When I declared my pescatarianism last week, I was mostly being tongue-in-cheek because I was pretty sure it wouldn’t stick. I’m still not sure it’ll stick. But so far, it’s stuck, and at the same dinner party when I made that spring pea puree, I needed a vegetarian entree that would impress in a way that didn’t make anyone think: “Vegetarian entree.” Rifling through a recent Food & Wine, I found a recipe for David Kinch’s Eggplant Dirty Rice and thought: “Ooooh.” Once I made it, that “oooh” transformed into a “whoah.” This is powerful stuff, one of the best vegetarian dinners I’ve had in a long time.
What makes it so dazzling is how flavorful it is. The base is a classic New Orleans combination (one I learned about when I visited there a few years ago), the trifecta of onions, celery and green peppers.
Chop that all up while listening to show tunes.
Now chop a few cloves of garlic; I always use more than the recipe calls for, so instead of 3 cloves I used about 5. Oh and look there’s an eggplant.
We’ll get to the eggplant in a second. First, start cooking your onions, peppers and celery in canola oil with a big pinch of salt on medium heat. You’ll cook that for a while because you want it to a brown.
Now the eggplant. The recipe has you cube it and add it to the browned vegetables before adding soy sauce and vegetable broth. I decided it would develop more flavor to brown the eggplant in a separate pan first. This was a bold thing to do since the recipe’s creator, David Kinch, is at the helm of Manresa, one of the world’s best restaurants. But I like my eggplant browned.
So I cubed it:
Heated canola oil in a non stick skillet until very hot, added the eggplant, sprinkled with salt and tossed until it was nice and brown all over.
While that was happening, I ground black pepper and white pepper in a coffee grinder (way easier than grinding it by hand; you use a lot more pepper this way).
Ok, so when the peppers, onions and celery turned brown, I added the eggplant, dried thyme, the black pepper, the white pepper and cayenne pepper (be generous here with all of it, it’s where the flavor comes from), the garlic and tomato paste.
At this point, I realized that cooking the eggplant first made it mushy and it broke up as I stirred it in here. Doing it again, I might not do it my way after all. Because you’re supposed to cook it at this stage for 7 minutes but because it was already cooked, I didn’t do that.
Then you add soy sauce, scrape up the bottom bits…
…and if you want to do this all ahead you can stop here, add the rice and wait for the final step until 30 minutes before you want to serve your entree (17 minutes to cook it, 10 minutes to let it rest, 3 minutes to sing the “Green Acres” theme song).
That final step is really simple: add 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth, bring to a boil, cover with a lid and pop into a 350 oven for 17 minutes. When it comes out, it looks really incredible (as you can see at the top of this post). My friend Zach was drawn in by the aroma.
And the taste!
All of that pepper, all of that soy sauce, adds up to something truly enormous. It’s spicy, it’s zesty, it’s exciting. Plus: because of the eggplant, it’s substantive… it really feels like dinner. Which is a big compliment for a vegetarian entree.
So try it my way, browning the eggplant first, or do it the way you’re supposed to and I bet it will still come out great with firmer pieces of eggplant in the finished product. Just don’t be shy with the garlic or the pepper; and do as David says and serve it with hot sauce. This could also be a side dish for a larger dinner with some kind of meat or fish but, really, it works well as a vegetarian entree. I couldn’t stop eating it.
Recipe: Eggplant Dirty Rice
Summary: Adapted from David Kinch’s recipe from Food & Wine.
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 3 celery ribs, finely chopped
- 2 medium green bell peppers, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper (I used more, at least a whole teaspoon if not more)
- 1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper (also: I used more, about a whole teaspoon)
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I used 5)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 1/2 cups medium-grain white rice
- 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
- Hot sauce, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Heat the oil in a Dutch Oven until very hot on medium/high heat; add the celery, peppers and onion, season with salt, stir, cover, lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes (until the onion is translucent). Uncover, turn up the heat to medium/high and cook until the vegetables are lightly browned, about 10 more minutes.
- While doing that, you can either brown the eggplant separately (see my post) or wait. When the vegetables are brown, add the eggplant, thyme, black and white peppers and cayenne and season with salt. Cook for 8 minutes until the eggplant is soft. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute more. Add the soy sauce and scrape the bottom of the pan. At this point, if you want to make this ahead, you can stir in the rice and turn off the heat and wait to do the final steps when your guests arrive (just not too far ahead because the soy sauce will eventually break down the rice; think: an hour or two).
- Add the vegetable broth, bring the mixture to a boil and pop into the oven for 17 minutes (or until the rice is just tender). Remove from the oven and let stand, covered, for 10 more minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve with the hot sauce.
Preparation time: 45 minute(s)
Cooking time: 17 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4