Jul 20, 2012

Aubergine Pilaf with a hint of cumin and loads of tomato flavor

The Turkish call it Aubergine; they create magic with this vegetable, while the more popular cuisines of the world prefer not to do business with it. No wonder the Turkish refer to it as Aubergines, while we refer to it as 'eggplant' or 'Brinjal'. And because I love how 'aubergine' conjures up images of rich layers of olive-oil steeped eggplants seasoned with herbs and topped with creamy yogurts, for the rest of this post I am going to stick to 'Aubergines'.
As I said before, the Turkish create magic with aubergine. In their land it becomes a versatile vegetable. When they mash it they create Baba ghanoush. Legend has it that Baba ghanoush was invented in one of the harems of the Ottoman empire. But there are so many other ways of cooking Aubergine in the Turkish way, that mashing seems a boring thing to do. 
They stuff minced lamb within cooked aubergine and slow cook the whole thing for hours so that it melts in your mouth and touches a thousand pleasure spots all at once. Heaping spoonfuls of tomato and herbs layered on eggplant slices and slow cooked left the imam weeping in delight. In a shepherd's home, aubergines are often charbroiled and mixed with garlic (crushed with sea salt) and yogurt making for a excellent spread. Of all these techniques one simple method has gotten me hooked. Unsurprisingly it has to go with pilafs, the amazingly versatile and often the main dish on a Turkish dinner table. 
Over the years, I have rediscovered pilaf often and again, and fallen in love with its simplicity and grandeur. My favorite is Cherry-Chickpea pilaf (which can be done in a microwave, I find). But the aubergine pilaf makes the cuts even higher. Silk smooth, delectable pieces of aubergine (cooked slowly in olive oil--read on for this technique) mixed with pilaf cooked with tomato puree and a hint of cumin. That is heaven on earth and it is all locked in the land of the Ottomans, cumin, cherries and almonds and aubergines..

Aubergine Pilaf (Adapted from Ghille Basan-- an excellent author)
1 large aubergine
1 cup of rice. Long grain is better.
1 small onion. Sliced
2 cloves of garlic. Slivered
1/2 tsp of sugar
1/2 tsp of whole cumin
1/2 tsp of whole coriander
(You can toast the spices and then grind it for best results. Or you can do what I did. Just crush them with a hand held mortar. I believe powders should works as well)
2 small tomatoes. Diced
2 tsp of tomato paste or puree. I like the paste better. Do not use Ketchup. Please?
2 cups of water. Lukewarm or at least room temperature. You can use stock as well.
6-8 tbsf olive oil. Not extra virgin.
Salt and pepper
Parsley for garnish. Optional

Start with a healthy appetite
To make silky rich pieces of aubergine:
Soak aubergines in salted water for at least an hour but no more than three. Drain, squeeze the pieces and dry between paper towels (or kitchen towels). Heat  5-6 tbsf olive oil ( do not sear the oil as the smoke point for olive oil is low) and  gently add the aubergine pieces. After you add  the aubergine in oil, reduce heat, add a tsp or so of olive oil from the top, mix and cover as they fry gently.  Check often. You get luscious aubergine pieces with much less oil. Drain on paper towel and reserve
In the mean time:
Wash and soak rice (if you have the time). Soften onion and garlic in olive oil. Stir in the sugar, cumin, coriander cooking for a couple of mins. Add the tomato puree and tomatoes. Cook for 3-4 mins. Add the rice. Coat everything. Add the water or stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer. About 20 min. Keep an eye.
When rice is done, turn into a serving dish, mix with the aubergine. Garnish with parsley. Serve warm.

Happy eating and healthy living!

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