Welcome back to Book Bites! We are delighted today to feature an extraordinary book and a wonderful author, as well as their delicious recipe. R.B. Lemberg is the author of The Four Profound Weaves (out now from Tachyon!) —
About The Four Profound Weaves:
“The Four Profound Weaves is the anti-authoritarian, queer-mystical fairy tale we need right now.” –Annalee Newitz, author of The Future of Another Timeline
“A beautiful, heartfelt story of change, family, identity, and courage.” —Library Journal, starred review
“R. B. Lemberg’s lyrical skill, combined with unforgettable characters and the magic of the Birdverse makes a stunning fabric over which this story plays beautifully.” –Fran Wilde, author of The Bone Universe
~ Book Bites with R.B. Lemberg ~
Thank you, Fran, for inviting me to contribute to Book Bites! My Birdverse debut, The Four Profound Weaves, is available now from Tachyon Press.
I’ve been writing short fiction and poetry in Birdverse for about nine years now, and some of my friends and readers know that I like to think about things as either Birdversey and not Birdversey. This certainly extends to food.
When I just began imagining Birdverse, I asked myself what food would be like in this world – what would be available, what cultures would have access to which food staples, what would the cuisines be like. I keep kosher, and at that earliest point I was going gluten-free with my child, and I love to cook food inspired by my own life trajectory. I wanted to build a world friendly to how I eat and cook. There’s lots of gluten-free cooking in Birdverse, plenty of fish and legumes, not a lot of meat, and many spices and plants which are unique to the world. Almost every Birdverse culture has a signature flatbread and a signature stuffed food (or several). I love making stuffed foods. The issue with making Birdverse recipes in this world is the absence of staple grains and spices (for example, redgrain is one of the most ubiquitous grains, but we do not have it here), so it’s hard to make something that is completely faithful to how people cook and eat in Birdverse.
For the feature today, I was going to make a “this-world dish which would nevertheless be Birdversey,” and I promised some of my readers a meat-stuffed eggplant, which is something they might make in Iyar (with lamb, not beef). But I’ve been having some trouble eating meat lately, and so the feature today is Eggplant Stuffed with Itself and Its Fellow Vegetables. It’s definitely Birdversey, and could be made by the Khana grandmothers in Iyar – the Khana people do not eat meat, and this is vegetarian.
I do not follow recipes, and it’s extremely difficult for me to figure out how to convert my own cooking into recipes. Everything is improvisational. I invite you to taste and try as you go.
This dish is easy and very festive. You prepare the different parts separately, and assemble it before serving. The dish is grain-free and meat-free. It does have a bit of honey, so if you want to make it vegan, this is the only substitute you need to make.
Eggplant Stuffed with Itself and Its Fellow Vegetables
Serves 4, can easily be doubled.
You will need:
- 2 eggplants – they should be oblong
- 2 zucchinis (or eyeball)
- 1 large carrot or a bunch of small carrots
- 1 medium onion
- garlic cloves (4-5 is good, but you choose)
- 1 cup tahini paste
- 1 lemon or more to taste
- lukewarm boiled water
- Vegetable oil (olive oil is good, sunflower oil is good)
- Pomegranate molasses
- Honey (substitute for another sweetener if you want it vegan)
- Spices (I use coriander, turmeric, and paprika. This would also be awesome with cumin if you like it – cumin does not smell good to me).
Preheat oven to 350F.
- Cut your eggplants in half lengthwise, obtaining 4 halves.
- Score your eggplant halves with a paring knife to mark where you will be scooping, then use a melon scoop or the like to scoop out much of the eggplant, leaving some on the sides (see picture). You can also scoop it out with your paring knife, but the melon scoop is easiest. Preserve the scooped-out flesh.
- Prepare a baking tray and line it with foil. Combine 2T olive oil with 1T honey and 2t pomegranate molasses (taste this thing, it is supposed to be a bit sweet and a bit tart, but not super tart). Brush your eggplants with the mixture on all sides.
- Stick them in the oven for 40 mins (final cooking time will depend on the size of your eggplant). I like my eggplants on the soft side 🙂
- Meanwhile, cook the scooped-out parts of the eggplant with oil, salt, coriander and paprika on a skillet until soft and cooked. Once it cools a bit, transfer the cooked eggplant to a cutting board and mince it with a knife until you have a soft eggplant mass. Set aside.
- Dice an onion, and cut your zucchini and carrots into bite-sized chunks. Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic.
- Cook the onion with turmeric, coriander, and paprika (and/or cumin) until translucent and fragrant, then add your garlic, carrots and zucchini and cook until ready (add salt, pepper to taste). Set aside.
- Prepare tahini according to your favorite method. Mine is: 1 cup tahini paste, 2 minced cloves of garlic, juice of 1 large lemon or more (to taste), lukewarm boiled water, sea salt to taste. This might make more tahini than you will need. In this case, you can eat it later.
- Combine tahini paste with garlic and lemon juice, mix, add as much water and more lemon juice as you need to achieve a smooth, creamy consistency; salt to taste.
- First, add about 1/3 cups tahini to your eggplant mass. This will result in what is commonly known as baba ghanoush 🙂 You may need to add more tahini depending on how much eggplant you have – no worries. This is the mortar of your filling. It should not be very runny and it should not be very chunky. Tip: you can add a bit of pomegranate molasses at this stage 🙂
- Once you are satisfied with your baba ghanoush, add vegetables gradually – fold them in until you have a filling that is chunky, held together by the eggplant, and easy to scoop. Depending on how big your zucchinis were, you might have leftovers – this is not a disaster, you can eat it later.
- Scoop the filling into the eggplant.
- Drizzle with tahini and serve.
- If you want to have meat, make less of the vegetables and mince some lamb (or beef) with them, then follow the same steps.
(Thank you so much, RB!)
R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant and the Nebula and Crawford-nominated author of Birdverse stories and other works. Their Birdverse novella The Four Profound Weaves is forthcoming from Tachyon Press in 2020. You can find R.B. on Twitter at @rb_lemberg, on Patreon at http://patreon.com/rblemberg, and at rblemberg.net
(*Cooking the Books is still on hiatus, but working on that!)