I had pomegranate seeds leftover from another recipe, so what’s a woman to do? Hopefully something less labor-intensive than creating a fully original recipe to feature them as a garnish, but that’s the route I took!
In any case, it turned out well, with a delightful degree of flexibility: it can be as exotic or as accessible as you choose. Don’t have ras el hanout spice mix? Use paprika. Can’t find Aleppo pepper? Red chili flakes will do instead. I do encourage you not to skip the toppings, however. The dish isn’t boring or ugly without them, but the toppings really add that next level of visual interest and flavor.
I took the opportunity to use grass-fed lamb in this recipe, from a new (to me) brand: Safeway’s Open Nature. They make quite a few claims on the label, like grass-fed, natural, no antibiotics and no added hormones.
No added antibiotics and no added hormones? Good. “Natural” as in no artificial ingredients and minimally processed? Well, okay. I would certainly hope I’m only buying lamb in my package of lamb… but thanks for confirming?
The more interesting part is that there’s no way to verify the grass-fed claim. The package states that is was “inspected and passed by (the United States (?) Department of Agriculture. However, that has nothing to do with being grass-fed. The “Passed and Inspected by USDA” seal ensures the lamb is “wholesome and free from disease” (source). The USDA announced early last year that they no longer verify grass-fed marketing claims (source). So whose definition of grass-fed is Open Nature using, and who is enforcing their compliance? Unknown!
Isn’t food labeling fascinating? Sometimes it seems like the relentless “spin” is impossible to escape. As inconvenient as it may sound, the best strategy still seems to be to visit your local rancher and verify that how the animals are fed/treated with your own eyes.
Hopefully, your grass-fed lamb is real, so you can make it the star of this recipe. The flavors meld together here to become more than the sum of their parts. The bracing, woodsy freshness of the herbs balances the meatiness of the tomatoes, the bright sweetness of the pomegranate seeds pairs well with the smokiness of the eggplant, while the bass note of the lamb’s flavor thrums through it all, keeping the dish on-tempo.
Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the lamb. Leave the lamb undisturbed for 2 minutes on that side, let the hot dry skillet sear it.
While the lamb begins to cook, slice the eggplant in half lengthwise. Score the eggplant with a cross-hatch pattern, then drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil slowly over each half, allowing the eggplant to absorb it. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30, until tender but not mushy.
Break the lamb up into pieces with a spoon, stirring infrequently to allow the flavorful sear to happen on as many sides as possible. After 5 minutes, add the minced garlic. Stir the garlic into the lamb for thirty seconds, then add the tomatoes.
Add the salt, ras el hanout spice mix, and Aleppo pepper. Stir. Allow the lamb and tomato filling to cook, stirring infrequently until the tomato juice has cooked off and the mixture is thick. Stir in the spinach just until it is beginning to wilt, then remove the skillet from the heat.
When the eggplant is finished baking, remove it from the oven and allow to cool enough to handle. Scrape out a bit of the eggplant to make a cavity to fill with the lamb mixture. The eggplant should be barely soft enough to scrape out. Load the filling into the eggplant halves, and top with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, oregano, and parsley, if desired. Serve warm.