Pulao with Eggplant

Eggplant Pulao

Long ago, when I hadn’t yet learned how to boil water, I read an article in a Bombay newspaper about the great filmmaker Ismail Merchant and his passion for cooking. The reporter had spent a day with Merchant as he prepped dinner in a Bombay kitchen for friends and his film crew. I don’t remember the details of what he was cooking any more, but I remember that reading about all those sumptuous foods made me long to be there, in that kitchen, eating that food.

So when I came across a hardcover, used copy of the 1994 cookbook, Ismail Merchant’s Passionate Meals: The New Indian Cuisine for Fearless Cooks and Adventurous Eaters, while browsing through Powell’s Books in Portland (said to be the largest used and new bookstore in the world– the flagship store occupies a whole city block), I just had to buy it. Even if it meant lugging it back home in my bursting suitcase.

Eggplant Pulao

Merchant, who made visually sumptuous movies like Heat and Dust, The Bostonians, and Howard’s End with his partner, James Ivory, grew up in Bombay. His recipes drew (he passed away a few years ago) from his Indian upbringing, but the spices appeared to be mellowed down to adapt to Western tastebuds. While I am not one to shy away from a full-blown spice experience, Merchant’s recipes sound truly delicious and somewhat different than your traditional Indian offerings. Last night, I decided to try out his Eggplant Pulao, a luxurious-sounding rice dish made with just a handful of ingredients and quite different from the traditional Eggplant Rice (Vangi Bhat) I make.

It was a safe choice, in some respects: eggplant is the top veggie in our home, and anything made with it (and rice) is bound to go down fabulously, no questions asked. And I loved the peanut-eggplant combination too, because it’s such a classic.

I didn’t mean to change the recipe much except to replace the butter with a smidgen of oil, but I did tweak a few other things too: I replaced the sugar with jaggery, because this unrefined Indian sugar has a deep taste that is perfect with the eggplant-peanut pairing, and I reduced the ratio of rice to eggplant so I would have more eggplant in each bite.

I served the eggplant rice with my Tomato-Coconut Cream Curry, one of the first recipes I ever learned to make and one I got from another favorite Indian cookbook author, Vimla Patil. I already have that recipe on the blog and you can find it here.

The meal took less than an hour to put together, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. The nutty eggplant was amazing with the sweet-sour tang of the curry. This is a great weeknight recipe for those times you want something special.

Enjoy, all!

Eggplant Pulao
4.0 from 1 reviews
Pulao with Eggplant
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Eggplant Pulao
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 6
  • 1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp poppy seeds
  • 2 jalapenos or serranos, cut into rings or finely minced (I keep the seeds, but remove them if you want the dish to be less spicy)
  • 1 tbsp jaggery or regular sugar
  • ¼ cup roasted peanuts, coarsely powdered
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into small pieces (Merchant recommends peeling it, but as you know, I never do. Why put in more work for less nutrition?)
  • 1½ cups basmati rice, soaked in water for about 30 minutes, then drained
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat the oil in a skillet.
  2. Add the cumin seeds and when they sputter, add the poppy seeds, peanuts, green chilies and jaggery.
  3. Saute until the mixture is toasted and begins to brown, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the eggplants and mix them well. Now add 3 cups of hot water.
  5. When the water comes to a boil, add the rice. Add salt to taste.
  6. Bring the mixture back to a boil. Then cover with a tight-fitting lid, turn the heat to low, and let the rice cook for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes turn off the heat and let the pulao stand at least another 10 minutes before serving.

To serve, fluff up the rice with a fork, then drizzle over it some Tomato-Coconut Cream Curry.


I wanted to give a shout-out here to the very talented Mints of the blog Vadani Kaval Gheta who sent me the most beautiful table runner (the blue one you see in the Eggplant Pullao pictures) and doilies a few weeks back. I was really surprised to find them in the mail, and absolutely awed by how lovely they are. Best of all, she made them herself. Thanks, Mints– I will cherish these for a long, long time!


Finally, some of you asked for pictures of our trip to the west, so here they are. Many thanks to my enthusiastic photographer, Desi.

Despite about a thousand noisy tourists, including some who found it really amusing to honk with the sea lions, this guy was determined to have his nap in San Francisco Bay. I watched him for a full 15 minutes to see if he would roll over into the bay, but he’d adjust himself ever so often without opening an eye.

Stunning California: We stopped many times along our drive to ooh and aah over the beautiful, picture-postcard landscapes.

Mount Shasta in California: Luminous, Gorgeous, Awe-Inspiring

The beautiful, colorful rotunda of the state capitol building in Sacramento, California

The imposing state capitol in Olympia, Washington.

