Eggplant is such a misunderstood vegetable…. No, it’s not really a meat ‘substitute’…Yes, it can taste pretty heinous if undercooked or misprepared (think foamy plasticky texture with an astringent, bitter flavor)… But when eggplant is done right, boy is it delicious. And generally speaking, that means it needs to be cooked into submission. So here is what will be the first of many odes to eggplant. In this recipe I specifically recommend using Chinese eggplants, which are more slender and delicate than the more well known Italian ones.
Like I said, eggplant needs to be cooked well. My favorite way of doing just that is roasted in the oven. But why limit ourselves to the stereotypical Mediterranean preparations (which I love, don’t get me wrong)? My idea here was to channel an Asian stir fry, but let the oven do most of the work…even down to making the wonderful garlicky sauce! I will say no more, other than it’s easy and yummy, just have a look…
- 1.5 cups brown rice (I used long-grain brown rice in this version)
- 3 cups water
- 2-3 Chinese eggplants (longer, beautiful bright purple color, and skinnier than Italian ones)
- 1 Tbsp sea salt
- 1/2 of a medium yellow onion
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 2 small (or 1 large) zucchini
- 2 medium sized ripe tomatoes
- few stems of Thai basil (optional)
- about 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce (gluten free/preservative free are now pretty widely available)
- 1 Tbsp agave nectar
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp sriracha sauce (preservative free brands now widely available)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed/minced through a garlic press
Preheat your oven to 400 F. Get your rice cookin’ first: bring rice and water to boil in a medium saucepan over high heat (or just use a rice cooker, and ignore my further rice instructions).
Meanwhile, work on the eggplant: Slice each one lengthwise into quarters, then slice the quarters into 2-inch long sticks (see image below for a guide). Arrange these on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan. Spring with the Tbsp of sea salt and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Toss to coat and put in the oven.
Meanwhile, your rice is probably at a vigorous rolling boil by now, so lower the heat to medium and let the rice keep cooking for about 25 min or so until the water is all gone, lower the heat further as needed.
Now, the other veggies: roughly chop your onion. For the bell pepper and zucchini, slice lengthwise into strips and then cross-cut into 1-2 inch long sticks. Place these all in a deep baking dish or roasting pan and toss to coat with olive oil. Put in the oven.
Ok, now we start working on the components of the sauce. In a medium sized bowl, combine the soy sauce, agave nectar, sesame and olive oils, garlic and sriracha sauce. Whisk together with a fork and set aside. Now roughly chop up your tomato into about 1-inch chunks and pull the leaves off the basil stems. A word about the tomato – ripe tomatoes are best here, because their juices will form part of the sauce and really add to its character.
By about 15-20 minutes in, the onion-zucchini-pepper mixture should be getting nice and roasty. When these veggies are soft and the edges are browning, take that dish out of the oven. Throw on the tomatoes and basil, and then pour your sauce over them, giving them a good mix (see what it looks like at this stage below). Put that dish back in the oven for another 10-15 min.
Meanwhile, your rice should be finishing up (turn off the heat when all the water is cooked out) and your eggplant should be getting nice and caramelized and soft (take it out of the oven when it is). Your other roasting veggies/sauce combo is ready when the tomatoes look cooked, onion is translucent and it all smells delicious.
Now, for the plating. On each plate, make a bed of about 3/4 cup rice for each serving. Then layer on about 5-6 pieces roasted eggplant. Now a very generous scoopful of the veggie-sauce mix over the top.
Variation: if you are wanting more protein in this dish, it would be an easy modification to add in your meat substitute of choice (tofu, tempeh, seitan, etc) chopped into about one-inch chunks and roasted right in with the veggies. Please share your thoughts if you end up doing this!