Who does eggplant best?
This, of course, is a leading question that takes us down paths we don't need to travel. I would argue that any country or culinary region where eggplant is grown has learned to do good things with it. China? Check! Japan? Check! Southeast Asia? Of course! Let's not forget the Mediterranean, from Greece through Italy to France ... or, for that matter, the Americas.
But on any given day, I might turn to Southwestern Asia, from Turkey around to the Arabian Peninsula and Iran, as the place where this meaty, hearty veggie (or is it a fruit?) comes into its own.
And one of the best dishes from this food-favored land has to be "Imam Bayildi," which is said to translate as "The Imam fainted," implying that this garlic-rich dish is so impressive that if you feed it to visiting clergy, they'll faint dead away. (Lesson to seminarians and wannabe clergy: Don't be so full of ourselves that we make the people we visit want to put us to sleep.)
Anyway, cutting to the chase, I had a bunch of those skinny white eggplants that have been coming in from the garden all summer, so I decided to do a variation on Imam Bayildi, realized as a pilaf.
It was about as simple as simple can be: Cut eggplant into 1-inch dice. Toss them with some green pepper and onions cut into squares and a bowl of just-picked cherry tomatoes. Mix with salt and olive oil and roast at 400ºF for at least 30 minutes or until well roasted and browned. Mince a lot (2 tablespoons?) garlic fine and mix it with a few dried-red pepper flakes, black pepper and kosher salt. When the veggies have roasted, make a quick pilaf by browning the seasoned garlic in a good splash of olive oil until it's aromatic. Then parch 1/2 cup rinsed, soaked and drained basmati rice in it, add 2 cups liquid (I used half water and half-homemade tomato sauce) and simmer until a good part of the liquid is absorved and the rice getting tender. Stir in the roasted veggies and continue to simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, the rice tender and the flavors blended.
It went great with an artisanal Beaujolais from Pierre Charmette but would reward any good dry French or Italian red.