Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ouzo, the Spirit of Greece

I guess you can say that ouzo is the national drink of Greece. This strong and fragrant aperitif embodies everything that is Greece: the spirit, the care-free attitude, the zest for life. And to understand just how important ouzo is to many Greeks, just take a closer look at the painting above (actually hanging in a taverna on the Greek island of Lesvos) where a bottle of Ouzo Mini is providing sustenance to a man via an I.V.!

The History of Ouzo
The name ouzo dates back to the late 19th century but its origin is ambiguous. Many do claim, however, that ouzo in one form or another dates back to antiquity. Its predecessor is known as raki, a spirit distilled throughout the Byzantine and later Ottoman Empires.

The mass production of ouzo began in Greece around the mid 1850s and flourished near the end of the 19th century, especially in the Plomari settlement of the island of Lesvos. In 1932, ouzo producers began using copper stills for distillation, a process now considered the proper method of ouzo production.

Ouzo Today
Ouzo starts as a strong spirit made from pressed grapes or raisins. Other herbs and berries are often added at the fermentation stage. The distinctive aroma of ouzo comes from the addition of aniseseed, but other ingredients (varying from producer to producer) are also used, including: coriander, cloves, angelica root, liquorice, mint, wintergreen, fennel, hazelnut, cinnamon and lime blossom. The alcohol and flavorings are placed in warmed copper stills and distilled; higher-quality ouzos are often distilled several times. The resulting spirit is stored for a few months and then diluted to achieve an average of 40% Alc. Vol.

Ouzo today is drunk in tall slim glasses either straight, on the rocks or diluted with a little cold water. It's savored with small, slow sips and an array of mezedes from refreshing sliced cucumber and tomato, olives and bread to anything from meatballs, fried fish, broiled seafood, or deep-fried vegetables. When combined with ice or water, you'll notice that crystal clear ouzo becomes cloudy and opaque; that's because the anise oil in ouzo remains soluble when the ouzo is within a range of 38%-42% Alc. Vol. and as soon as the alcohol content is reduced by adding water or ice, the essential oils transform into white crystals creating that characteristic cloudy color.

Under European Union Law (1576/1989), ouzo has been accepted and established as a Greek product, granting Greece the right to solely produce the aperitif. Most Greeks take their ouzo quite seriously ... for them drinking ouzo is revered as a form of art.

So let's take a look at the types of Ouzo we provided at our Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 event:

Ouzo Barbayanni BLUE utilizes the traditional method of ouzo production, according to the family recipe brought by Efstathios Varvayiannis from Russia in 1860, allowing for 100% distillation. This ouzo includes a pure essence of aniseed and sweet-smelling herbs, with probably the highest alcohol content of any ouzo, 46% Alc. by Vol. all complemented by the distinctive water of Plomari, a settlement on the island of Lesvos. The renowned Ouzo Barbayanni BLUE has a pleasant aroma, a pure and transparent color and a delicate flavor. It was actually the crowd favorite among the five brands we set out.

Ouzo Plomari was created in 1894 by Isidoros Arvanitis. One of only a few brands of ouzo packaged with a cork, Ouzo Plomari by Isidoros Arvanitis is among the most popular brands in Greece today. At 42% Alc. by Vol. it's fragrant licorice flavor provides for a pleasant balance of taste. The ingredients used in the Ouzo Plomari secret recipe are soft water from the springs of the river Sedountas, aniseed from the village of Lisvori, fennel from the north of Evia island, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg and extracts of mastic gum.

Ouzo Tirnavou
Ouzo Tirnavou was created in 1856 by Nikos Katsarou, and according to the company, is the first Ouzo ever created. It's said that in 1850 the Katsarou family came into possession of a still (quite common in Tirnavos at the time) as part of their dowry and started experimenting with the distillation process of Tsipouro. By adding a variety of aromatics, however, the family sucessfully produced a brand new product: Ouzo. The Tirnavou brand of ouzo has an alcohol content of 40% Alc. by Vol.

