Mad About Aubergine (Eggplant) Rolls… Μελιτζάνες Τυλιχτές

Melitzanes Tylichtes (Eggplant Rolls) – Click to Enlarge Image

Greeks are simply crazy over eggplant or melitzana (μελιτζάνα) in Greek, pronounced “meh-lee-TZAH-nah”. We puree, braise, boil, stew, stuff, bake, fry, grill, roast, and preserve them as sweets; a culinary obsession which may lend some credence to the original European prejudice against the fruit which was dubbed “mala insane” (Latin for “apple of madness”), as it was believed to cause insanity. Both the Italian (melanzano) and Greek (melitzana) words for “eggplant” are derived from this medieval nickname. The French term for eggplant “aubergine” is derived from Arabic.
As the eggplant, like the tomato and potato to which it is related in genus is not native to Europe (witness the lack of any Roman or ancient Greek word for it), its introduction from the East sometime in the Middle Ages was initially greeted with suspicion and only gradually was it embraced, cultivated, and consumed with any gusto. Originally brought from its native India and Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean basin (and from there to the rest of Europe) by the Arabs, today the eggplant features prominently in many European cuisines. But, for the Greeks, eggplants are more than just another ingredient; they are a gastronomic theme unto themselves.

My family has been consuming eggplants in a whole host of ways for as long as anyone can remember. Thus, I have benefited from a rich family tradition with respect to the preparation of eggplant dishes. I have already shared a couple of recipes which incorporate the eggplant (Moussaka and Imam Bayildi), so this is my third offering on the subject of the eggplant as part of traditional Greek food. This recipe was originally my grandmother’s and can be enjoyed as part of a main course or as an appetizer, the choice is entirely yours.

1 large, round eggplant
1 lb. ground veal
1 large white onion, finely diced
1 cup of Greek extra virgin olive oil
2 cups of strained tomato pulp/juice
½ cup of white wine (or Retsina if you have it)
2 cloves of garlic
1 cup shredded or grated Greek Graviera cheese (a mild Gruyere will do in a pinch)
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh mint

1/3 cup of dried breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Wash the eggplant thoroughly and remove stalk, then slice it thinly along its length, try for 12 slices or so.
  2. Liberally salt both sides of the eggplant slices and spread them in a flower pattern in a colander then set aside to drain for 30 minutes. Be sure to place a bowl under the colander to catch the liquid and remember to flip the slices at least once to allow for better overall drainage.
  3. Prepare the meat by sautéing the onions in a large frying pan in a ¼ cup of olive oil until soft, and then add the meat and mix well for 8 – 10 minutes over a medium-high heat to brown it thoroughly.
  4. Add the wine (or retsina), 1 cup of the tomato juice, ground cumin, salt and pepper to the meat and stir well to mix completely; bring to a boil and then simmer over a medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the sauce has completely reduced and the meat has drunk the remainder up, remove the frying pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.
  5. Heat up three tablespoonfuls of olive oil in a large fry pan (ensure the olive oil covers the entire bottom of the pan), then lightly flour both sides of the eggplant slices and proceed to fry them in batches until softened. The trick with this part of the process is to be sparing with the olive oil as the eggplant is absorbent and will drink it up quickly in the pan. Add olive oil to the pan as needed but do it in a thin stream around the entire circumference of the pan so it seeps towards the centre. Shake the frying pan back and forth with each batch to keep the eggplant slices from sticking to the bottom. Once the eggplant slices have been lightly fried, spread them overlapping on some paper towel in a pan so they can absorb their oil and drain the excess then set them aside while you prepare the tomato sauce.
  6. Heat ¼ cup of olive oil in a small frying pan, press and add the garlic clove pulp and sauté lightly, then add 1 cup of tomato juice along with the oregano, salt and pepper. Bring sauce to a boil and then lowering the heat, simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened, then remove from heat and set aside.
  7. Retrieve the cooled meat mixture and in a large mixing bowl add the shredded Graviera cheese, breadcrumbs, chopped mint, pine nuts, and a beaten egg and mix well to combine with the meat. (Leave aside a few tablespoonfuls of shredded cheese for use as a garnish later).
  8. Taking up each eggplant slice, place a good spoonful of the meat mixture in the middle of one end and roll up that end of the eggplant to complete a full end-to-end overlapping roll, then use a toothpick to pin it in place. Be sure not to press the centre of the roll too hard as you do not want the meat to protrude from the open sides.
  9. Place the eggplant rolls side by side in close rows in a deep walled pan greased with olive oil, I used 2 Pyrex glass loaf pans so my rolls were snugly fitted in single rows.
  10. Retrieve the prepared tomato sauce and spoon/pour overtop of eggplant rolls in a single stripe right along the middle of the rolled eggplant slices. We do not want to smother the rolls in the sauce, so try to keep it in a single line. Sprinkle some of the shredded Graviera cheese overtop of the tomato sauce stripe, and then place the pan(s) in an oven pre-heated to 350° F. (180° C.) and bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Let stand to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with a little more shredded cheese while still warm. For myself, I prefer to let the dish cool completely, refrigerate it, and then serve it the next day after warming it up in the oven. Like Moussaka, Imam Bayildi, and a whole host of other Greek recipes, this dish is best served on the following day when all the flavours have had a chance to mingle and fully coalesce, and all the juices have been absorbed.
Serves: 4

Aubergine Rolls just before going into the oven… Click to Enlarge.

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)

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