Our friends Mark and Lisa give a Mardi Gras party every year. But sad-so-sad, we've yet been able to attend. But happy-so-happy, 2014 is our year! It's quite the bash so I've been experimenting with Cajun-style dishes. One Friday awhile back, I cooked red beans for Red Beans & Rice, a Cajun Pot Roast and Dirty Rice with Eggplant. What a meal!
WHAT IS "DIRTY RICE" Now after dinner, there's a pile of dirty dishes and a kid who plays outside is likely to come in with dirty clothes and we all know scoundrels who play dirty tricks. But "dirty" rice, what in dirt is that?! Traditionally, it's a Cajun rice dish, usually white rice made "dirty" with chicken livers and/or gizzards. In this recipe, the "dirt" comes from eggplant and dark-colored rice. Does that make it doubly dirty? I'm gonna say so!
For calorie watchers, adding vegetables to a starchy dish is a good "trick" to reduce the calories and carbs. But to my taste, it's not enough to "just" save calories. The vegetables must actually work "with" the starch to create something even better than (or at least as good as) the original.
So how does eggplant work in Dirty Rice? Great! The eggplant skins create the "dirty" look plus the mild eggplant flesh easily absorbs the Cajun spices. This is a winner! I would happily take it to a Mardi Gras party or a Cajun dinner.
RECIPE for CAJUN DIRTY RICE with EGGPLANT
Time to table: 90 minutes
Makes 10 cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced small
2 ribs celery, 1 diced small, 1 cut in larger pieces (see ALANNA's TIPS)
1 green pepper, half diced small, half diced in larger pieces
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
1 eggplant, about 1 pound, skin left on, trimmed and cubed small
Additional 1/2 teaspoon pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspooon chipotle
1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
1-3/4 cups uncooked brown rice (see TIPS)
2 1/2 cups good stock (vegetable stock for vegetarian/vegan, chicken stock for others)
Chopped green onion, green parts only, optional
PREP Set oven to 350F/175C. "Mise en place" the "Trinity" and "Eggplant" ingredients, keeping the "large" pieces of celery and green pepper separate. (I know, I know, mise en place isn't actually a verb but what it means is to prep the vegetables and measure the spices before beginning to prep.)
TRINITY In a large, heavy oven-safe skillet (I used a LeCreuset, cast iron would work beautifully), heat the olive oil on medium high until shimmery. All at once, add the Trinity ingredients EXCEPT the larger pieces of celery and green pepper. Sauté just until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the larger pieces and saute very briefly, just a minute or two.
EGGPLANT All at once, stir in the eggplant ingredients and cook, stirring often, until the eggplant is fully cooked, about 10 minutes. (If the vegetables start to stick, deglaze the pan with a splash of the chicken stock.)
RICE All at once, stir in the Rice ingredients except the chicken stock, combine well. Stir in chicken stock and bring to a boil.
OVEN Cover, transfer to oven and bake for about 1 hours until the rice is soft and plump and most of the liquid has been absorbed. If liquid remains, uncover for a few minutes to allow it to evaporate.
REST Fluff the rice, then re-cover and let rest for about 10 minutes.
GARNISH Sprinkle with green onion and serve immediately.
MAKE-AHEAD, TWO CHOICES
Completely make a day or two ahead and refrigerate. To reheat, add about a cup of additional chicken stock and heat in a 350F oven until hot, allowing about an hour.
Partially make a day or two before, stopping before adding the chicken stock. On the day of serving, heat the mixture and the 2-1/2 cups chicken stock on the stovetop until boiling, then finish as directed in the oven.
ALANNA's TIPS & KITCHEN NOTES
WHY TWO SIZES OF VEGETABLES? I've really started to pay attention to "layering" vegetable dishes, building flavors in layers. Here, I wanted to sauté the small pieces in the normal fashion, until quite soft but wanted the larger pieces to be still quite firm and visually identifiable. The fuss is all about building both flavor and texture, not allowing the dish to become one big homogenous pot.
RICE CHOICES I used a 50:50 mix of brown rice and a blend of wild rice/red rice/kamut. I loved how the darker grains added to the "dirty" look. I suspect that white rice might cook more quickly.
HEAT Acck, sensitivity to heat varies so much from person to person. I suspect that the spices listed will turn out "mild" for those who like lots of heat but it was perfect for us. To turn up the heat, use more black pepper, white pepper and chipotle.
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