Ouzo 12 dates back to 1880 when the Kalogiannis brothers began producing their version of the anise flavored aperitif in Constantinople. For 125 years now, seeds and botanicals from the East come together using the original secret recipe of this ouzo's founders to create a flavorful and aromatic drink with an alcohol content of 38% Alc. by Vol.

Ouzo No. 7 (Chios)
The light licorice flavor and soft aroma of this ouzo produced by the Tetteris Distillery on the island of Chios, is quite a good choice for one looking for an ouzo not as strong as many others. Local aniseseeds and mastic are combined to produce this aperitif which is said to have been first created back in 1846 when the company's founder, Stylianos Tetteris, began distilling spirits for family and friends. In 1912, Ioannis Tetteris, following in his father's footsteps, established a distillery, which has continued producing ouzo on Chios uninterrupted since then. Ouzo No. 7 boasts an alcohol content of 39% Alc. by Vol.

Ouzo Cocktails ... Stin Ygeia Mas!
In addition to sipping ouzo straight or with ice, guests who attended our Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Greek Ouzo Tasting ... in New York enjoyed cocktails featuring ouzo as well. My lovely sister played the role of bartender and offered up these refreshing drinks:

Jellybean (Ouzo and lemonade over--you guessed it--candy jellybeans)

Eight Iron (Ouzo, Banana Liqueur and Blue Curacao over ice)

Be sure to come back tomorrow when recipes for all those yummy mezedes served with all this ouzo will finally be posted!

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Greek Ouzo Tasting ... in New York

Spring just sneaked in while winter is making a reluctant exit and yet I am already thinking about summer and our trip to Greece. And what says summer in Greece better than a refreshing glass of ouzo? Actually, I wouldn’t know … as Greek as I have been raised to be, as often as I have visited Greece, I'd never just sat and sipped on a glass of ouzo with a spread of mouthwatering mezedes surrounding me. Go figure ...

So when the call for entries for the March Foodbuzz 24,24,24 event was made, I jumped at the chance to submit an idea for an ouzo tasting. I was ready for a taste of ouzo, for a taste of summer, for a taste of friends enjoying a refreshing drink all the while discussing anything, everything or nothing in particular; just enjoying each others’ company. I know, I know; it’s March in New York … clearly not July or August on a sun-drenched island in Greece. But trust me: good friends, great food and ouzo make for an ideal party no matter where you are.

So, pull up a chair, close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting in a seaside taverna bathed in the light of summer’s sun, surrounded by crystal-blue waters, enjoying a glass of crisp ouzo. Can you smell the salty sea? Can you hear the waves breaking onto the beach? Now pick up a fork and enjoy a taste of Greece (be it from New York) … some traditional Greek mezedes (and a few contemporary ones at that) to help ease down that fiery ouzo.

The Menu:

Ouzo On the Rocks

Eight Iron (Ouzo Cocktail with Banana Liqueur and Blue Curacao)
Olive Oil Biscotti/Crostini Topped with Goat Cheese and Tomato/ Taramosalata/Kalamata Olives in Balsamic Vinegar
Ouzo Marinated Shrimp Wrapped in Kataifi with a Spicy Remoulade

Potatoes Sauteed with Onions, Garlic, Paprika and Kalamata Olives

Mussels Saganaki
Manitaropita (Mushroom Pie)

Sardines with Tomato and Capers

Htapodokeftedes (Octopus Croquettes)
Chicken Kabobs

Ouzo-Soaked Berries

P.S. There was a beautiful fennel, walnut and pear salad made by my sister, roasted beets with crumbled goat cheese and a cider vinegar dressing and for dessert a yummy rice pudding made by my cousin who actually stenciled the Ouzo 12 logo in cinnamon on top! Unfortunately, we failed to take photos of any of those dishes--although some may surface as friends and family start uploading whatever shots they snapped that night. Oh, and stay tuned for some Ouzo trivia, what we found to be our favorites brands of ouzo, recipes for all the mezedes above, photos and more ...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ginger Goodies from The Ginger People

So, back in February, Valentine's Weekend to be exact, Jenn over at The Leftover Queen ran a giveaway dubbed the "Hearts of Fire" sponsored by The Ginger People and ... drumroll please ... I WON! The giveaway entailed submitting an idea for a Valentine's Day dessert incorporating the company's Ginger Sweeties. My entry was randomly drawn and a couple of weeks ago, I received this basket chockful of ginger goodies.