And the rather unusual, art-deco state capitol building of Salem, Oregon

 Oregon was one of the best parts of our trip, with its heady mix of natural beauty and weirdness.

Where it started: Tourists at the first Starbucks ever, in Pike Place, Seattle

Night over Seattle, from the Space Needle


In Vancouver’s Capilano Rainforest, it’s easy to remember the ephemeral quality of time: Ancient Douglas Firs like this 1300-year-old tree shoot more than 200 feet into the sky. One of the rainforest’s chief attractions is a suspension bridge that hangs 230 feet above the Capilano River, swaying just a little with every footstep. And the glass Cliffwalk, a series of narrow, precarious-looking  but actually very safe walkways, offers yet another thrill as you explore the forest from way above the treetops.

The Dogs we Met: From German Shepherds to Great Pyrenees, the people of the west coast sure love their dogs. These guys — just a handful of the many, many canines we met on our trip– were always ready and willing to offer a friendly wag and sometimes a kiss, making us miss our kids back home a little more. We even met a couple of intrepid dogs who were calmly walking on the swaying suspension bridge in the Capilano rainforest. Lucy, who hesitates to set foot on  the tiniest wooden bridges over shallow streams when we go out hiking, would have had a heart attack!

This last guy was walking off the leash with his mom in Portland (a scenario I can never imagine indulging in with my highly opinionated dogs) and he absolutely refused to be distracted by anything or anyone. Desi tried his best to get some attention by falling to his knees and holding out a hand, but the dog, frankly, didn’t give a damn.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Get new recipes by email. Sign up below.


  1. says

    What lovely pictures! Desi has captured the beauty so well, I loved the suspension bridge pics, I felt a tight knot in my tummy at the thought of walking across that with my almost 4 yr old. Good heavens! If I can walk across that bridge, and live to talk of it, that will be an accomplishment!

    • says

      Thanks, Manasi– I’ll be sure to tell Desi you liked his pictures. Walking on the suspension bridge is really not scary at all. It’s very stable and very, very well-supported. I think you and your son would love it.

  2. says

    You came all the way to California? I would have loved to meet you and Desi! Pictures are beautiful.

    Eggplant pulav looks yummy!! I will definitely try it this way.

    Thank you for kind words :) I am glad you loved the table runner and doily :)

    • says

      Mints, I would have loved to see you too. We were in San Francisco for only a day and a half, so I didn’t have much of an opportunity to reach out. I hope you will visit me in Washington one day. And thanks again for the beautiful gifts.

  3. says

    The scenic photos of your trip are stunning, I particularly love the seal lion and of course, all of the dogs.

    I also must apologise for not commenting for ages. We lost our darling Jasper 5 months ago so it’s been a very difficult time, I wasn’t able to write anything about it on my blog until just over a month ago. Thanks for all of your support last year and I’m really pleased to hear that Lucy is still doing well. :)

  4. Anonymous says

    Hi Vaishali

    Liked ur statement ‘Why put more work for less nutrition!’ :)
    Thank you for sharing the recipe and pics :)

  5. Hannah says

    I LOVE your version of Vah chef’s Eggplant peanut subzi and I bet this would be delicious! Those two flavours just seem to go so beautifully. I like a pullao with a dal though, what sort do you think would go best?

  6. says

    Vaishali! This looks so great! What do we do with the peanuts?

    PS I live about 45 miles from SF and I see the seals about once a year. Even though it’s the touristy thing :)

    • says

      Hi SkinnyMinnie, put in the peanuts along with the green chillies and the poppy seeds. I’ve added it to the instructions. Thanks for pointing out.

  7. Chessie says

    I made this for dinner tonight, and it is pure comfort food. I was worrying about the seeds burning during the frying phase, and I kept adding a little water. Then after adding the 3 cups of water, this turned out more like porridge instead of the nice, fluffy pulao in your photos. It was still yummy, though, and I’ve noted what to do differently next time.

    I used jalapenos with seeds and this was not spicy at all. Would you suggest adding more peppers (or maybe serranos instead) or some chili powder next time, or is this not supposed to be hot?

    • says

      Hi Catherine, that’s so lovely to know, and thanks for the feedback. The seeds won’t burn, especially once you’ve added the other ingredients. Cumin needs to be sputtered over fairly high heat because otherwise they won’t heat enough to crack open, which is the desired result. This recipe is not supposed to be too hot because it’s meant by the original author for western tastebuds :), but if you want more heat, go for it and add serranos! They would be marvelous here.

Leave a comment!