Middle Eastern Roasted Vegetable Rice – A fancy, fabulous vegan entree or side dish.
Brace yourself for a truly addicting vegan recipe. Since creating this dish it has quickly become a family favorite. It’s not a “quick fix,” but it’s totally worth the effort. The extra step of roasting and caramelizing the eggplant and carrots before adding them to the rice adds lots of depth to the flavor. Chickpeas are added to make this dish a complete protein. I’ve added copious amounts of turmeric, which ups the health-factor and gives it a gorgeous golden hue. The result is a holiday-worth side dish, or even the centerpiece of a celebratory meatless meal.
The word Basmati is a combination of Sanskrit words– vas, meaning “aroma” and mayup, meaning “ingrained or present from the beginning.” Together the words form vasmati, though it is most often pronounced bas-mati. According to a 2002 article published in The Hindu, Tavpovan, a village near Rishikesh in the Dehradun area of Uttaranchal, is known for producing Basmati rice. There is a story about the famous rice of this area in which a shopkeeper brought the new rice to his home in Punjab. When he cooked it, the scent filled the air and the whole village learned of the arrival of Basmati rice. If you’ve ever cooked Basmati, you know the aroma I’m talking about– it’s delicious, yet difficult to describe. 17th century French merchant and traveler Jean Baptiste Travernier did his best to explain it: “All the rice grown in this country possesses a particular quality causing it to be much esteemed. Its grains are half as small as that of common rice, and when it is cooked snow is not whiter than it is, besides which, it smells like musk and all the nobles of India eat no other. When you wish to make an acceptable present to anyone in Persia, you take him a sack of this rice.”
To create this recipe I borrowed an Iranian cooking method from my fried Farah, which helps rid the basmati of excess starch and makes it super light and fluffy. A version of this method can be found in my Persian Dill and Lima Bean Rice recipe. As the rice cooks, the bottom layer becomes crispy. This delicious, crunchy layer of rice is known as tahdig, the Persian word meaning “bottom of the pot.” Often considered the “prized” part of the rice, the talent of an Iranian cook is often measured by his or her ability to create a quality tahdig. In this recipe, the cooking method results in a sort of “shortcut tahdig.” By heating up the oil prior to adding the rice to the pot, it sizzles and browns the bottom layer. This leads to a tahdig-like crispy bottom, which can be enjoyed in pieces or broken into little crunchy bits and mixed into the rice. Enjoy!
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Beauty shots and styling by Bethany Nauert.
Middle Eastern Roasted Vegetable Rice
- 2 cups white basmati rice
- 16 oz eggplant, sliced into 1-inch cubes
- 2 whole carrots, scrubbed and diced into small pieces
- 1 3/4 cups chickpeas, cooked or canned and drained
- 1 1/2 tsp salt, divided
- 2 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped (parsley can be subbed)
- 1/4 cup pine nuts (optional - if nut allergic omit)
- 6 tbsp olive oil, divided
- Rinse and sort the rice for a minute in the colander with cold water. Pour the rice into a medium mixing bowl and cover it with 2 inches of cold water. Let the rice soak for at least 30 minutes, up to 3 hours.
- Place a rack in the middle of your oven and heat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray baking sheet with nonstick cooking oil spray or brush lightly with olive oil. Spread out the eggplant cubes and diced carrots out on the baking sheet. Drizzle evenly with 2 tbsp olive oil, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of salt, and use clean hands to toss the vegetables, coating them lightly.
- Roast for 10 minutes. Stir the vegetables with a wooden spoon, then continue to roast for 15-20 minutes longer until the vegetables are tender and some pieces are caramelizing. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
- Drain the rice in a colander and rinse again with cold water, shake out the excess water.
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a 5 quart pot. Pour in the rice and 1 tsp salt. Stir. Bring the water back to a boil. Let the mixture simmer uncovered on medium for 5-8 minutes, or until water fully absorbs. Stir the rice periodically during cooking, and make sure you’re careful not to cook too long or your rice will begin to stick to the pot.
- As soon as all the liquid has absorbed, pour the rice into a colander and rinse with lukewarm water, then drain (this step removes excess starch and makes the rice extra fluffy). Rinse and dry the pot and put it back on the stove. To the rice in the colander, add the turmeric, cumin, black pepper, cayenne pepper, fresh chopped cilantro, chickpeas, roasted diced vegetables and pine nuts (if using). Carefully stir these ingredients into the rice in the colander, making sure spices, vegetables and herbs are well mixed throughout the rice. This may take a few minutes. If your colander is on the small side, you may find it easier to mix the rice and other ingredients in a large mixing bowl. I just use the colander to avoid washing an extra dish.
- Pour 1/4 cup olive oil in the bottom of the pot on the stovetop and turn heat to medium. Let the olive oil heat up. Carefully scoop the rice with vegetables out of the colander and into the pot-- it should sizzle as you place the bottom layer of rice. Continue to mound the rice on top of the bottom layer, forming a pyramid-shaped mound in the middle of the pot. Make a hole in the center of the rice mound with the handle of a wooden spoon, pushing it almost to the bottom of the pot.
- Place a thin kitchen towel over the top of the pot, being careful not to let the towel get too close to the heat source. Place the lid tightly over the top of the towel. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes longer.
- Fluff rice with a fork and serve hot. Some crispy bits of rice will form at the bottom of the pan. Eat them and enjoy, or stir them into the rice. They’re delicious!