The sweet prize contained three large boxes of the company's Ginger Chews in three flavors (Spicy Apple, Hot Coffee and Peanut), three small boxes of Ginger Chews in the Original Ginger flavor, two boxes of Gin Gins hard candy and a jar of some heart-shaped Ginger Sweeties. So far, I've tried a couple of the Ginger Chews all of which have this surprisingly peppery burst of ginger that give these sweet treats a real bite.

The Marina, Calif.-based company is passionate about all things ginger and boasts state-of-the-art ginger factories in California and Australia. According to The Ginger People, the company is the world's only producer of closed-kettle artisan style crystallized ginger and it prides itself on being the most innovative, quality-oriented and environmentally conscious ginger producer in the world.

To show my appreciation to The Ginger People for sending me this lovely basket, I decided to bake something using none other than that pretty little jar of Ginger Sweeties. And what better place to get some inspiration for a ginger recipe than The Ginger People's very own web site? The site features a Cook's Corner with a collection of some sweet and savory recipes incorporating ginger and more specifically some of The Ginger People's products. I decided on some Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies using some chopped Ginger Sweeties and the result was a great variation on the traditional chocolate chip cookie.

Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 Ginger Sweeties, finely chopped
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars until well blended. Stir in the egg and vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture and mix until smooth. Stir in the chopped Ginger Sweeties and add the chocolate chips.

Heap teaspoonsfuls of dough onto the prepared cookie sheets, spacing each 2 inches apart. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until light brown. Remove from the oven and cool on cookie sheets for a couple of minutes. Transfer cookies to rack to cool completely.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Synagrida me Estragon sto Fourno -- Red Snapper Baked with Tarragon

Synagrida (Greek for red snapper) is my favorite fish. I love its tender meat and its versatility as it can easily be grilled, baked or broiled whole and paired with virtually any sauce or flavoring.

Simply grilled and then dressed with ladolemono (olive oil-lemon sauce) is probably my favorite way to enjoy this red-fleshed fish when eating at a taverna, but at home I like to prepare it either plaki or baked then broiled with different herbs, lemon juice and olive oil surrounded by thinly-sliced potatoes for a tasty and healthy one-pan meal.

Having bought some fresh tarragon from the market the other day, I was curious to see how the herb would pair with our fresh snapper (usually dried Greek oregano is the star of the show). The verdict: the aroma of the fish baking away enveloped in foil, with fresh tarragon tucked in its cavity and lemon slices layered atop its red flesh, was--how should I put it--intoxicating.

Oh, and when my two year old son saw me setting the platter out to snap a couple of shots he began running laps (victory laps perhaps?) around the table emphatically declaring, "Mmmm, good Mama!" Not to mention that he and his sister asked for seconds and my husband, well, he was licking his fingers ... literally.

(I served the fish with some asparagus, which I simply roasted drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper in the oven until tender.)

Synagrida me Estragon sto Fourno --
Baked Red Snapper with Tarragon

1 whole red snapper (about 2.5 lbs.), cleaned
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, halved; one lemon half left in tact and the other sliced thin
4 sprigs fresh tarragon
Couple pinches of dried Greek oregano
1/3 cup olive oil
3 potatoes, scrubbed and peeled then sliced into fairly thin rounds
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with plenty of foil, allowing the foil to overhang the baking sheet so that it may be sealed over the fish later. Pour about two tablespoons of oil in the center and sprinkle with some salt, pepper, 1/4 of the garlic and a bit of the oregano.

