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Tamari-Ginger Meatball & Eggplant Casserole
“Eggplant soaks up the flavors of ginger, garlic and tamari in this Asian-inspired casserole recipe. A hot pepper in the topping adds a bit of heat, but opt for sweet if you prefer.”
2 pounds eggplant, preferably Japanese (see Tips), cut into 1-inch chunks
4 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
¼ cup reduced-sodium tamari
¼ cup Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1½ pounds lean ground pork
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
Pinch of salt
¼ cup cornstarch
4 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup chopped lightly salted peanuts
1 small red hot or sweet red pepper, seeded and minced
1Preheat oven to 425°F.
2Place eggplant in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or similar-size 3-quart baking dish). Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil; toss to coat. Bake until starting to brown, about 30 minutes.
3Meanwhile, combine tamari, rice wine (or sherry), sugar, vinegar and water in a small bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
4Combine pork, garlic, ginger, white pepper and salt in a medium bowl. Using about 3 tablespoons for each, form the mixture into 18 meatballs. Place cornstarch in a shallow dish. Roll meatballs in it until well coated. (Discard any remaining cornstarch.)
5Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook, turning occasionally, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the reserved sauce and cook, turning the meatballs to coat with the sauce, until it is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes more. Add the meatballs, sauce and scallions to the eggplant.
6Bake the casserole until the eggplant is very tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted in a meatball registers at least 165°F, about 15 minutes.
7Combine cilantro, peanuts and red pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the casserole just before serving.
Tips: A smaller, thinner variety with deep purple skin, Japanese eggplant has little to no bitter seeds and a mild, sweet taste. It's great for roasting, grilling and stir-fries. Choose firm eggplants with no bruised areas.