The combination of the aromatic rice and lentils with the vegetable stew is what makes this Persian dish so delicious and hearty. You definitely can enjoy either one on its own, though.
Cook lentils until soft for about 15-20 minutes (or according to direction on package) - they shouldn't fall apart though. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Add cumin seeds to a pot with some frying oil and sauté for a minute or so. Add rice, spices and salt. Stir in the lentils and raisins, if using, and add 1 cup of water.
Let rice and lentils simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the stove and allow the aromas to infuse for another 10 minutes.
In a pan, sauté eggplant with some oil over medium heat until browning a little, adding a pinch of salt in the process.
In the same pan, sauté onion rings until they start browning. Add garlic, bell pepper and spices (cumin, cinnamon and smoked paprika) and stew all together until the vegetables soften. Add raisins, if using, and cook for a few minutes. Finally add tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, red wine and maple sirup and cook for another 5 minutes over medium heat.
Reduce the heat and mash vegetables with a potato masher (or a fork). Add eggplants and let simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the stove and let sit for a few more minutes.
Serve the vegetable stew together with the rice and lentils or enjoy on its own or with some bread.