Eggplant and Tomato Pilaf

2 eggplants, about 3 pounds total weight
2 cups long-grain white rice, preferably basmati
2 teaspoons salt, plus salt to taste
4 cups boiling water
1 cup olive oil, or as needed
1 onion, chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups hot water or tomato juice
chopped fresh mint

Peel the eggplants and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Place the cubes in a colander, salt lightly and toss gently to mix. Let stand for about 1 hour to drain off the bitter juices.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the rice with the 2 teaspoons salt and pour in the boiling water. Stir well and let stand until the water is cold. Drain the rice and rinse well under cool running water. Drain again and set aside.

Rinse the eggplant cubes with cool water, drain well and pat dry with paper towels.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Working in 3 batches and adding 3 tablespoons olive oil with each batch, add the eggplant cubes and sauté until golden brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cubes to paper towels to drain and set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until opaque, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes longer. Add the sautéed eggplant, cinnamon, allspice, salt to taste and pepper and stir well. Pour in the hot water or tomato juice, cover and cook over low heat until the liquid is absorbed, 15-20 minutes.

Uncover the pan, drape a folded kitchen towel over the rim and replace the lid. Let stand for 15-20 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with mint and serve.

Serves 4

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