Roast Eggplant with Mixed Rice and Yogurt

I know we’re teetering on the edge of eggplant’s departure from the market, but I’ve been tinkering with this recipe for a while, and I wanted to get it right before it landed here.

The non-aubergine portion was lifted from a French-Tunisian family friend, who made it for the Frenchman and me when she came to stay. (She served it with herb-rubbed, falling-off-the-bone chicken thighs. You can too.) It was a luxury to be cooked for, and to be taken care of so well through food. Pine nuts browned sumptuously in butter! The lemon-tinged warmth of sumac and za’atar! Cumin, harissa, and cinnamon, too. It’s actually a perfect inauguration to fall.

I asked for the recipe, and scribbled down the offhand recounting of a cook who has fashioned a dish so often, measurements are not longer consciously considered. I searched google for corroboration of spice quantities, and rice to meat ratios, but quickly realized no consensus: this dish is made, in various forms, across the Levant. Sometimes with lamb, or beef, or chicken. Often it includes peas and carrots, and other spices; almonds too. This rice and meat mixture–helpfully called “mixed rice”–is used judiciously in recipes across the region, frequently to stuff vegetables, wine or cabbage leaves.

What this recipe is not: the quintessential version of Ouzi, which anyway goes by other names and spelling variations. What it is: very tasty. A recipe filtered through this cook’s interpretation of a French-Tunisian-living-in-Cairo’s version of her Palestinian mother-in-law’s cooking, made with ingredients she found in my kitchen, in Jersey City, NJ. That sentence was exhausting, but the point is: make this for someone you care about.

(This dish is equally good, if not better, on the second or third day after cooking.)

garlic, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin

Here are some things I like:

I like to use small, in-season eggplants from the summer market, because they tend to be younger, and the skin is less bitter, so you can eat the whole thing pleasantly. However, you can peel any old eggplant with similar results.

Use store bought tzatziki or labneh, or you can make your own yogurt sauce by straining 4 cups/1 quart/910 grams of plain yogurt in the fridge, covered, for 24 hours. Stir in 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon good olive oil.

This recipe might seem like a lot of steps, but in the time it takes to cook the eggplant, you can fully prepare everything else, do the dishes, wipe down the counter, and still have time to spare.

After trying to make eggplant boats work in this context about about ten times, I concede defeat. Instead, I turned to the genius method outlined by Yotam Ottolenghi in his recipe for Eggplant with Crushed Chickpeas and Herbed Yogurt in Plenty More. (Thanks to Sarah for writing this article about it.)

Serves 6 to 8. 

  • ingredients: 
  • four 225 grams/.5 pound eggplants, any color variation (conversely, you could use one 500 gram/.5 pound eggplant)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon za’atar
  • 1/2 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 head garlic, all cloves minced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon harissa
  • 1/2 cup (65 grams) pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cup tzatziki or labneh (for serving)
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • the zest of 1 lemon (or 1.5 tablespoons zest)
  • more harissa, za’atar, and/or sumac (for serving)
  • lemon wedges (optional, for serving)

  • procedure:
  •      Heat the oven to 475F/250C. Place a casserole dish of water at the bottom of the oven–this will keep things steamy/prevent the eggplant from drying out.
  •      Trim both ends of all 4 eggplants, and then slice 3/4-inch/2cm-thick coins. (If you’re working with large eggplants, slice them once vertically, and then cut half moons instead of coins.) I recommend pouring the olive oil into a little bowl, so you can see how much you have to work with; brush both sides of all coins with olive oil. (If you want super luscious eggplant, use more oil.) Move the eggplant coins into a large bowl as you work. Using your hands, toss the eggplant with 2 teaspoons kosher salt, a flurry of freshly cracked black pepper, the za’atar, and the sumac. Arrange the eggplant coins on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes. (I know, it seems like a long time at a high temperature.)
  •      Add the rice, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 2 1/2 cups of water to a medium-sized pot. Bring the water to a boil, give the rice a little stir, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot; cook for 10 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated. Let the rice stand, with the lid still on, for another 15 minutes. After that, fluff the rice with a fork.
  •      Turn a medium flame on under a Dutch oven or heavy pan, and let it heat up for 2 minutes. Add the vegetable oil and, 30 seconds later, add the minced garlic. Stir for 30 seconds, and then add the beef, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and harissa; stir to incorporate the salt and spices into the beef. Cook until the beef isn’t pink any more, about 5 minutes.
  •      In a small pan over medium heat, toast the pine nuts together with the butter for about 3 minutes, or until the nuts are browned and fragrant.
  •      Mix together the rice, beef, pine nuts, chopped parsley, and lemon zest. Divide the roast eggplant and rice-beef mix among bowls. Optionally, serve with more za’atar and sumac, harissa, and lemon wedges. Serve with the yogurt sauce of your choice.

One comment

  1. John Galvin

    Hi Christina

    I made this Sunday night. It was great. I used growing chicken instead of beef, brown rice instead of white and and Japanese eggplants. I plan to use what I have left over to make stuffed peppers.

    Thanks for sharing the recipe.

    John

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