Place fish in the center of foil atop the seasoned olive oil. Season the cavity of the fish with 3/4 of the remaining garlic, juice from the lemon half, salt, pepper and a pinch of the oregano then place two of the tarragon sprigs inside and sprinkle with a little olive oil as well.

Drizzle remaining olive oil over the outside of the fish. Season with the remaining garlic, oregano, salt and pepper then top with the lemon slices and the two sprigs of tarragon. Arrange potato slices around the fish and sprinkle the potatoes with salt, pepper and oregano. Spoon some of the olive oil in the baking sheet over the potatoes then fold edges of foil over fish and seal.

Bake for about 30 minutes then open the foil, remove the lemon slices and tarragon from atop the fish and place the baking sheet under the broiler until the potatoes and fish get some slight color, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kalamarakia Gemista--Stuffed Squid

This was a fairly simple and flavorful dish that the whole family loved. Inspiration for it came from a recipe by Bobby Flay which was even simpler than this. Wanting to jazz things up just a tad, I tweaked some of the ingredients to add a bit more depth of flavor.

I purchased whole squid and cleaned it myself so that we'd have plenty of tentacles as my daughter (she's four mind you) loves them. Half the tentacles went into the rice and the others cooked alongside the stuffed squid. I added some red wine to the rice mixture as it cooked and then poured some more over the stuffed squid just before baking it uncovered until tender, a mere 20 minutes or so ... and voila!

The only thing I regret is not asking for the squid's ink from my fish monger as I believe that with that ingredient the flavor of the dish would be taken to another level.

Kalamarakia Gemista
Makes 6 servings

2 to 2 1/2 pounds squid, cleaned well, tentacles removed and set aside
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups rice
1 cup red wine
2 tomatoes, chopped
Small bunch parsley, chopped
Pinch of dried Greek oregano
2 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons tomato paste, diluted in 1/3 cup water
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Chop half the tentacles, set aside and reserve the remaining tentacles intact with the whole squid pieces. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a medium saucepan and cook onion until soft. Add the garlic, chopped tentacles and rice and cook one minute more. Add 1/2 cup red wine and boil for a minute or so. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper and water and bring to a boil. Cover the saucepan; reduce the heat to low and cook about 15 minutes or so.

Remove the rice from the heat and allow to cool. Oil a baking dish and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Begin stuffing the squid with the rice mixture, stacking each body in the baking dish as you go. Layer any remaining rice in the baking dish and nestle the squid amongst the rice. Add the remaining tentacles (which have been left intact) and pour the diluted tomato paste, 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/2 cup red wine over. Season well with salt and pepper and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the squid is tender.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Blackberry and Mascarpone Buttercream Filled Cake

Let me begin by saying I've cooked for 50-plus people a number of times; I've baked every one of my daughter's and son's birthday cakes for the past four years (6 cakes total and probably hundreds of cupcakes); I've made a cake and numerous cupcakes for the birthdays of my niece and a few of our friends' children; but I was never so nervous about any of those tasks as I was about this three-tiered cake I made for a friend's bridal shower this past Sunday.

With 53 eggs, 34 sticks of butter and I don't even know how much sugar, this cake was quite a feat. I just wish I would have approached it a bit calmer ... I was so anxious for it to turn out well it was insane. But I'm happy to say, it was ultimately enjoyed by all and I'm glad I got to contribute to someone's special day in this small way.

Inside each tier were four layers of buttercake with sherry-soaked blackberries and creamy mascarpone buttercream frosting sandwiched between. The buttercake though substantial enough to hold the weight of all the tiers and decorations, remained moist (I also brushed each buttercake layer with a simple sugar syrup to be sure of that). And the sherry-soaked blackberries went really well with the mascarpone buttercream (for which I followed my usual recipe for frosting, but just added the mascarpone twist).

The cake was covered in fondant (which I made with marshmallows; a surprisingly simple recipe that tastes so, so, so much better than the store-bought fondant) and decorated with fondant ribbons and gumpaste bows and flowers.

