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Category: Vegan

Aubergines Stuffed with Walnut & Pomegranate (Bademjan Kabab)

This stuffed aubergine (eggplant) recipe is quite unusual but really really tasty in my opinion. Just think of the earthy flavour of walnuts and the tangy sweetness of pomegranate syrup (molasses). Doesn’t that sound mouthwatering?

Every Iranian cook has a few stuffed aubergine recipes in their repertoire but most recipes call for meat in some form, in small cubes as in my mother’s recipe or ground as in many others’. The meat (lamb or beef) used for stuffing aubergines is usually mixed with parboiled rice, yellow lentils and herbs. Stuffed aubergines are usually cooked in a sauce flavoured with tomato paste or fresh tomatoes.

Persian-stuffed-aubergine
Dolmeh bademjan is a very popular dish and has many variations. This one is stuffed with ground meat, rice and herbs. It’s been cooked in tomato sauce.

The northern Iranian bademjan kabab, however, is completely vegan. I fell in love with it the first time I had it and often make it as a starter for my vegetarian/vegan friends, but not only them as most others seem to enjoy it a lot too. I love the tang of the pomegranate molasses (syrup) and the earthiness of the walnuts. A little cinnamon that the recipe calls for makes it just the perfect flavour combination for me.

Pomegranates grow wild all over the northern regions of Iran. The seeds of wild pomegranates are usually small and the flavour is quite sour. Pomegranate molasses, a very thick reduction of pomegranate juice, is usually made from wild pomegranates. Sugar may only be added if a sweet and sour flavour is desired.

wild-pomegranates
Pomegranate syrup is made by reducing the juice of wild pomegranates. Northern Iranians like it sour and make it very thick but in other areas sugar is sometimes added for a sweet-sour flavour.

bademjan kabab is traditionally served with plain rice, pickled vegetables (torshi) and sliced or grated large radishes similar to mooli. In the traditional method the aubergines are fried in oil before they are stuffed. In the interest of health I prefer to bake them in the oven. Both methods work nicely. It’s best to use longish aubergines. Asian groceries usually have beautiful long ones that are perfect for this dish.

preparing-aubergines-for-stuffing
Bake aubergines in the oven until the flesh is really soft.

Different brands of pomegranate molasses vary in tartness and thickness so it’s a good idea to taste the filling and adjust the sweet-sour balance to your liking with a pinch of sugar if you are prefer a slightly sweet and sour flavour.

For a meaty stuffed aubergine recipe check out my yummy Stuffed Aubergines with Garlicky Beef Mince recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium aubergines
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 100g ground walnuts
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 5 tbsp pomegranate molasses (or to taste depending on the thickness of the molasses)
  • 50g butter (use 3 tbsp oil for vegan)
  • 150ml boiling water
  • A handful of pomegranate seeds to garnish

 

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C) and line a baking sheet with aluminium foil.
  2. Make a 3 cm deep incision lengthways in each aubergine to allow opening a pocket for filling when they are baked. Rub the aubergines with the oil. Cover very loosely with foil. Bake for half an hour or until the aubergines are really soft. This may take longer or shorter depending on the size of your aubergines so keep an eye on them.
  3. Melt 20 grams of the butter and sauté the onion until lightly golden. Add the spices and cook for one minute, then add the ground walnuts and the pomegranate molasses. Adjust the seasoning and use a pinch of sugar if the filling is too tart.
  4. Gently pull the sides of the cut in each aubergine apart to create a pocket for the filling two thirds of the way down. Fill each aubergine with one fifth of the walnut mixture.
  5. Melt the rest of the butter in the same frying pan and arrange the aubergines in it. Mix the rest of the filling mixture with the water and pour over the aubergines. Cover with the lid and cook on low heat for 30 minutes or until the aubergines are a little browned on the bottom and the oil has separated from the sauce. Gently transfer the aubergines with two large spatulas onto a serving dish. Pour the sauce over, garnish with the reserved pomegranate seeds and serve. Enjoy!

Spicy Persian Pickles (Torshi Bandari)

It’s that time of year again when I can’t stop myself from pickling whatever I find.  Last week I spent two days pickling which reminded me I had often been asked for an easy torshi (Persian pickles) recipe and a post dedicated to torshi was long overdue.

