Eggplant and Feta Beggars’ Purses

Eggplant and Feta Beggars’ Purses
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beggars' purses
See. Little purses! Cute!

After making these beggars’ purses, we remarked that we hadn’t made them in a long time. And that’s actually quite surprising, since we often have a hard time figuring out what to do with eggplant. Sometimes the eggplants sit in the refrigerator for nearly a week while we try to think of a recipe that will use them up and taste good. When, all the while, we’ve had this recipe that we think is the best way ever to eat eggplant. We think that you might just agree.

This is the recipe for which we used our first-ever batch of scratched phyllo dough. Don’t think that you need to make phyllo, as we normally use the frozen commercial kind. But, if you do try scratchin’ up your own phyllo, note that this recipe is best if the filling sits overnight, which is the same amount of time the phyllo dough needs to rest (we think that commercial dough needs to thaw in the refrigerator about the same amount of time, too), so keep that in mind for planning.

Finally, we’re not really sure where we originally picked up this recipe, but we think it might have come from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook. If you have a copy, feel free to let us know, so we can give full credit where it’s due.

Eggplant and Feta Beggars' Purses

Yield: 8 beggars' purses

Eggplant and Feta Beggars' Purses


  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature (very soft) or melted
  • 3/4 pound phyllo dough

Abbreviated Instructions

In a colander, toss eggplant with salt. Let stand and drain for 20 minutes. Rinse with cold water and set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Add tomatoes and continue to cook and stir for another 5 minutes.

Add garlic, cumin, and water. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is very tender, about 30 minutes.

Transfer to a bowl and stir in cheese. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

If using commercial phyllo, place two sheets on the counter and drizzle or smear with butter. Fold in half, then fold again.

If using homemade phyllo, place a sheet on the counter, smear with butter and fold over several time to form a square. Lightly roll the square thinner using a rolling pin.

Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center. Fold up the sides and lightly twist closed. Place on prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Ingredient discussion:

Good tomatoes have such a short season; use fresh if you can, but feel free to substitute a can (14-15 oz) of diced tomatoes. We do that all the time. The type of eggplant you use won’t matter. We’ve used the purple kind you find in the supermarket, or the skinny Japanese eggplant; it made no difference. Feta cheese should always be bought in a block, preferably packed in brine. It loses flavor rapidly once crumbled, so never buy the pre-crumbled kind (we think that it’s just scraps left over when cutting blocks, anyway). Plus, feta is so easy to crumble, why pay someone to do it for you?

Procedure in detail:

draining eggplant
Eggplant doesn’t seem like it’s a watery vegetable, but it’s like a sponge. Salt and drain are the watchwords.

Salt eggplant. Place the eggplant cubes in a colander set in the sink. Sprinkle with salt, toss, and sprinkle again. Overall, use a couple of tablespoons of salt, enough so the eggplant looks and feel gritty. Don’t worry, you’ll rinse off the salt in a bit. Let the eggplant drain for 20 minutes.

Rinse eggplant. See. Just as we said above, rinse the eggplant to wash away the salt. Then let it drain a bit while you do your other chopping work (perhaps the tomatoes or the garlic).

frying eggplant
Without the salting and draining, the eggplant would absorb all the oil like a sponge.

Cook eggplant. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the eggplant, and, stirring often, cook for about 5 minutes. Some of the eggplant might break apart, and that’s okay.

Add tomatoes. Good thing you chopped the tomatoes while the eggplant was draining, because now’s the time to add them. Stir the tomatoes into the eggplant and continue to cook, stirring often so nothing sticks, for another 5 minutes.

adding spices
After the tomatoes have cooked a bit, add the spices and the water, and allow to simmer for half an hour or so.

Add garlic and spices. Add the garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper. Stir, then add the half cup of water and stir it in. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the eggplant is very soft. Make sure to stir the mixture every once in a while so it doesn’t stick or burn.

making filling
We like to have some of the cheese finely crumbled, but a few scattered large pieces are a nice contrast.

Add cheese. Transfer the eggplant mixture to a bowl, and stir in the feta cheese. We like it best when some of the cheese mixes in thoroughly, while a few chunks of feta remain scattered pell-mell throughout.

eggplant filling
The flavor will be better if you let the filling chill, covered, overnight. Chilling makes it easier to work with.

Refrigerate. It’s best if this mixture sits, covered, in the refrigerator overnight, but, if you can’t wait that long, at least let it chill completely. This will give time for the flavors to meld and blend.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Now’s the time to soften or melt the butter, too.

Make purses:

If using commercial phyllo dough, remove two sheets from the package and spread them on a work surface. Brush or drizzle with butter. Fold in half, then fold in half the other direction so you have a small, nearly square rectangle. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center, then fold up the edges of the phyllo dough and twist it lightly to hold it closed. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

buttering phyllo
We thought thoroughly softened butter would work okay. We’d melt it next time.

If using home-made phyllo, place a sheet on your work surface, smear a 4×4 inch end with butter. Fold over, and smear with a bit more butter. Continue folding and smearing until you have a rectangle about 4-inches square. Dust with flour and lightly roll to a square about 5 inches on a side. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center, then fold up the edges of the phyllo dough and twist it lightly to hold it closed. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

phyllo dough
Fold the buttered end over, then butter and repeat.
rolling phyloo
We gave each rectangle a light rolling to make the homemade phyllo squares just a bit bigger.
making a beggars' purse
Fold up the edges of the phyllo dough to enclose the filling.

Repeat. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, making eight purses total.

beggars' purse
A light twist at the top will complete the purse shape and keep the filling in place.

Bake. Slide the purses into the oven and bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Sometimes the purses will split along the sides, leaking out a bit of filling, but not to worry, it’ll taste good.

Rest. Remove the purses from the oven and let stand for about 5 minutes to allow the filling to settle and firm, then transfer to plates using a spatula.

As we said above, this is probably our favorite way to use eggplant. Once baked, it doesn’t really taste like eggplant, but, instead, tastes more like feta and tomatoes with something to bind them together. We had our Beggars’ Purses for a late lunch and just powered through all eight of these in a sitting. While they are a bit fiddly, it’s not too bad to put them together, and they do look nice on a plate. With the homemade phyllo, the neck, or twisted part, of the purses got a bit gummy. That doesn’t happen with commercial dough, especially if there’s enough butter in the layers. But the filling is great, making this a five-star dish!

Worth the trouble?

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