I, of course, keep focusing on the imperfections but am trying hard to remind myself that this is a cake ... meant to be eaten and thoroughly enjoyed, not placed in an art museum!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pita me Spanaki kai Anitho--Spinach and Dill Pie

I'm in the midst of a big baking project--let's just say it's a multi-tiered cake that will feed 100--but I wanted to quickly share this recipe with you before I completely drown in gum paste, fondant icing and buttercream frosting.

In the mood to bake a pita (savory pie) the other day, I put together this lighter version of spanakopita or spinach pie. Usually, a spanakopita includes lots of Feta (or any somewhat soft cheese similar to it) but as I was fresh out of Feta and I in no way intended to leave the house again to shop for any, I decided to work with what I did have on hand.

And that's how this pita came to be--nothing immensely innovative, just a tasty and healthy pie that everyone young and old (at least in this household) can enjoy. Packed with spinach and fresh dill, a little parsley and a sprinkling of grated Pecorino Romano, this pie makes for a refreshingly light lunch along with a small salad and some tart olives.

Oh, and I am not going to lie: I used frozen phyllo dough. I have yet to attempt to roll out my own. I did say I was in the middle of a huge baking project, right? Excuses, excuses ...

Pita me Spanaki kai Anitho--Spinach and Dill Pie
Makes a 13x9-inch pie

1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 scallions (white and green parts), chopped
1 bunch dill, chopped
1 small bunch parsley, chopped
20 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained of some liquid or 2 to 3 bunches fresh spinach, trimmed and washed
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
3 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
16 sheets of phyllo dough

Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook the onion and scallions until just soft. Stir in the dill, parsley and spinach and heat through; remove from heat.

Oil a 13x9-inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Add the grated cheese to the spinach and dill mixture; then add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Season generously with salt and pepper and set aside.

Begin layering 10 sheets of phyllo along the bottom of the dish, using the remaining olive oil to brush each sheet generously with oil. Spoon the filling evenly over the bottom phyllo layers and then begin layering the remaining 6 sheets of phyllo over top, brushing each sheet with oil. Pinch the edges of the top and bottom sheets together.

Bake the pie until the phyllo is golden , about 45 minutes to an hour. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Garides me Ntomata kai Leuko Krasi / Shrimp with Cherry Tomatoes and White Wine

The typical Greek diet during the days of Lent includes an array of legumes, grains and pastas but the highlight for me is the multitude of seafood dishes from shrimp, to calamari, to octopus, lobster, crabs, mussels, clams or scallops.

I love seafood and yet as of late it's been frequenting our dinner table less and less. The kids really enjoy fresh fish such as red snapper, sole or porgies much better so all other seafood and shellfish have naturally been put on the back burner (no pun intended). With the start of Lent, however, I got to make this scrumptious shrimp dish that everyone--young and old--thoroughly enjoyed.

I tossed some cherry tomatoes in a light white wine sauce along with onion, scallions, garlic, dill and parsley and served the shrimp with some rice but a small-shaped pasta would work equally well. Try crumbling some Feta and sprinkling over top just before serving for an added depth of flavor (I omitted the Feta in my own as it was a Lenten dish).

Garides me Ntomata kai Leuko Krasi /
Shrimp with Cherry Tomatoes and White Wine

1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 scallions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
Hefty pinch of dried Greek oregano
1 pound of large shrimp, de-veined but not peeled
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons dill, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and saute the onion until soft. Stir in the scallions, garlic and crushed red pepper and cook a couple minutes more. Add the white wine and bring to a boil. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add the shrimp to the skillet, cover and cook until just pink (literally less than five minutes). Sprinkle with the dill and parsley and serve over rice or pasta.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Eliopsomo me Anitho kai Melitzanosalata me Karydia / Olive Bread with Dill and Eggplant Dip with Walnuts

For the last six weeks or so, I've been baking a fresh loaf of bread at least three times a week. How, you ask? Just keep reading ...

