Right now we’re in the midst of one one of those rare occasions, when Purim aligns with Nowruz (the Persian New Year). And since the story of Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai took place in ancient Persia, I’m surprised no one has come up with a catchy name, Thanksgivvukah-style, for the multi-faith celebration.
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In any case, it is always nice to serve a Persian dish for Seudat Purim, the feast served during the holiday. And especially a vegetarian one, in honor of Esther, who maintained a vegetarian diet in order to keep kosher at King Ahasuerus’s palace.
This vegetarian, Persian-style rice dish is a meal on its own. Serve with a simple green salad, and end the meal with – what else? – hamantaschen.
Eggplant, apricot and date polow
2 large eggplants
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons butter
2 cups jasmine rice
1 yellow onion, diced
3/4 cup dried apricots, halved
1/2 cup pitted dates, halved
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Wash eggplants and remove part of the peel, so that the remainder is striped. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise, and then cut each piece in half widthwise. Then slice each quarter into wedges. Arrange eggplant in layers in a large colander over a large bowl, and sprinkle each layer generously with salt. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). Rinse eggplant and dry with paper towels. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Arrange eggplant wedges on baking sheets and spray on both sides with oil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a tablespoon of salt, then roast for 40 minutes, rotating the trays and flipping the wedges after 20 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the rice. In a large pot over high heat boil 2 quarts water with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Wash rice under running water until water is clear, and add to the boiling water. Bring to a boil, cook for 5 minutes, then drain in a colander.
Put 3 tablespoons butter into a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Sauté onion until golden brown, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add apricots, dates, black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg, and mix. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, mix and remove from heat.
Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a dutch oven over medium heat, then remove from heat. Add half the rice and mix well. Arrange half the eggplant over the rice, then top with the rest of the rice. Top the rice with another layer of the eggplant and finish with onion-apricot mixture. Cover pot with two-layered paper towel, then with a tight lid. Cook over low heat for 1 hour. Let set for 5 minutes and serve.