Long time no post! I posted an informal poll on my Facebook page the other day asking which of two recipes you guys would like to see posted first, and this roasted eggplant risotto with capers and basil was the clear winner. (Not to fear: the other recipe is also coming soon). So here I am putting my money where my mouth is and sharing this lovely vegan risotto with you all. P.S. I’m hoping to do more sneak peeks and recipe polls like that in the future, since I usually do my styling and photography in batches; follow along if you like!
I recently went to a lunch meeting at Joe Squared, one of Baltimore’s beloved local pizza joints. You may have seen Joe Squared featured on the Food Network TV show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. A show that is far from vegan but that I still find quite interesting – and I’m thrilled whenever a Baltimore eatery makes an appearance. Though you might not expect it of a pizza place, Joe Squared is actually incredibly vegan-friendly, with several vegan salads on the menu, any of the pizzas available with Daiya or cheeseless, and a whole risotto menu where any of the meatless risottos can be made vegan by swapping cream and cheese for coconut milk.
I had never actually tried one of the vegan coconut milk risottos before, but it was enthusiastically recommended to me by a fellow vegan. I was drawn to the roasted eggplant risotto with capers, tomatoes, crushed pine nuts, and basil. I have to admit I was extremely skeptical of how the coconut milk would work with these Italian flavors, but when I tasted it, I was floored by the deliciousness. The coconut milk mostly provides creaminess, with just a hint of coconut flavor that I found to complement the other notes extremely well. And the briny tang from the capers was just lovely.
Though normally when I go out to eat at restaurants, I plan to save some of my food for leftovers, I finished the whole thing. As serendipity would have it, the very next day I picked up my weekly CSA shipment and it included a beautiful eggplant (aubergine, to some) and Roma tomatoes galore. Considering the abundance of basil growing in my garden right now, it seemed like a sign that I should recreate the roasted eggplant risotto immediately.
This version tastes pretty damn close to what I had at Joe Squared, though not quite as rich – probably due to me not using as much olive oil and coconut milk. But I’d happily slurp up this homemade risotto any day of the week – in fact, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Risotto reheats quite well, so I made a big batch and have been really enjoying the leftovers.
I’m not advertising a 5-ingredient risotto, a 30-minute shortcut, a one-bowl preparation, or a perfect nutrition profile. This roasted eggplant risotto is made with love and I think it shows. If you have any shortcuts you normally like to take with risotto then I’m happy for you to do so; I personally think of risotto as an opportunity to get some tidying up done in the kitchen, while listening to NPR, in between stirring and seasoning the rice. And of course, an opportunity to drink the rest of a bottle of wine while I do so. 🙂
Roasted Eggplant Risotto with Capers and Basil
- 1 large eggplant
- 2 cups short- or medium-grain white rice such as Arborio
- 4 cups vegetable stock or broth plus more as needed, room temperature or warm
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 white or yellow onion finely chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic minced
- 2 cups diced tomatoes (for me, this was 4 Roma tomatoes - no need to peel or de-seed)
- 1 cup white wine (see notes)
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper (plus more to taste)
- 2 to 4 tbsp capers (to taste; drained of any liquid)
- 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice plus more for serving
- 1/3 to 1/2 cups full-fat coconut milk (to taste)
- 1/4 cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil plus more for serving
- salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise and place on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the peel is somewhat blistered and the flesh is very soft. Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the eggplant flesh and finely chop it. My eggplant yielded about 4.5 cups after roasting.
In a large bowl, combine the rice with 4 cups of vegetable stock, and stir it vigorously to wash the starch out of the rice. Pour into a colander, making sure to reserve the starchy broth - this is the liquid that will be used for cooking the risotto. Let the rice drain in the colander for 5-10 minutes.
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the chopped onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and cook for about 1 more minute until fragrant.
- Stir in the drained rice and cook for about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the rice starts to take on a nutty and toasty aroma.
- Add the diced tomatoes and eggplant along with the wine and another pinch of salt, and stir to combine everything. Cook until the wine is absorbed.
Add the oregano and pepper and 1 cup of the reserved vegetable stock and stir. Thereafter, stir the risotto frequently and add 1/2 cup of stock whenever the liquid is absorbed. Stop adding it once the rice is al dente (cooked through, but with a slight bite or chew to it). You may need additional vegetable stock beyond what you used for rinsing the rice.
- Stir in the capers, lemon juice, coconut milk, and fresh basil. Season with salt to taste - due to the richness of the coconut milk, this recipe typically needs a lot of salt added (depending on how salty your broth or stock is).
- Serve hot with additional fresh basil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and of course, a glass of white wine :).
I used an additional 1.5 cups of vegetable broth during cooking. Use a broth or stock that you like; the rice will absorb a lot of its flavor.
I particularly like to use Sauvignon Blanc wine in risotto. Note that the finished product will have a notable wine flavor, though most of the alcohol will cook off. If you prefer more of a gentle wine flavor, or are concerned about alcohol content, feel free to reduce the wine to 2/3 or 1/2 cup. My motto for cooking wine is that if I wouldn't enjoy drinking it, I won't enjoy tasting it in my food.
For alternatives to coconut milk, try finishing the risotto with cashew cream or a pat of your favorite vegan butter.
The step of washing the starch out of the rice is optional, but I find that taking this step yields a risotto with the best balance of creaminess and nutty flavor.
Some risotto techniques in this recipe come from Serious Eats.