This tasty Libyan dish is made of roasted eggplants rolled around kofta (well-seasoned little meat patties, usually oblong or oval in shape) and then baked in a tomato sauce. The separate elements can be made ahead and assembled before baking, making it a great dish for entertaining, too.
This month for our Eat the World recipe challenge we travel to another exotic location - Libya. This North African country, consisting of 90% desert, is one of the sunniest and driest countries in the world, though its northern coastline has a more Mediterranean climate. The cuisine of Libya (straight south of Italy across the Mediterranean Sea) is an interesting mix of Italian influences along with traditional Bedouin and Arab cooking.
The dish that intrigued me from this eclectic mix definitely has an Italian feel to it - Kufta bil Batinjal. Kufta is the Libyan work for kofta, which are highly spiced meatballs often longish in shape and sometimes wrapped around sticks. This mixture is more vigorously mixed than for regular meatballs, giving them a firmer texture. Kofta are usually made of lamb, or a mixture of beef and lamb. I made these ones from beef, but have also made them from a mixture of both. When wrapped in roasted eggplant slices and baked in a tomato sauce they look like they could be an Italian dish, but with the mixture of spices - lots of cinnamon and some cumin and nutmeg - they definitely have a more Arabic flavour profile. Kufta bil Batinjal would traditionally be quite spicy, but you can adjust the heat level to your palate.
I was interested to see how close these kufta were to a dish I had previously made for our foray into Iraqi cuisine. Tepsi Baytinijan is the Iraqi dish of eggplants, tomatoes and meatballs, although it also includes potatoes and is missing the heat level and cinnamon of the Libyan kufta dish. This showcases how countries that share similar cultures and geographies interpret similar ingredients in different ways. The additonal spices in the Kufta bil Batinjal really add an arresting flavour to this satisfying Libyan dish.
Kufta bil Batinjal - Exotic Looking and Simple to Make
First step is to cut a couple eggplants (aubergines) lengthwise into thin slices. Brush them lightly with olive oil, then roast them until pliable and golden brown in spots. You can even do this a few days ahead if you want to make this dish for entertaining. Cook up a simple and tasty basic tomato sauce (also easy to make ahead).
Then mix up the ingredients for the kufta. You can use lamb, beef, or a combination of both. Nutmeg, cumin, and chili, plus lots of cinnamon and parsely make for a well-flavoured meat patty. Use the amount of chili pepper/cayenne to your family's preference for heat level (I use the smallest amount and it's just right for our preference for milder heat). Dried ground chili peppers can vary widely in their heat levels, so judge accordingly. Mix the ingredients really well to get the traditional texture.
A trick for portioning out the mixture evenly is to pat it down, then cut it into 12 wedges.
Scoop up one wedge at time to shape into the traditional cylindrical kofta/kufta shape.
Brown the kufta quickly in a skillet. Then roll each little sausage in the roasted eggplant slices.
Now arrange the rolled kufta in a layer of the simple tomato sauce you prepared, and they're ready to bake. I love that you can prepare the eggplants and tomato sauce ahead of time. You can even make up the whole dish a few hours or up to a day ahead, and then bake it when your guests arrive.
Serve the finished Kufta bil Batinjal with some rice to mop up that tasty sauce and a simple green salad or one made of tomatoes and cucumbers in a light vinaigrette. A cup of strong tea afterward would be traditional.
The kufta are meltingly tender and rich with the aromatic flavours of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cumin, buzzing on your tongue with a lively level of heat. The eggplants are silky and tender and sweet, complemented by the rich zip of the tomato sauce. Rice fills out the meal and the cooling salad is a lovely counterpoint.
You'll definitely feel yourself transported to an exotic culinary locale - a unique dish for your next entertaining adventure. Visit Libya around your dinner table for some fun and delicious gastronomic traveling.
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Check out all the wonderful Libyan dishes prepared by fellow Eat the World members and share with #eattheworld. Click here to find out how to join and have fun exploring a country a month in the kitchen with us!
A Day in the Life on the Farm: Libyan Cheese Dip
Sneha’s Recipe: Tajin Sfinari bil Zaytun/ Libyan Lamb Casserole with Carrots and Green Olives
Palatable Pastime: Maghreb Chicken and Vegetable Stew
Amy’s Cooking Adventures: Macroona Imbakbaka (Libyan Minestrone)
Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Mbakbaka (Spicy Libyan Pasta)
Kitchen Frau: Kufta bin Batinjal (Eggplant Kofta in Tomato Sauce
Pandemonium Noshery: Sharba Libiya - Libyan Mint and Lamb Soup
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Kufta bil Batinjal (Libyan Fried Eggplant & Kofta in Tomato Sauce)
for the eggplants:
- 2 large eggplants (1-1¼ lbs/450-550gms) each
- 3-4 tablespoons (45-60ml) olive oil
for the tomato sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 sweet red or orange bell pepper, finely diced
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small fresh chili pepper, chopped (seeds removed if less heat is desired) or a pinch of dried red chili flakes
- 2 cups (400gms) chopped fresh tomatoes or 1 can (400ml/14oz) diced or crushed tomatoes
- salt to taste
for the kufta:
- 1 lb (454gms) lean ground beef or lamb
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup chopped parsley ½ a bunch
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ⅓ cup (40gms) fine dry breadcrumbs gluten free, if necessary
- 1 large egg
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) water
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼-2 teaspoons cayenne or ground chili pepper according to how spicy you like it
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
to prepare the eggplants:
- The eggplants can be roasted several days ahead and kept refrigerated until you assemble the dish.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Trim the stem ends off the eggplants and cut the eggplants lengthwise into ⅓-inch slices (pencil thick). Try to get 6 slices from each eggplant.
