Despite the list of ingredients below, in order of impact, the key inputs here are mint, aubergines, walnuts and sundried tomatoes. With the exception of a good splash of lemon juice, everything else on the ingredients list of my “ideal inclusions” can either be substituted (giant cous cous works well instead of rice, for example) or omitted.
I first made this for a friend – a foodie who had been suffering horrendously with gall stones for months. One of the only foods she could consistently eat without doubling up in agony later was rice and, on this occasion, she said she quite fancied aubergines too. Onions and garlic were strictly off limits – much to my horror – so I attempted to jazz things up with loads of herbs, coriander and mint. I also used fennel, both the vegetable itself and seeds, which are renowned as being good for digestion.
Play around with the proportions of rice. When I first made this, it was for a special occasion hence I wanted to make this dish as interesting as possible, but wild rice isn’t exactly cheap. In fact you don’t have to use wild rice at all; I often make this with brown rice and the example in the photo is actually made with Waitrose’s basmati and wild rice mix. Check to see how long your rice of choice takes to cook and get going with it first if the cooking time is over 40 minutes – the vegetables will take at least this length of time to roast. Cooking times may vary with the brand/variety you use but wild rice seems to take around 40-50 minutes (shorter if you are organised enough to soak it first). Put your oven on timer to remind you to add the basmati (or other rice) if using.
Aubergines are complete oil magnets. To somewhat limit the relentless absorption, you can slice the aubergine into rounds, sprinkle the spongy white flesh with salt and press between layers of kitchen roll for a few hours before cooking but I usually forget to do this. Instead, I use my trusty non-stick Teflon baking sheet (from Robert Dyas or Tesco) to line a large baking tray and cook the aubergines in there with about a tablespoon – rather than half a pint – of oil.
Ingredients (4 generous servings)
100g wild rice
100g wholegrain basmati or wholemeal long grain rice
2 large white onions
2-3 cloves of garlic (optional)
1 red chilli (optional)
1 fat bulb of fennel (nice to include if you have it)
1-2 peppers (optional)
Sundried tomatoes (I use half a 530g jar)
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds (optional)
1 red onion (optional, for garnishing)
Mint (a 25g packet works well)
Walnuts (about 100g))
Preheat the oven to 200 (fan)/220 conventional.
- For the rice, dice the white onions and fry in some of the oil from the sundried tomatoes. When golden, tip in the rice and cook for a further minute or two, stirring well, before adding about 400ml of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and cook according to the rice packet instructions; you may need to add some more water to stop it sticking towards the end of the cooking time. The sundried tomatoes can go in at any point during the cooking process (I usually add some at the start and the rest at the end).
- For the aubergines, cube, lightly drizzle with oil – using your hands to ensure that the chunks are evenly covered – and then roast in the oven in a baking pan (non-stick if you have one).
- Give the aubergine a 20 minute cooking head start then add the fennel, fennel seeds and pepper if using. Cook for another 20-40 minutes (so up to an hour in total) depending on the power of your oven and the size of the pieces of vegetables. I like my aubergines golden and tender but a bit of crunch from the fennel and red pepper is a nice contrast. Salt the vegetables just before they are due to come out of the oven.
- When both the aubergine mixture and the rice are cooked, transfer the vegetables into the saucepan of rice. Stir and cook very gently for a few minutes, allowing everything to combine, whilst you adjust the seasoning and add the lemon zest and juice. I also add a bit more oil from the jar of sundried tomatoes and throw in a diced red onion.
- Just before serving, finely shred the mint and add the walnuts.