... After seeing my grandmother regularly bake loaf after loaf of bread when I was a child and remembering how long she would sit and knead the dough, let it rise, knead again, let rise again, etc., etc., I was certain bread-making was not for me. Then one day I read a post lauding this new book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Then I read another post doing the same; and then another and another and another. Every post boasted of a bread recipe that so simply and easily produces delectable fresh bread, I was left with no other choice than to try it for myself.

Written by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, has created a bread-making revolution and my husband would personally like to thank them for affording him the opportunity to enjoy fresh homemade bread on such a regular basis. Case in point: today's Eliopsomo me Anitho (Olive Bread with Dill), a loaf I made using Zoe and Jeff's Boule method with my own little twist. It turned out amazingly well and it literally took just a few minutes (five, to be exact!) of physical work to make.

There are an infinite number of things you can do with the book's master recipes, so get cracking: there's a ton of bread to be had.

P.S. I whipped up the version of Melitzanosalata (Eggplant Dip) you'll find below earlier today ... it was a great accompaniment to the warm and crusty slices of fresh olive bread.

Melitzanosalata me Karydia/Eggplant Dip with Walnuts

6 small, slender eggplants
2 cloves garlic
1 scallion
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup walnuts
1 roasted red pepper
Juice of half a lime
4 tablespoons olive oil
Roast the eggplants until tender. Slice the eggplants open and scoop out all the flesh. Discard skins.

Combine the eggplant, garlic, scallion, parsley, walnuts, pepper and lime juice in the bowl of food processor and pulse until coarsely mixed. Add the olive oil and pulse until combined (add additional olive oil to achieve preferred consistency). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread, pita or crackers.

Nistisima Papoutsakia/Eggplants Stuffed with Tomato, Onion and Walnuts

The term papoutsakia is literally translated to "little shoes" and as these small eggplants stuffed with tomato, onion and walnuts truly do resemble little shoes (maybe even little ballet slippers) they are aptly named as such.

There are numerous versions of papoutsakia to be had in Greece including ones stuffed with ground meat and topped with bechamel, others stuffed with ground meat and topped simply with cheese and others still filled simply with tomatoes and onion or really any variety of sauteed vegetables.

Today, I whipped up this Lenten version of papoutsakia in which I filled these tiny, flavorful eggplant halves with plenty of onion, tomatoes and some chopped walnuts to add a little texture and crunch to an otherwise "soft" dish. A little skeptical of adding too much seasoning here, I used just a pinch of allspice and curry to liven things up a bit. In the end, I love how these papoutsakia turned out. This is a great make-ahead side dish/appetizer as the flavors develop even better after sitting for a while. Moreover, you can serve this dish warm (not hot) or at room temperature.

Papoutsakia Nistisima/Lenten Stuffed Eggplants
Makes 6 servings

12 small eggplants
1/2 cup olive oil
2 medium to large onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/3 cup water
Pinch of sugar
Small bunch parsley, chopped
1/3 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
Pinch of allspice
Pinch of curry
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Clean eggplants and trim tops. Cut in half and with a spoon scoop out the flesh of each eggplant and set aside. Place the eggplant halves into a colander and season generously with sea salt. Leave the eggplants in the colander set over a large plate or in the sink while you make the filling.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Finely chop the eggplant flesh you've just scooped out. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and stir in the onion; saute until soft. Add the garlic and the chopped eggplant flesh and cook until the flesh is softened and browned. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste and water and bring to boil. Add the sugar, parsley, walnuts, allspice and curry and cook for a couple minutes more. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Rinse the eggplant halves under cold water and shake the colander well to remove most of the moisture. Oil a large baking dish and line the eggplant halves up in the dish. Fill each eggplant half with filling (a couple of tablespoons should do). Drizzle with more olive oil, add a bit of water to the baking dish and place in the oven until the eggplant halves are softened. Serve warm or at room temperature.