Roasted Eggplant and Saffron Rice
Updated: Nov 10, 2022
This week I was feeling a bit nostalgic for summer. I was inspired by eggplants I saw at the store. A trip to the supermarket has become the highlight of my week, since it is the only time I see other people IRL. But I have always enjoyed my local ShopRite, since it is the only place in suburban CT where I can see the vast parade of humanity I used to see in New York City. I don't know why America can't be more like ShopRite, where everyone seems to get along. The aisles are colorful, slow-moving rivers of people, all leaning on their shopping carts, tsking at the prices of things, and enjoying the ambient sounds of Kool & the Gang. ShopRite is the only supermarket in suburban CT where you can find plantains and chicken feet. I don't buy them, but I am always reassured to see them there. The only thing missing from ShopRite is a bodega cat sleeping on the bread.
While at ShopRite last weekend, I found taro root for an ill-fated experiment making taro cake, my favorite dim sum treat. The taro cake will appear in a new "Hall of Shame" feature, in which I post pictures of culinary disasters. The Hall of Shame is not up yet, as I have yet to figure out how to put trigger warnings on some of the photos.
I came up with this dinner riffing on some roasted eggplant recipes I found online. It looks complicated because it has four components, but there is not much hands-on time. It could be improved using baby eggplants, which I could not find.
2 small eggplants
salt & pepper olive oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbsp parmesan
Rice: 1 cup long grain white rice
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp saffron threads
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthways
1 tsp turmeric
salt & pepper
dried mint or methi
I did not have any mint in the house, but I did have methi, which are fenugreek leaves. Methi is that gorgeous, ineffable scent you notice walking into any decent Indian restaurant. I bought a box of methi for $1.99 the last time I went to Patel Brothers. Sometimes, when walking past the kitchen, I will go into the cupboard and put my nose in the box for a quick sniff before going on with my day.
Halve eggplants lengthwise and score the flesh with a knife in a diamond cross-hatch pattern.
Lay the eggplant face-up and season with salt.
Turn the eggplants cut side down on a wire rack and let sit for an hour.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Coat the bottom of a baking sheet with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Pat the eggplants dry and arrange cut side down in the baking sheet.
Drizzle the skins with olive oil and season with salt. (yes there is a lot of salt in this recipe).
Roast eggplants until caramelized, up to an hour depending on size. (As you can see from the photo below, I probably pulled them out of the oven too soon, and they could have been more deeply carmelized)
Flip the eggplant halves over and continue to cook skin-side up for ~10 minutes.
You can use any savory yogurt sauce of your liking. I did not have any yogurt, so I used sour cream, to which I added some parmesan. You could make this vegan with cashew cream.
Grind up saffron threads in 1/2 cup of hot water and let steep for a few minutes.
Add 1 cup of rice to 1 1/2 cups of water. Add saffron water, and salt.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Turn down heat and let simmer until all water is evaporated, then turn off heat and let steam for another 15 minutes.
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan and when the oil is hot, add onions.
Stir in the salt, pepper, and turmeric.
Cook, stirring often, until the onions are a little brown. Don't overcook them or try to caramelize them, since the eggplant is already going to be squidgy.
Assemble the plate, rice first, then eggplant, then onions, then sauce. Garnish with mint or methi. Add a few grindings of fresh pepper.