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About pilaf: Turkish eggplant pilaf
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About pilaf: Turkish eggplant pilaf

I suspect that one of the reasons I've never been crazy about the faddish low-carbohydrate diets is simple and frankly selfish: I like carbohydrates. I like them a lot. I like bread, I like pasta, I like potatoes and I like rice.

But if for some bizarre reason I had to give up all kinds of carbs but one, I would have to stay with rice. From risotto to pilaf to congee to sushi rolls, you can do so many different things with the stuff. Sure, pasta comes in a gazillion shapes, and that's fun; but rice - the staple grain for a large chunk of the Earth - pleases not only with its simple goodness but also for the variety of ways you can prepare it.

A while back (April 11), we talked about risotto, the tasty Italian specialty in which short-grain rice is briefly toasted in oil or butter, then gently simmered in small amounts of liquid with constant stirring, adding just a little liquid at a time until you end up with a delicious creamy finished product.

Today, prompted by a number of E-mail requests, I'll feature the recipe for the dish I mentioned in Tuesday's Wine Advisor: A rice pilaf with eggplant, loosely based on a traditional Turkish pilaf called "Patlicanci."

In a variety of forms, pilaf (rendered "pilau" in some places) spans the Near East from Turkey to India. Like risotto, it customarily begins with a sautee in oil or butter to make it toasty, followed by steaming with liquid in a tightly closed vessel; usually made with long-grain rice, it ends up relatively dry where risotto is creamy.

It starts by parboiling the rice, a technique that's a bit unusual. The procees seems to soften the grains a bit so they'll pick up the aromas and flavors of the spices in this dish while cooking. It takes about 90 minutes to make, but you can easily "multitask" during the first hour while you wait for the rice to parboil and cool and for the salted eggplant to sweat out their bitter juices and then brown in the oven. (If you don't mind calories from fat, you may sautee the eggplant in olive oil instead, but the oven technique presented uses much less oil.)

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1 large or 2 small eggplants, about 1 pound
Salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces (120 grams) long-grain rice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup water
1/2 of a medium red onion
1 or 2 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium tomato or 2 to 3 canned whole tomatoes, enough to make about 1 cup when diced
1 cup water (or 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup tomato juice or V-8 Juice)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
Sea salt
Black pepper
Medium sprig of fresh mint

PREPARATION:

1. At least 90 minutes before dinner, cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes, leaving the skin on. Put them into a colander or strainer, sprinkle with plenty of salt, and set aside for about 30 minutes. Pat them dry, spread them on a greased cookie sheet, and mix them with 2 tablespoons olive oil, trying to get a little oil on every surface. Bake in a pre-heated 450F oven for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown. Scoop into a bowl and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, put the rice in a large cup and mix in 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Pour 1 cup boiling water over the rice, stir, and let stand until the water is lukewarm. Drain, rinse with cool water, drain again and set aside.

3. Peel and remove most seeds from the tomato (if you're using a fresh one) and cut it into dice. Chop the mint into fine shreds.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chopped red onion and garlic until it's translucent; reduce heat to medium, add the rice, and stir until it's dry and toasty. Add the tomatoes, stir, then add the eggplant, the cup of water or water-juice mix, and the cinnamon and allspice, plus sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

5. Cover tightly, reduce heat to very low, and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the liquid is all absorbed and the rice is cooked. It's OK to peek and stir on occasion, but it's best to leave pilaf covered as much as possible so the flavor-laden steam will stay in. When the dish is done, lift the lid, spread a dish towel over the contents, and put the lid back on. Let it stand off heat for 10 minutes or so.

6. Check seasoning, sprinkle with finely shredded fresh mint and serve.

MATCHING WINE: The Terredora 1999 Aglianico d'Irpinia from Campania in Southern Italy made a wonderful match - this fruity red boasts cinnamon-and-spice aromatics that seemed to sing in four-part harmony with the dish. Just about any fruity red with a spicy flavor profile should work very well - a Mourvedre, for example, or an oaky Rioja.

Let us hear from you!

If you have suggestions or comments about The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter, or if you would like to suggest a topic for a coming edition and recipe, please drop me a note. I really enjoy hearing from you, and I try to give a personal reply to all mail if I possibly can. The Ask A Question form at http://www.wineloverspage.com/ask_a_question.phtml is the easiest way to reach me, but if you prefer, you may also send E-mail to wine@wineloverspage.com.

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Thursday, May 23, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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