I'm not quite sure how the idea for this dish entered my tiny brain, but a few days ago, I got the urge for a savory and sweet rice dish stuffed into an eggplant. Perhaps it's homesickness for the nearby Arabic/Iranian neighborhood that we left in Chicago. Rice that is yellow with tumeric is mixed with sauteed vegetables spiced with fruits, nuts, and spices usually found in Christmas dishes, and the lot is stuffed into eggplant halves. It's reminiscent of either Tehran and Dehli or Kedzie and Lawrence.
I had no guide to this dish so I felt my way through the spices. The description I give below is of the right way to make this dish, but by no means is it the way I used. I'd add a little cinnamon, taste it, add a little mustard, taste it, add a little more cinnamon and some cumin, and so on until I had something I thought tasted good. You could do the same thing, if you wish, but the attached recipe will give you a guide to work from.
Is this dish more Persian or Indian in influence? Well, the Mughal rulers of Northern India came to the subcontinent from Persia, and much of their influence is still felt in Northern Indian foods today. I think you could get away with adding more Indian spices to the rice, and eggplant features in both cultures' cuisine.
One interesting ingredient here is sumac. Sumac is a red sour spice that in the right neighborhood markets is so cheap you have to split a $1 supply with a friend who used to write for this blog (or at least I had to). It changes the rice's color to a dirty red/yellow so you may want to let guests add it at the end as a sprinkle to retain the brighter yellow color of the rice. I incorporated it into the dish directly.
So here's a recipe that's a little bit of yellow rice, a little bit of nine jewels rice, a touch of Christmas, and a little bit of whatever the heck tasted good to me on a Summer night in July 2006.
Eggplant stuffed with Fruit and Nut Rice serves 4-8
2 cups calrose or other medium grain rice
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons tumeric
1/2 teapsoon salt plus some for salting the eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons tarragon
2 teaspoons powdered ginger or 2 tablespoons fresh ginger
2 good sized Italian eggplants (the usual kind found in US Supermarkets)
1 zucchini, cut into 1" dice
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2" dice
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped coarsely
1/2 cup pistachio meats, chopped coarsley
2 more tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup water
drizzles of olive oil additional
First, the basic yellow rice - in saucepan, combine butter, rice, tumeric, 3 to 3-1/2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for ten minutes or so until the rice is fluffy and yellow. Set aside.
Next prep the vegetables. Cut the leafy top off your eggplant with one crosscut. Split the eggplant legthwise, and with a knife or grapefruit spoon, carefully hollow out the halves until there is 1/4" -1/2" of flesh clinging to the skin of the eggplant. Retain the cut out portion, seeds and all. Now salt the inside of the eggplant flesh lightly and set, cut side down, on a paper towel.
Dice the zucchini and pepper if you have not done so already, then dice the eggplant into approximately 1/2" chunks.
In a saucepan, over high heat heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add all the spices except the sumac after the oil is hot. Stir for about 45 seconds. Add the vegetables (bell pepper, eggplant, and zucchini). Toss and stir until the vegetables are evenly coated with oil and spices. Taste, and add more of any spices you'd like to taste more of. Adjust salt and pepper.
Add the rice to the pan along with 1/4 cup of water. Stir and combine the rice and vegetables well. Once the water has cooked off, add in the nuts and fruits and stir well. Remove from heat. You may add th esumac in now and stir or hold it out as a garnish spice later.
Preheat an oven to 350 F.
Brush olive oil on the insides of the eggplant shells. Pepper liberally. Using a spatula or serving spoon, dish the rice mix into the eggplant half.
Put the eggplant halves on a cookie sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes until the uncut eggplant flesh is soft and tasty. Remove using a tongs and spatula (spatula underneath, tongs around the sides) to a serving plate. You may serve a half an eggplant per very hungry person or a half of a half (a quarter) to a more normally hungry person.