tajine. Add as much bread crumbs [as the quantity of eggplant], andpepper, coriander seed, cinnamon, saffron, chopped almond and as many eggs as you need; beat it all and cover with plenty of oil and bury in it whole egg yolks. Then plant the seedy flesh in it and put in an oven at moderateheat and leave until it has finished cooking and binds and is brown on top, then take out and leave until its heat flags and leave it. You might pound in it whatever meats of fried fowl you have ready, and each will result in adifferent dish; there are some who serve it with juices of coriander and mint.

Original (2): Preparing Mahshi with Eggplants and Cheese

Take boiled eggplant and beat, according to what has been mentioned, in a dish with its aforementioned flavoringsand with cut-up cheese, almonds and enough eggs; put in the tajine and cover with oil, put in the oven and leave until brown [p. 53, recto] on top and take out.
Source: An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century, trans. Charles Perry

Redaction

2 large eggplants (about 3 lbs)
1 c ground almonds
1 lb cottage cheese (drained)
¾ t ground peppercorns
¾ t ground coriander seeds
¾ t ground cinnamon
1 t safflower
6 eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Remove the caps and peels from eggplants, then halve them and boil in salted water (this should remove many of the bitter oils).
  2. Boil until thoroughly mushy, then remove from water, mash the eggplants with a spoon and let cool to nearly room temperature.
  3. Add almonds, cottage cheese, and spices. Beat eggs in a separate bowl, then add to eggplant mixture.
  4. Beat all ingredients together and pour into a greased baking pan or casserole.
  5. Drizzle olive oil over the dish and bake until set, about 50 minutes.

Notes and Choices

Here there are clearly two related recipes. We wanted to provide protein to the vegetarians and so worked with the second, which involves cheese. The line about the mahmiyya is problematic and discussed extensively in the footnotes on Cariadoc’s page. It is either a method of preheating the tagine or making a sofrito-like prep of onion and oil. In either case, it doesn’t appear to pertain to the second recipe. The big question is whether the breadcrumbs are considered a flavoring in the first dish. If so, they should also appear in the second. The first recipe contains a huge amount of them, but also lacks the cheese as a binding agent. We elected to leave them out of the recipe and to use the almonds as thickener and the cheese and egg to bind the dish together. We cooled the eggplant to avoid precooking the raw eggs, which seems highly logical. The planting of egg yolks appears to be a feature of the first dish and not the second. We left them out. Another thing to ponder is the choice of cheese. We chose cottage because it is inexpensive and a good approximation of a simple period cheese. However, lots of other cheeses were known in Spain, both hard (e.g. manchego) and soft (queso fresco, farmer’s cheese, etc.).  These might add a bit more tang.  We couldn’t taste the saffron in our original attempt, and so replaced it with safflower, which will still provide the yellow color but which costs significantly less!
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