Saturday, December 4, 2010

Post-Thanksgiving Persian Style Eggplant

Oh, how I wished this looked as good as it tastes, because it actually tastes quite good. It's the walnuts. I know it is. They made everything tan. But when I served this at a potluck recently, people actually went back for seconds.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The potluck: A friend had just returned from a trip to Iran with National Geographic Expeditions. They went to all sorts of places - many of the places that tourists would want to go, and some places up in the north that most tourists never make it to. They visited sites whose history stretches back over 4,000 years. The roots of that civilization run deep.

During the course of this trip, their guide was quite open with them, and they had a chance to ask all kinds of "sensitive" questions. The outcome was not surprising: The news we get in this country isn't the same as what the people in Iran think and feel and know to be true. It's the blind men and the elephant all over again. I don't pretend to have a handle on the truth here, just a great appreciation for some understanding of how the people of Iran view the US - they were overwhelmingly positive about Americans - and how they viewed our respective governments - they felt that the problems between our countries had more to do with government than the people.

A lively discussion followed the slide and video show my friend presented to us. I was delighted to be in the company of a group of people who have traveled widely and who were interested in other cultures and ideas. I was also delighted to be treated to some imaginative food. One woman brought a dish which consisted of lentils, dates, beef and I don't remember what else. I must find out in order to create something in that theme. It was the only other dish which might have been considered Persian. (Just think "lamb" instead of "beef".)

I knew I was going to do an eggplant dish as a compliment to the theme of the evening. And once I understood that eggplant would be my contribution, I immediately thought of combining it with walnuts and pomegranate. Very middle eastern. I searched and found a recipe - I can't remember where - which I followed quite loosely. This is what I copied for the ingredients:

5 Asian eggplants (2lb), or 2 large common eggplants with bitterness removed
6 t
Olive oil
Medium-sized onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves
Garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tsp
Ground cumin
1/4 tsp
Ground cinnamon
2 tsp
1 tsp
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp
Ground turmeric
1 tsp
Crushed red pepper
1 cup
Chopped fresh parsley
2 cups
Chopped cilantro leaves, plus 1 cup leaves for garnish
1/2 cup
Chopped fresh mint
2 cups
(1/2 lb) toasted walnuts
1/2 cup
Pomegranate paste diluted with 2 1/2 cups water, or 3 cups pomegranate juice
1 t
Honey or brown sugar, as needed

And the preparation:

1. Peel eggplants, and remove stems. Place segments of common eggplants, if using, in salted water to remove bitterness. Rinse Asian eggplants, squeeze out water with towels and slice into 1 inch thick rounds.

2. Heat 4 T oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add eggplant, and saute on all sides about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove eggplants from skillet, drain on paper towels and set aside. Add remaining oil to skillet, and reheat over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Add garlic during last few minutes of browning onions, and continue cooking. Add cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper, turmeric, crushed red pepper, parsley, cilantro and fresh mint, and saute for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.

3. Grind walnuts in food processor until very fine or sauce will be gritty. Combine walnuts with diluted pomegranate paste and honey, as needed, and stir until sauce is smooth.

4. Pour sauce into skillet. Return eggplants and seasoning to skillet, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer mixture for 30 minutes, or until eggplants are tender, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon. If sauce is too sour, add more honey or brown sugar to taste.

Kitchen Notes:

OK, so I didn't do this exactly. I didn't get to the store which sells pomegranate seeds, but I did find myself in Whole Foods where I got some pomegranate molasses. I've been wanting to experiment with it for some time, and this seemed like the perfect excuse. I think pomegranate molasses has become my new favorite ingredient! You'll need some brown sugar for this, as the molasses isn't all that sweet, but keep tasting it till it seems right.

Oh, and that step #3 above? That's where everything turns tan. I'm thinking that I'm going to experiment next time with some chopped walnuts and adding some pomegranate seeds to make it look prettier. I'll also use some pomegranate juice in addition to the molasses to have enough sauce.

If you try this one and experiment with it, I'd love to hear how you changed it!


Anonymous said...

This sounds really delicious and I think it will be even beter the next day. You're right, it happens all around the world...the view from inside the country always differs to that which the media olds up...sometimes even in its own country...
thanks for this post...I found it interesting!

Cynthia said...

Bookmarked. I know that this will taste great.

Love your comment about the mini pommes anna.

...they felt that the problems between our countries had more to do with government than the people. - it usually is. Isn't it maddening. Thank heavens for friends who travel, share and enlighten.

Penny said...

You are so fortunate to know people who have knowledge of Iran with an insider's view. Keeping an open mind is important and something that seems to be lacking all over the world right now. The eggplant sounds perfect as is; the proof being the rush for seconds.

Sylvia Avey said...

It does sound yummy. Your story reminds of Greg Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea. So eye-opening to see the same story through another person's eyes. Kudos to you for posting your Persian article!

Toni said...

Ronelle - You're right - it was even better the next day.

Cynthia - Mini pommes anna is my new favorite food. I think I could live on that dish!

Penny - I feel very fortunate indeed. The people at that gathering were curious and open minded - two qualities that I find positively addictive!

Sylvia - Thank you!!! If I could come back in the next life as another incarnation of Greg Mortenson, I'd be ecstatic!! As much traveling as I've done, I've never accomplished what he's done in this life.

And to all of you who have commented, all I can say is that you are part of a community of people who make this world a better place. You focus on what's important - food and people and relationships (and the arts!). Your comments are proof that it doesn't matter where we come from or what language we might speak. When we approach each other with open minds and hearts, we each contribute in a positive way to this world. Thank you!!!!

Susan said...

Well...big sigh...this is exactly my kind of dish. Does this have a name or did you conjure it up out of inspiring ingredients? I don't blame you for going with pom paste or juice. I had a lot of headaches with grinding the dried seeds for a recipe. I'm going to bookmark this one in hopes of preparing it early next year after my wave of Euro-Xmas recipes.

Isn't it ironic that we are not the "Ugly Americans" inside Iran, of all places, at least according to this guide? Media has not been impartial since WWII, I'm afraid.

Hope you are well, Toni. Nice, nice recipe.

Toni said...

Susan - I don't have a name for it. I know that I saw a recipe for something like this, and that I tweaked it (of course!) If I could remember where I found it, perhaps it had a name.

In all my travels, I have found that when you talk to the people, they don't hate us. Many people have problems with our government, but not usually with US.

It's one of the things I find most heartening about the food blogging community. We are from all over the world, we have a common interest, and it's that interest which brings us together. Wish we could bring this simple, straight-forward way of interacting to our respective governments!