This is actually a form of distraction from chocolate...Not this dish, per se, but posting it here. Which is passing some of the time before I can rescue my box of Troffel Chocolates from their hiding place after the children have gone to bed. More on that later, as you want to know how to cook delicious stuffed aubergines, not how to eat chocolate truffles!
Aubergines get a bad press sometimes, because they are guilty of being the type of vegetable which can soak up a lot of oil if you let them. Not that all oils are bad, but certain things are best in moderation.
That's not a problem with this Spanish dish, because the aubergines are partially steamed first, to tenderise them before finishing off the cooking process.
Steaming aubergines can give meltingly tender results, when you cook them all the way through, and I have a couple in the fridge waiting to be experimented upon to see whether I can do this to make 'fish fragrant' aubergines, a popular Sichuan dish. But I digress, you're after these juicy-looking cheese topped aubergines, so here is my stuffed aubergines recipe...
Berenjenas Rellenas de Carne (Aubergines stuffed with meat)
Serves four as a main meal with side dishes (or use really small aubergines to serve this dish as tapas), 244 calories per serving as a main.
Aubergines are popular in the Balearic Islands, and in this dish they are steamed in a pan with a little water before being stuffed, which means that unlike in many aubergine dishes, they do not soak up oil like sponges, and the flesh and the skin come out meltingly tender. However eating stuffed aubergines with cheese on the top feels incredibly decadent, and you’d never believe they were under 250 calories, when you taste them!
Leftovers will re-heat well in a moderate oven, covered with foil, for about half an hour, and if you want to freeze this dish (it’s worth making double, to do this!), do so after you have stuffed them, but before adding cheese and baking. Lamb or beef will work equally well in this dish, and vegetarians could substitute quorn/TVP (see below).
- 2 long aubergines (eggplants), about 250g each (or use small aubergines, 500g in total) 
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
- 1 tsp oil 
- 250g minced/ground meat, e.g. pork, lamb or beef (if counting calories, use extra lean minced pork (e.g. Sainsbury’s) [308*])
- 40g fresh, white breadcrumbs (omit for Paleo and clean eating - you could substitute ground almonds if you like, gluten free is fine) 
- 60ml (4 tbsp) semi-skimmed milk (not necessary if not using bread, so don't use for Paleo / clean eating) 
- 1 medium onion, chopped (100g) 
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon 
- 1 tsp ground cumin 
- 1 tsp smoked (or plain) mild paprika 
- ¼ tsp hot red chilli powder/cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional) 
- 2 garlic cloves crushed 
- 200g chopped tomatoes (tinned is fine, or skin and chop fresh tomatoes if preferred) 
- 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley 
- 1 medium egg, beaten 
- 40g Manchego cheese (or use more if you're not counting calories! Omit for paleo - you could top with some ground or finely chopped almonds/cashew/macadamia for a crunch instead, if you like) 
Trim the tips of the stems from the aubergines to neaten them up (don’t cut the top of the aubergine off) and slice in half from top to bottom.
Pour 150ml (cold) water into a deep-ish frying pan with a lid along with half a teaspoon olive oil, and arrange the aubergine halves in it so they fit comfortably.
Season with salt and pepper and cover with a well-fitting lid. Put onto a medium heat, and once the water has reached a boil, turn it down to low and continue to cook/steam for 8-10 minutes until softened a little, but not completely cooked (test with a sharp knife on the cut side, but don’t cut through to the bottom).
Remove the aubergines and set aside to cool for a few minutes while you chop the other vegetables. Put 3 or 4 tablespoons of the cooking water in a casserole/pyrex dish, into which the aubergine halves will fit snugly, and set aside. Pour the remaining water away, but keep the pan with the residual oil clinging to it. Put the breadcrumbs into a small dish with the milk to soak.
Once the aubergines have cooled a little bit, use a spoon to carefully hollow out the aubergines, leaving a little pulp inside to form a thin wall – I find the flesh comes away most easily from the bottom and sides first, and then I use the spoon to gently free it from underneath (watch you don’t go through the skin, if possible) until I get to the top, where I use a small knife to free the very top part, as it is a little firmer there (see photo below).
Arrange the aubergine shells in the dish once you have removed all of the flesh – don’t worry if they are a bit floppy, as long as it’s quite a snug fit, once you have filled them, they will support each other. Set aside, and pre-heat your oven to gas mark 4 / 180C / 350F.
Take your frying pan, and put back on a low to medium heat on the hob. Add the remaining half teaspoon of olive oil (you can use more if you're not counting calories, but this is sufficient) and gently sauté the chopped onion for 5-7 minutes until it is softened and just starting to turn golden on the edges. Turn up the heat, push the onions to the side of the pan, and then add the minced pork (or lamb, beef etc.). Leave to sizzle for a minute or two, then turn it over, and leave to sizzle for another minute (letting the pork brown a little gives a good flavour, rather than stirring it at first).
Then add the dry spices (cinnamon, cumin, paprika and chilli/cayenne) and start breaking up your pork (two wooden spoons is easier than one for this) and incorporating the onions into it, until it’s broken down evenly and just cooked through. Add the garlic, and cook for another minute. Be careful not to burn the garlic, or it will make the dish taste bitter.
Add the tomatoes, ½ tsp salt (or to taste) and a good grind of black pepper, turn up the heat slightly and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes until it has reduced a little and thickened. Add the chopped aubergine and soaked breadcrumbs and continue to cook, stirring, until the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool down for 5 minutes (you can transfer it to a cold bowl/dish, if you don’t mind an extra pot).
Taste for seasoning, and adjust if necessary, then add the egg whilst stirring vigorously. Make sure the egg is thoroughly incorporated, and then spoon the mixture into the aubergine shells and top with the grated cheese.
Put the aubergines into the oven, and cook for twenty minutes until the cheese is just starting to turn slightly golden, and serve hot, with accompaniments of your choice.
You could choose to serve this with a small amount of potatoes par-boiled and fried in a little olive oil, rice (45g uncooked is approximately 50 calories), cauliflower rice (38 calories per 100g uncooked) and/or a generous helping of your favourite green vegetables or salad. This dish will also re-heat well, although you might need to add a tiny splash of water in the bottom so it doesn’t stick, depending on which way you choose to re-heat it.
If you're not counting calories then you don't need to go for the more expensive lean (or extra lean) mince. Minced beef or lamb works equally well in this dish with the spices and aubergine. You could also make this dish using leftover cooked meat from a roast dinner, if you chop it up, or mince if you prefer (and cook less in the pan). Vegetarians could substitute frozen quorn (or minced meat substitute) but you would need to add it just after adding the aubergines, and you will probably need to add extra liquid if the quorn etc. absorbs it.
*If you're counting calories, then be sure to check the nutritional information of the minced meat you choose, as it will vary greatly depending on fat content. The ‘extra lean’ minced meats I used above (from Sainsbury’s) were both 123 calories per 100g. If you use different (e.g. lean instead of extra lean), be sure to re-calculate your calories. E.g. for 250g lean mince at 183 calories per 100g, you would need to add an extra 37 calories per portion).