Torshi is an indispensable part of Persian meals, except breakfast of course because it’s vinegary, sharp and often spicy. Iranians believe it aids in digestion of heavy foods so one or even several types are often served with big meals. Torshi bandari is a delicious spicy one that goes very well with most polo khorsh (rice and stew) dishes, kotlet (meat and potato patties) and lamb hotpot (abgoosht).

Persian-pickles-torshi
Stone fruit such as peaches, apples and pears are often used to make torshi.

Bandari in the names of Iranian dishes means they hail from the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Bushehr or Bandar Abbas where the influence of Indian and Arabic cuisines is quite pronounced and the food is quite spicy. This sour and spicy torshi is very easy to make and can be enjoyed right away but it will also keep in the fridge at least for a couple of months.

torshi-and-shoor
Autumn is the best time of the year to make pickles.

There are literally hundreds of types of torshi. Most common vegetables used for making torshi are aubergine (eggplants), garlic, peppers, chillies, Jerusalem artichokes, cucumbers, celery, cauliflowers, white and red cabbages, Persian shallots (moosir) and tomatoes. Plums, apples, pears and peaches are often used in pickles too. Most torshi are flavoured with herbs and spices. Vinegar, tomato juice, verjuice and tamarind are used as souring (and preserving) agents.

Each region of Iran and Iranian family has its own favourite torshi recipes according to local produce and preferences. One of the most popular throughout the country is garlic pickles (sir torshi). According to Persian medicinal lore the older it gets, the more health benefits it acquires. I had a jar of twenty year old sir torshi I had made when I started my own family. There’s a five year old one now I made soon after I arrived in my new home.

sir-torshi
Whole heads of garlic are pickled in wine vinegar. The older, the better.

Making torshi must be an ancient method of preserving vegetables and fruit. The Persian word torshi means “sour” and was borrowed in many languages including Albanian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Egyptian Arabic and Greek most probably in Ottoman times through Turkish tursu (pronounced turshu).

baked-aubergines
Bake aubergines in hot oven to soften the flesh and reduce moisture.

The most important point in making torshi is to make sure all the ingredients are of the highest quality, washed well and air dried for at least half a day so there’s no moisture when they are mixed with vinegar. Any moisture will result in dilution of the vinegar and the torshi will go off quickly. To avoid that drain the chopped vegetables and spread them on clean tea towels and allow to dry before using.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium aubergines
  • 1 large carrot
  • 4 florets of cauliflower
  • ½ red pepper
  • ½ green or yellow pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 medium hot chillies (or more if you wish)
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander seeds
  • ½ tbsp celery seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin seeds
  • ½ tbsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsp dry mint
  • 2 tbsp dry parsley
  • 2 tbsp dry tarragon
  • 100ml tomato juice or passata
  • 3 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 300ml white wine vinegar
  • pinch of sugar (optional)

Method:

  1. Wash the carrots, cauliflower and peppers. Spread on a clean tea towel to dry for a couple of hours.
  2. Wash the aubergines, prick in several places with a fork and wrap in foil. Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees) for 30 minutes or until very very soft. Let cool.
  3. Cut the aubergines in half and scoop out the flesh. Mash well and let drain in a sieve over a bowl.
  4. Finely chop the vegetables, garlic and chillies and allow to air dry for a few hours again.
  5. Mix the aubergine pulp, chopped vegetables, dry herbs, salt and spices in a bowl. Mix the tamarind paste, passata and vinegar and combine with the aubergine mix. Taste and add a little sugar if it’s too sharp. Fill in clean sterilised jars. This torshi can be enjoyed right away but it’s usually better after developing for a couple of weeks. It will keep for months in the fridge or about two months in a cool, dark place.

Persian Plum Soup with Fried Mint Topping (ash-e aloocheh)

Hello there my lovely friends! How about a vegetarian Persian plum soup recipe today? Did I hear yes? I think I did hear a few of you who had “liked” the picture on the social media but I hope you will give it a try even if you hadn’t. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Most classic Persian soups are satisfying meals on their own. Like minestrone they are usually chock full of vegetables, herbs and green leaves, legumes and grains. Cooking ash (a is pronounced as in art) is so important in Persian cuisine that a professional cook is actually called ashpaz “one who cooks soups” and the general word for cooking is ashpazi.

Our most popular thick soup is probably ash reshteh (noodle and beans soup), pictured below.  It’s cooked both for everyday meals and for special occasions. It can be on the menu of restaurants or sold in roadside huts in snowy mountain roads.

