My girlfriend has been hit with a nasty illness that’s been dragging on and on and on and on… She’s been laid up for two weeks without signs of it passing. Fingers, legs and eyes crossed it’ll pass any day now. Why do these things always seem to seem to strike at the worst time? I’ve been doing my best to serve up the bland food the doctor ordered and I’ve even discovered a new appreciation for life without garlic and chillies. That said, by yesterday evening we were both ready to venture back towards more familiar waters, so I came up with this. I went very easy on the garlic and there’s not even a hint of spicy heat, but I didn’t even miss it. No one flavour overwhelms this dish – every component plays its part and compliments the others. I was juggling a few things at once in the kitchen whilst making this, so rather than doing a one pot, pilaf style meal I cooked it in three overlapping stages: beginning by putting the aubergines and potato on to roast, then the rice on to steam with the aromatic spices, before frying up the onion and finally adding everything to the pan to get to know each other. This is going to become a new regular!
NB: My savoury recipes usually feed two, but I went a bit overboard with this one, which feeds four (although perhaps add a side or two if you have a growling belly)
2 small, or 1 large aubergine
100g basmati rice
1 large onion
100g green beans
25g dried cranberries
1 large clove garlic, peeled and a little bashed
1 large cinnamon stick
5 cardamom pods (mine were quite small)
1 tsp. allspice berries
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
A pinch of saffron
2 tsp. bouillon powder or 1/2 chicken stock cube
1 tsp. ras el hanout
A sprinkling of smoked paprika
A handful fresh oregano
A handful fresh coriander
A squeeze of lemon
Salt & pepper
Begin by preparing the veg to roast – cut the potato into smallish pieces, toss in olive oil and season. Slice the aubergines in half lengthways, score a grid pattern into the flesh with the tip of a sharp knife, and drizzle with oil and season. Cook in a preheated oven until done – about thirty minutes in mine.
Toast the whole spices in a dry pan until the seeds start to pop. Remove from the heat, and add a drizzle of oil and the rice to the pan. Stir well with a wooden spoon until the rice is coated in the oil, then pour in enough freshly boiled water to just cover the rice, with an extra splash thrown in for good measure. Add the bouillon, saffron, cranberries and the garlic clove, then bring to the boil. Let it cook for two minutes, before giving it a quick stir, turning the heat down as low as it will go, and then putting on a tightly fitting lid. Cook for ten minutes, then remove from the heat, remove the garlic (to use next) stir, and set aside.
Finely dice the onion, and fry in the butter in a large pan until golden. Chop the beans and add to the pan, frying until they’re cooked to your taste. Slice the garlic clove and stir through, along with the oregano.
Roughly chop the roasted aubergine and add to the pan, then throw in the potatoes, rice, ras el hanout and paprika, then mix well. Let it all come together in the pan for a couple of minutes before serving. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the top. We ate ours with a good few spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt flavoured with fresh coriander.