Stuffed aubergines

Stuffed aubergines


The Saffron Tales

Stuffing vegetables is a regional hobby in north-western Iran and each family has their own time-honoured techniques for stuffing a variety of squashes, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and vine leaves. Parveen Pourabdollahi, an effervescent university lecturer in nutrition from Tabriz, taught me hers whilst rushing around her kitchen at breakneck speed, lamenting the demise of traditional cooking skills amongst young Iranians and the encroachment of fast-food joints on every corner. Well, I’ll be honest, there is nothing speedy about this recipe, but sometimes the best dishes come to those who wait. Serve with salad and crusty bread.


Quantity Ingredient
2 large aubergines
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt
black pepper
35g puy lentils, rinsed
sunflower oil
2 medium onions, very finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, crushed
80g pudding rice
240ml good-quality vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch cayenne pepper
150ml hot water
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1/4 teaspoon dried mint
1 tablespoon chopped parsley or dill, to garnish

For the sauce:

Quantity Ingredient
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
A pinch turmeric
A pinch cinnamon
A pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
100ml hot water


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220°C.
  2. Cut the aubergines in half lengthways, keeping the stem intact. Scoop out the flesh, leaving a 1cm border. Set the flesh aside for later. Drizzle the aubergine shells generously with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Place in a shallow baking tray, skin-side down, and bake for 30–40 minutes until soft. Check halfway through the cooking time and if the aubergines are looking a little dry, add a bit more olive oil.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your stuffing. Place the lentils in a medium saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 12–15 minutes until tender, then drain and place in a bowl.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil in the saucepan and fry the onions over a medium heat for 10 minutes, covered. Set aside half of the onions. Add 4 of the garlic cloves to the saucepan and cook for 2 minutes. Add the rice, stock, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and hot water. Season with ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper. Cover and leave to simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, make your sauce. Tip the tomatoes into a saucepan then add the reserved fried onions, along with the sugar, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper. Add the hot water and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
  6. To finish making the stuffing, finely dice the aubergine flesh. Heat up 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil in a small frying pan and fry the aubergine with ¼ teaspoon of salt for 10 minutes. Add the last clove of garlic and cook for a final minute. Add the lentils and rice to the aubergines, followed by the tomato purée and dried mint. Stir well to combine, then taste and adjust the seasoning.
  7. Turn the oven down to 190°C. Spoon the stuffing into each aubergine half and then spoon the sauce over and around the aubergines. Cover with foil and bake for around 1 hour, by which time the aubergines should be completely soft. Halfway through cooking check the sauce, and if it looks a bit dry then add a few tablespoons more water. Just before serving sprinkle with some parsley or dill.
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