To my delight, I’ve realized that I have some holes in my cookbook collection. My Middle Eastern cookbook shelf, in particular, is a little thin. I say “to my delight” because, believe me, I welcome any excuse to buy new cookbooks. Picture me with a cup of steaming tea, Juliet napping at my feet, Yo Yo Ma playing on my Echo, a plate of warm cookies and a pile of cookbooks nearby. Heaven.
This week, Salma Hage’s The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook joined my Ottolenghis and Karamardians on the shelves in my office. (You can buy it on Amazon.)
Hage is a Lebanese cook living in London. Her previous book was The Lebanese Kitchen. This book has received positive reviews on several cooking sites I read and won a coveted James Beard Foundation award this year in the “best vegetable cookbook” category. (Truth be told, the recent spate of “This Year’s Best New Cookbooks” articles has been a dangerous read for me. I’ve added a number of new books to my shelves–Deborah Madison’s In My Kitchen, Dorie Greenspan’s Cookies, Tessa Kiros’ Provence to Pondicherry, Patricia Wells’ My Master Recipes, Katie Parla and Kristine Gills’ Tasting Rome. And…I have my eyes on a few more. Like I said, it’s an addiction.)
Interestingly, the forward to Hage’s book is written by Alain Ducasse, whose restaurants have won twenty-one Michelin stars. Ducasse knows good cooking and his forward to Hage’s book is glowing.
The pretty dish pictured above immediately caught my eye as I thumbed through Hage’s book. I was not attracted to this recipe for its beauty alone, though. One of the key ingredients in the dish is eggplant–my nemesis. I confess that I struggle with eggplant. In truth, struggle is a generous word; I’m downright eggplant phobic. Eggplant is kind of like brussels sprouts and (ugh!) kale for me. I want to like it. I know that, prepared properly, it can be delicious. (My neighbor makes a truly delicious eggplant parmesan.) But, alas, my forays into cooking eggplant have yielded recipes that have earned a decided meh from guests.
But I’m not giving up on eggplant. I’m not a defeatist by nature. (My cooking friend says I’m like a dog with a bone. That’s a compliment. Right?)
Eggplant may be my Moriarty, but I can do this! This tasty recipe is, I think, a very good start.
Yields 4 Servings
25 minPrep Time
45 minCook Time
1 hr, 10 Total Time
- 1/2 C. uncooked brown rice (long-grain)
- 2 eggplants cut into 3/4 inch cubes
- 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil (plus more to sauté onions and garlic)
- 2 onions (finely sliced)
- 4 garlic cloves (finely sliced)
- 2 C. cherry tomatoes (halved)
- 1 t. ground cumin
- 1 t. pepper
- 1 small bunch chopped cilantro (or parsley)
- Roasted pine nuts
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Cook brown rice until it is done but still a bit al dente.
- Do not peel the eggplant. Cut it into 3/4 inch cubes and mix with olive oil and a generous pinch of salt in a large bowl. Put the eggplant cubes on a large baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F. Remove from the oven when the eggplant cubes begin to blacken on the edges. Set aside.
- Add a small amount of olive oil to a skillet and sauté onions and garlic over medium heat until they soften and just begin to brown. Add tomatoes, cumin, pepper and salt and stir. Continue cooking for about 15 minutes.
- Add eggplant cubes to onion/tomato mixture. Add cooked rice. Sprinkle with cilantro and roasted pine nuts and serve.
According to Salma Hage, from whose cookbook this recipe was adapted, this dish improves dramatically by letting the flavors marry overnight. She also points out that this dish is often considered best when served at room temperature. I found this to be true. The flavors in the dish, particularly the flavor of the slightly caramelized onions, absorb into the rice and make for a wonderful dish when stored overnight in the refrigerator and allowed to warm to room temperature before being served.