Thursday, August 9, 2012

Eggplant and Tomatoes: The Persian Version

I didn’t intend to make this blog adhere to seasonality. Of course I knew it would happen naturally to some degree, but with the CSA, farmers’ markets, generous donations from friends’ gardens and my own handsome brood of herbs, I find myself neck high in and prattling on about summer vegetables.

Naturally I’ve made ratatouille and the tarts, but I’ve got one old favorite recipe I love to make this time of year (and one new (new to me at least) – stay tuned). The old one is something I’ve learned through some family, by interrogating my Iranian friends’ mothers, and the rest by trying a hundred variations of the recipes I found in a couple of Persian cookbooks that were gifted to my parents when I was a kid.

This book is a favorite that my Aunt Tamineh gave them. See?

Technically she’s my great aunt; from Dad’s, the Iranian-ish side of the family. Mom’s side of my family is Irish. But that side is still almost fully saturated Irish blood, and ‘Irish’ has an inherent ‘ish,’ which makes saying someone is Irish-ish quite silly unless their supposed Irishness is so totally marginal that they should be arrested for trying to pick up chicks with dragon beer breath and a ‘Kiss me I’m Irish’ button on St. Patrick’s Day. If you’re going to do that kind of thing you should be enough Irish or a celebrity chef. Mom’s family – most need SPF in partial shade ¬†and are BFFs with the Catholic Church, so I just go ahead and call them Irish.

Anyway here is the book. It was first published in 1960, almost 20 years before the Iranian revolution. As a little girl in DC I remember fun parties at the Iranian embassy. There was actually a nice exchange of Near East recipes with American moms and good relations until Khomeini blew that up. Afterwards my friend Gina and I would play tetherball in the backyard pretending the ball was Khomeini’s head when we really wanted to pull a John McEnroe on it.

I have been asked about Persian food being spicy. There’s nothing spicy about it. I have no idea where folks get that idea, other than I think they mix up ‘I’ countries like Iran, Iraq and India. Persian food is really balanced with fresh herbs and mellow spices, often highlighted by saffron, and punctuated by service of the best. damn. rice. ever.

In the interest of cholesterol reduction and waist whittling, I often make it with chicken (and sub on the butter and shortening) – and the truth is, the light balance of lemon with tomato and an undetectable addition of cinnamon is a beautiful and different way to cook chicken. But the recipe is fabulous, and more traditionally made with beef or lamb. Vida, an almost mother-in-law from a college boyfriend told me about when she grew up in Iran… the lamb had been out eating wild herbs in the country. It sounded sublime the way she looked off wistfully as she mentioned it. When I make lamb I’ll sometimes marinate the cubes in random herbs so I can fantasize that I’m having such an Iranian lamb.

So use whatever suits you to cook up your summer eggplants and tomatoes Persian style and enjoy a dish with fabulous history : )

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Khoreshe Bademjan or Stew with Eggplant

Yield: 5-6 servings

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

a classic recipe from In a Persian Kitchen by Maideh Mazda, with many thanks and lots of love to Aunt Tamineh

Ingredients:

2 medium eggplants, cut into 1" slices
2 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp butter
1 (up to 1.5) lbs stew beef, lamb or chicken cut into 1" pieces
1 medium onion, small dice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
6 Tbsp shortening
1 1/4 cups tomato sauce (the kind in the can works)
1 3/4 cups water
3-4 Tbsp lemon juice
1 large tomato, chopped (optional)

Directions:

- sprinkle eggplant slices with salt and allow to stand 20 minutes (believed to remove some bitterness in the eggplant)
- melt butter in 3-quart pot and saute onion, meat and seasonings
- add tomato sauce, water, lemon juice and let simmer 35 minutes on low heat
- in the meantime, rinse off the eggplant and dice
- fry the eggplant in batches in the shortening and 15 minutes before serving, add to the meat mixture (for a lighter version I toss with olive oil and roast in the oven and add it earlier)
- serve with Persian saffron rice if you can, barley and wild rice pilaf if you need fiber
Nush-e Jan!

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