This week on Sharp & Hot, Heritage Radio alum Allison Hamlin sits in for Chef Emily Peterson to speak with Nikki Dinki, author of Meat on the Side.

Nikki is a chef, TV host, cookbook author, blogger, radio host, recipe developer, professional voice over artist and terrace gardener. As the name of her new cookbook implies, she cooks mostly "Meat on the Side," which focuses on veggies, making them unique and the star of the plate.


Meat on the Side

Instagram: @NikkiDinkiCooking

Twitter: @NikkiDinki



Eggplant “Meatballs”



500 | FF

I make huge batches of these “meatballs” and use them with everything. Top any pasta with them, like Brussels Sprouts + Pear Carbonara (page 147) or Spaghetti Squash “Mac” and Cheese with Green Chilies (page 216); throw them on a hero roll with a bit of tomato or eggplant sauce and some grated Parmesan; toss them with Three-Onion Rice (page 216); or use them to make a salad heartier, like Escarole Salad with Pesto Dressing on page 74.

1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound)
3 tablespoons olive oil
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 poblano chile, seeds and ribs removed, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
1½ cups panko bread crumbs
1 large egg
1½ teaspoons kosher salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease a clean baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Cut the egg­plant in half lengthwise and place, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over the cut surfaces. When the oven is hot, bake the eggplants until tender to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes. Set the eggplants aside to cool, but leave the oven on.
  2. Add the mushrooms, onion, poblano, garlic, thyme, and rosemary to a large food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Stir as necessary and do not overprocess; you want small pieces but not mush.
  3. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the chopped vegetables and sauté until tender and any moisture they give off has evaporated, 7 to 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, using a soupspoon, scoop the flesh of the cooled eggplants into the food processor. Process until pureed; you should have about ¾ cup eggplant puree. When the vegetables in the skillet are cooked, stir the eggplant puree into them and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
  5. When the mixture in the bowl is cool enough to handle, add the bread crumbs, egg, and salt to it and mix well until everything comes together. Pinch a walnut-size amount between your fingers and then roll it into a 1-inch ball; repeat until all the mixture is shaped into balls. Arrange the balls on the prepared bak­ing sheet and bake in the still-heated oven until crisp and medium brown on the outside, 25 to 30 minutes.
  6. Bake refrigerated balls at 400°F for 5 minutes and frozen balls for 10 minutes. Microwaving works, too, but gives you a softer texture.


Serve these to your kids and after they gobble them up you will be in my debt forever. Because your kids just ate a ball of veggies, and they liked it! They will especially like them if you pair the “meat­balls” with their favorite pasta and sauce. These “meatballs” are even great with mac and cheese! (I just made myself really hungry, gotta go . . . )