Papoutsakia-Greek stuffed eggplants are a classic, delicious dish. This spectacular recipe does not include meat. It has tender eggplants with a hearty tomato sauce, luxurious creamy béchamel, and cheese.
This recipe has been updated with a new copy, images, and clarification on some of the ingredients and cooking method.
Why this recipe sings
In Greece, we call these delicious stuffed eggplants “papoutsakia,” which means “little shoes.” Usually, papoutsakia have a meat-based sauce, like a bolognese. This vegetarian version is lighter, although still a cheesy, creamy goodness.
Pre-baking the eggplants and using some flesh in the filling is key. The earthy flavor of the flesh gives weight to the sweet tomato sauce without making it heavier. The béchamel on top is what makes this dish a great comfort food. Rich and creamy yet light, you don’t feel like you ate a heavy meal.
Note. A kind reader mentioned that a classic béchamel is a white roux and milk. Adding cheese makes this a Mornay or a white cheese sauce. He is right, but because Greek cooks traditionally call this white sauce a bechamel, I chose to leave the recipe written as is and not change it.
Here is what you need
For the eggplants and tomato sauce
- Onion and garlic cloves.
- Tomatoes. San Marzano whole tomatoes like Gustarosso.
- Bay leaf, cloves, and a cinnamon stick. Bay leaf adds a subtle bitterness, the cloves have a warm, intense flavor and aroma between sweet and bitter. The cinnamon is sweet and woody with slight citrusy notes. All three go very well with the umami tomatoes, complimenting their savory sweet flavor. They are a staple in making tomato sauce.
- Extra virgin olive oil. The one ingredient that is present in all greek recipes.
- Feta cheese. Just a little crumble is spread over the eggplants before the white sauce. It adds a tangy note to the creamy bechamel and goes well with the sweet eggplants and tomatoes.
- Kefalotiri cheese. The salty semi-hard cheese is the go-to for Greek cooks when serving pasta or adding to foods like giouvetsi, moussaka, or pastitsio. That said, many opt to substitute with grated parmesan or pecorino romano.
- Sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and dried oregano.
For the bechamel sauce
- Butter. Good quality unsalted butter.
- All-purpose flour. Keep some more around in case you need to thicken the sauce.
- Whole milk. As with the flour, keep a little more around if you need to loosen the sauce.
- Nutmeg, a bay leaf, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. The nutmeg is nutty and sweet, and the bay leaf adds a touch of bitterness to the milk.
- Kefalotiri cheese. It tends to be salty cheese, so season the bechamel after incorporating it into the sauce. Substitute with grated parmesan or pecorino romano. The tip about salt still applies to the substitute cheese.
- One egg. This is optional. An egg is used to make the bechamel more solid over the eggplants. I found that it bakes well without an egg too.
How to make this recipe
Prepare the eggplants
Cut eggplants in half length-wise, and make some cuts at the flesh crosswise with a sharp knife carefully not to cut the skin. Sprinkle 2-3 tbsp olive oil all over the eggplants, and season with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and a pinch of oregano.
Place eggplants on a parchment paper lined baking sheet facing down and bake for 30 minutes or until the flesh is soft.
Make the tomato sauce
Chop the onions and garlic.
Place a deep saucepan on high heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, cloves, a generous pinch of dried oregano, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Stir and saute for two-three minutes.
Add the tomatoes, stir, and simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes—season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Remove from the heat and set aside.
With a fork, lightly tease the eggplant flesh.
Remove about one tablespoon of flesh from each eggplant, and add it to your tomato sauce. Make sure not to take too much flesh out.
One of my tips is to start assembling before I make the bechamel sauce. I don’t like to have the white sauce wait around while I prepare the rest of the dish because it forms a light crusty film on top. This way, you use it over the eggplants right away.
Make the béchamel sauce
Top eggplants with at least two tablespoons of béchamel sauce. Sprinkle over the rest of the grated cheese. Add a pinch of chili flakes all over if you like.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden in color.
Papoutsakia – Greek Stuffed eggplants
- Rimmed baking sheet
- Parchment paper
- Large size saucepan
- Medium size saucepan
- baking pan
For the eggplants
- 2 large eggplants cut in half
For the tomato sauce
- 1 onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 28 oz tomatoes crushed . San Marzano whole tomatoes like Gustarosso.
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
for the bechamel
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour plus more you need to thicken the sauce.
- 1 cup whole milk plus more you need to loosen the sauce.
- 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1 cup kefalotiri cheese grated
You also need
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil total
- 1/2 cup feta cheese crumbled
- sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- dried oregano
Prepare the eggplants
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, and make some cuts at the flesh crosswise with a sharp knife carefully to not cut the skin.
- Sprinkle about 2-3 tbsp olive oil all over the eggplants, season with sea salt and pepper and a pinch of oregano.Place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet facing down and bake for 30 minutes or until the flesh is soft.
- Remove from the oven and transfer to a baking pan with the skin down.
Make the tomato sauce
- Place a saucepan on high heat, and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, a generous pinch of oregano, the bay leaf, and cinnamon stick, and saute for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, season with sea salt and pepper, stir and simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
- With a fork, lightly tease the flesh of the eggplants. Remove some of the flesh, about one teaspoon, from each eggplant. Create a hollow space—that's where you will add the filling.Be careful not to remove too much flesh.Add the eggplant flesh to your tomato sauce and stir.
- Place the eggplants in a baking pan.Fill them evenly with about two tablespoons of tomato sauce. Sprinkle over some crumbled feta cheese. Add leftover tomato sauce around the eggplants.
Make the béchamel
- In a saucepan, warm the milk with the bay leaf.
- In another saucepan, on medium heat, add the butter and stir with a whisk or a wooden spoon until the butter melts.
- Add the flour in batches. Keep stirring to create a "roux."
- Discard the bay leaf from the milk. Gradually add the milk to the roux while stirring vigorously to avoid lumps from the flour.
- As soon as the mixture begins to thicken and the sauce is smooth and has a nice, not-too-thick texture remove from heat. Add the ground nutmeg and ¾ cup of grated kefalotiri—season with sea salt and pepper to taste.
Finish assembling and bake
- Top eggplants with at least two tablespoons of bechamel sauce. Sprinkle the rest of the grated kefalotiri on top of the béchamel. Add a pinch of chili flakes all over if you like. Bake for 45 minutes or until the top develops a nice golden color.
- Serve immediately with a green salad and warm bread to dip in the sauce.