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Friday, 10 August 2007

Papoutsakia (Παπουτσάκια - aubergine shoes)

We always have an excess of eggplant in our garden, so I have to think of many ways to cook them. Not everyone in the family likes papoutsakia though, so I freeze this meal in small quantities. When I cook them, I can cook something else at the same time - in the same pot or oven tray - to satisfy all the family. Today, for example, I've placed potatoes in the same baking tin.

To make these "little shoes" as we call them, you need to use the long variety of aubergine. Cut off the stalk, then cut a small slice in the center of one side of the aubergine - the same procedure used for YEMISTA (stuffed vegetables with rice), and scoop out the flesh. You can choose to use the flesh in the mince mixture, or to discard it. I prefer to use it, because it is a healthier option; no one suspects me of tainting the mince anyway. You can also use the large round variety of eggplant, which means you cut the stalk off, then cut them in half lengthways, and scoop out the flesh from each half.

Warning! Touching the inside flesh of an aubergine will stain your nails and fingers badly. The brown colour doesn't come off easily, so use plastic gloves, or be prepared to scrub your fingers well afterwards with a lemon (otherwise, you will need a manicure!). And don't forget that you can freeze the fresh aubergine shells as for yemista and moussaka, not forgetting that this is the best way to freeze eggplant. Remember to use frozen aubergine (shells or slices, fried or raw, filled or empty) straight from the deep freeze. They taste just like fresh aubergine when used this way. Do not let it thaw under any circumstances; it goes soggy and is completely unappealing.

In a shallow frying pan, covered with a generous amount of olive oil, lightly fry each shell, drain them on kitchen paper, and place them in a baking dish. If you prefer a healthier option, don't fry the eggplant; turn it into baba ganoush or melitzanosalata. Just place it in the baking dish as they are. It will cook in the same way that eggplant cooks as for yemista. My eaters prefer the unhealthy version of this dish. Once they are in the dish, put it aside. Cook some mince the way you prefer to cook it for a spaghetti dish. We like to use a mixture of pork and beef mince, which we place in a pot in which a generous amount of onion and garlic has been browning in olive oil (what else?). Once the mince has browned, add some wine, let it cook for 10 minutes, and then add some salt, pepper, oregano and a few freshly grated tomatoes into the pot (enough to top the mince by 1cm). At this stage, you can add some minced aubergine flesh if you have put it aside. Cover the pot and let it cook well.

When the mince is ready, spoon it into the shells right up to the top, and cover each shell with a slice of cheese. Some poeple use white bechamel sauce instead of cheese. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs on the cheese. (Now is the time to freeze the dish if you aren't going to cook it when you make it.) If you have some space in the dish, don't let it go to waste; peel and chop some potatoes, and place them in the gaps in the dish. Now drizzle some olive oil over the potatoes, and some freshly grated tomato over everything. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper, and put the dish in the oven and cook on a high heat for half an hour. Serve the aubergines with a fresh tomato salad, or any other leafy green salad.

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MORE MINCE RECIPES:
Chili con carne
Biftekia
Dolmades
Makaronada
Cottage pie
Soutzoukakia
Pastitsio
Moussaka