Growing up in Vancouver, I had a number of Persian friends, the Persian community being quite strong there. I even remember my first real taste of Persian food – one good friend booked a Persian restaurant for her birthday and we ended the night on the dancefloor with that night’s belly dancer. I remember starting with a salty crumbly cheese with herbs and then continuing with grilled meats served with fluffy basmati rice. That was the first time I tried this cuisine and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Later my family would discover lavash bakeries and even more grilled meats and the luxury of letting a huge pat of butter melt into one’s rice and sumptuous grilled tomatoes. Strangely, it wasn’t until I got to London though that I finally dipped my toes (not literally!) into Persian stews, of which there seems to be hundreds of types.
This stew is one of my favourites, with its slight tang from the dried limes and the lush texture of the aubergines. There are a number of recipes online – all of them different, of course, and I’m sure the number of recipes would continue to increase if I was to survey a number of Iranian families too. Everyone seems to have their own version and here is mine. I used beef (its use seems to be more common in North America) but you can use lamb too (more common here). It isn’t the prettiest of stews (well, you could arrange the aubergines to look very nice on top) but it is definitely tasty!
10 baby aubergines (the long Asian kind)
1 large onion, chopped
500g beef or lamb, cut into chunks
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
2 tbsps tomato paste
1 tsp turmeric
3 small dried limes
large pinch sugar
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with tinfoil and brush the foil with a little olive oil. Clean and trim the stems off the aubergines and then cut them into quarters lengthwise. Place them skin side down on the baking tray and brush liberally with oil. Roast for about 15-20 minutes until they are soft. Set aside.
Place a pot over medium-low heat and when hot, add a good coating of olive oil to the bottom. Add the chopped onion and cook until soft and transparent. Add the beef or lamb, turn the heat up to medium and fry until browned. Add the garlic and continue cooking for a minute or two. Then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, turmeric, and about 1-1/2 cups water (add more if needed to cover the meat) and bring to a boil. Pierce the limes here and there (you’ll need a strong skewer) and add to the pot too. Lower the heat to bring the pot to a simmer and simmer half covered for an hour.
After the hour is up, the meat should be tender but continue cooking if it isn’t so. Add the sugar if required (to balance the sourness). Add the cooked sliced aubergine, stir through and cook until the aubergines are all heated through. Discard the dried limes and serve the stew on basmati rice.