- Brush both sides of each eggplant slice lightly with some of the olive oil. Lay the slices in a single layer onto a large baking sheet. You may need to use a second baking sheet or roast the eggplants in two batches.
- Bake the eggplant slices for 20 minutes, then flip them carefully over with a thin metal spatula (sliding it under the slices to help turn them without tearing) and bake for 10 minutes on the second side.
- Remove the eggplant slices to a plate to cool (or refrigerate them until needed).
to prepare the tomato sauce:
- Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Finely chop the bell pepper - a mini chopper or food processor works well for this. Add the bell pepper, garlic, and chili pepper (or chili flakes) to the oil, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until softened.
- Add the tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add salt to taste.
to prepare the kufta:
- Chop the onion and garlic finely - a mini-chopper or food processor works well for this.
- Combine all the kufta ingredients, except for the olive oil, in a bowl. Add cayenne pepper to your taste - use ¼ teaspoon if you prefer a light level of heat and up to 2 teaspoons if you prefer an intense level of heat. Mix very well with your hands, until the mixture is sticky and uniform.
- Pat the meat mixture flat down in the bowl, then cut it into 12 even wedges with a butter knife. This will help portion the meat out evenly. Scoop out one wedge of meat mixture at a time and shape it into a sausage-shaped cylinder about 3½-4 inches (9-10cm) long. Make 12 kufta.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the kufta on each of the four long sides until browned (about 8-10 minutes total time). Set them aside on a plate. If you have a large 12-inch skillet you can fry them all at once, if you have a smaller skillet, you may need to do them in batches.
to assemble the dish:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Roll an eggplant slice around each kufta, starting at the flat end of the eggplant slice. Set the rolled kuftas onto a plate.
- Spread the tomato sauce into a shallow baking dish large enough to hold the rolls in a single layer (a 9x13-inch pan or 10x12-inch pan/ 23x33cm or 25x30cm).
- Arrange the rolls (seam side down) on top of the tomato sauce, leaving a bit of space between each roll.
- Bake for 25 minutes.
- Makes 12 rolls, serving 4 to 6.
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Check out my past ‘Eat the World’ Recipe Challenge posts:
(in alphabetical order)
- Argentina: Red Chimichurri Sauce
- Australia: Anzac Biscuits (Crispy Oatmeal Cookies)
- Bangladesh: Chingri Masala (Shrimp Curry)
- Bulgaria: Patatnik (Savoury Potato and Cheese Pie)
- Cambodia: Noum Kong (Cambodian Rice Flour Doughnuts)
- China: Kung Pao Chicken
- Colombia: Pan de Yuca (Warm Cheese Buns)
- Dominican Republic: Empanaditas de Yuca (Cassava Empanadas)
- Ecuador: Pescado Encocado (Fish in Coconut Sauce)
- Egypt: Fava Beans and Feta
- England: Gluten Free Fish and Chips and Mushy Peas
- Ethiopia: Four Ethiopian Recipes for a Fantastic Feast
- Fiji: Spiced Sweet Potato and Banana Salad
- Finland: Lohikeitto (Creamy Salmon, Potato, and Dill Soup)
- France: Axoa d’Espelette (A Simple Stew from the Basque Country)
- Georgia: Charkhlis Chogi (Beets with Sour Cherry Sauce)
- Greece: Moussaka
- Guyana: Fried Tilapia in Oil & Vinegar Sauce (fish dish)
- Hungary: Túrós Csusza (Pasta Scraps with Cottage Cheese)
- India: Kerala Upma (Fluffy, Kerala Style Breakfast Upma Recipe)
- Iraq: Tepsi Baytinijan (Eggplant & Meatball Casserole)
- Ireland: Dublin Coddle (A tasty Sausage and Potato Stew)
- Israel: Cucumber, Feta, and Watermelon Salad
- Jamaica: Rice and Peas (Coconut Rice and Red Beans)
- Japan: Chawanmushi (Steamed Savoury Egg Custard)
- Kenya: Maharagwe with Ugali (Red Beans with Cornmeal Slice)
- Laos: Ping Gai (Lao Grilled Chicken Wings)
- Lesotho: Chakalaka & Pap (Veggie & Bean Stew with Cornmeal Polenta)
- Luxembourg: Stäerzelen (Buckwheat Dumplings)
- Mexico: Cochinita Pibil Tacos (Pit Barbecued Pig to Make in Your Oven)
- Netherlands: Boerenkool Stamppot (Kale-Potato Mash with Sausages & Pears)
- New Zealand: Classic Pavlova
- Poland: Polish Honey Cake
- Portugal: Tuna and Sardine Pâtés
- Puerto Rico: Piña Colada Cocktail
- Scotland: Cranachan (Raspberry, Whisky & Oat Cream Parfaits)
- Senegal: Mafé (Beef and Peanut Stew)
- Slovakia: Bryndzové Halušky (Potato Dumplings with Cheese & Bacon)
- Sudan: Peanut Butter Creamed Spinach & Peanut Meringue Cookies
- Sweden: Swedish Meatballs with Cream Gravy
- Switzerland (Christmas): Basler Leckerli Cookies
- Thailand: Shrimp Laksa (Khung)
- Trinidad & Tobago: Peanut Butter Prunes
- Turkey: Çilbir (Scrambled Eggs with Garlic Yogurt)
- Ukraine: Buckwheat Kasha with Beef
- United States (Soul Food): Smothered Pork Chops
- Uruguay: Torta de Fiambre (Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwiches)
- Vietnam: Caramelized Pork Rice Bowls