Ash-reshteh-Persian-noodle-soup
Ash reshteh (noodle soup) is made with beans, chickpeas, lentils, loads of herbs and hand-pulled wheat noodles.

Egg-drop soups (eshkaneh/eshkeneh) are of a different category. They are quick to make and usually require very few ingredients. My favourite is the one made with onions, dried mint, turmeric and eggs of course. It’s my go to on a cold day when I need something quick, filling and warming. I love to soak torn flatbread in the soup and have it with vinegary vegetable pickles.

eshkaneh-Persian-egg-drop-soup
Eshkaneh/eshkeneh is a delicious rustic quick egg drop soup usually eaten with flatbread “croutons”.

Most Persian soups are vegetarian or even vegan. Adding meat, chicken or stock is usually a choice, not a requirement. My plum soup is also completely vegetable-based but one can make it with stock too. Plum soup is thickened with rice and takes its flavour from caramelised onions, turmeric and herbs.

plum-soup
Plums of all colours and sorts can be used in ash-e aloocheh

I make this soup with whatever kind of fresh plums I happen to have. In early summer I make it with foraged plums (the tiny sour ones), damsons or greengages. Sweet and sour, more on the sour side, is the characteristic flavour of many Persian dishes. I may balance the flavour of the soup with a little sugar if the plums I’m using are too sour. If they aren’t sour enough I add a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice.

plums-for-persian-plum-soup-ash
Stoned plums before turning into pulp in a food processor.

You don’t need to completely puree the plums. Some bits will add texture to the soup. And the herbs don’t need to be chopped too finely either. It’s nicer when the soup is a bit chunky. You can see what you should be looking for in the pictures below.

Stoned plums mashed in a food processor.
Stoned plums mashed in a food processor.
Persian-ash-chopped-herbs
Chop the herbs and spinach roughly before adding to the soup base.

One last thing: Fried mint topping is very often used to garnish soups but it’s much more than a garnish. Fried dried mint adds a lot of flavour to soups and helps with digestion. Combining ingredients in certain ways to help maintain good health is one of basic skills a Persian cook needs to have.

According to principles handed down for generations Persian cooks divide ingredients into two major categories, those that are “hot” and others that are “cold”. Plums like most other stone fruit are considered as “cold”. They can cause indigestion and wind. Mint, on the other hand, is a rather “hot” ingredient. So the topping of this soup balances the “coldness” of the plums.

You can read more about “hot and cold” in Persian cooking and ancient medical lore in The Hot and Cold Secrets of the Persian Kitchen by Tori Egherman in Global Voices to which I made a little contribution.

Ingredients to serve four to six persons:

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp oil (rapeseed, olive or vegetable oil)
  • 11/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 litres boiling water
  • 120g Persian, pudding or arborio rice, rinsed in a sieve
  • 120g yellow lentils (split peas), parboiled and rinsed
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • Pinch of ground black pepper
  • 500g fresh plums or greengages
  • 250g fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
  • 80g coriander, roughly chopped
  • 80g parsley, roughly chopped
  • Sugar, lemon juice (to adjust the flavour if necessary)

For the topping:

  • 2 tbsp dried mint
  • 4 tbsp oil (rapeseed, olive or vegetable oil)

Method:

  1. Put the chopped onion in a saucepan and add the oil. Sauté on medium-low heat until it’s golden brown. This may take as long as fifteen minutes but the slower you cook the onion, the better it will be.
  2. Add the turmeric and stir. Cook, stirring, until you can smell the turmeric.
  3. Add the boiling water and all the rest of the ingredients (except the topping ingredients) to the saucepan. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the rice is completely cooked and thickened the soup and the lentils are soft. Stir from time to time so it doesn’t catch in the bottom.
  4. This soup should be medium thick. If necessary, add a little boiling water to dilute or simmer the soup longer to make it thicker. Adjust the seasoning and if the soup is too sour for your liking, add a pinch of sugar. Let the soup simmer while you are preparing the topping.
  5. Heat the oil in the smallest saucepan that you have over medium low heat. Throw in the dried mint and stir. Cook for a few seconds or until the mint becomes fragrant. Dried mint burns very quickly so remove from the heat as soon as it’s fragrant.
  6. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and add a little fried mint to each serving. Enjoy!