Believe me, I know I’ve posted too many aubergine recipes here but it just happens! Aubergine is one of the most used vegetables in Persian cuisine and available throughout the year. A whole lot of Persian dishes, from stews to dips, including this chicken and aubergine stew recipe, are made with aubergines. That’s why I keep posting aubergine recipes. I have no choice, you see?
My lot never get tired of having aubergine stews (khoresht bademjan). These stews, whether with meat or chicken or meatless, are yummy and comforting. Like most other Persian stews khoresht bademjan is served with piles of fluffy rice and tahdig (the coveted crust from the bottom of the rice pot) and accompaniments such as fresh fragrant soft herbs (sabzi khordan), pickles, salad and yoghurt. Doesn’t that sound like a feast?
Don’t be put off by the mention of unripe grapes in the ingredient list. I know it’s not an easily available ingredient but this stew with its buttery fried aubergines can be made without it too and will be equally delicious in its own right. Bear with me and I will tell you all about unripe grapes and what to substitute for them if you can’t find any.
Bademjan-ghooreh mosama hails from the Caspian Sea region in the north of Iran but it’s quite popular throughout the country now. In the summer it’s made with fresh unripe grapes (ghooreh) and in the winter with unripe grapes preserved in brine (ghooreh ghooreh) or frozen unripe grapes.
When I moved to the UK six years ago I thought finding Persian ingredients such as brined unripe grapes or verjuice would be very difficult. Soon I realised that London is the most amazing of all cities and probably the most cosmopolitan. In London I found many Persian and other Middle Eastern groceries where I could buy everything I needed to cook the meals we had back home. I don’t live in London anymore but I can still stock my Persian pantry with ingredients I find online and at Asian or Turkish groceries. Bless them, they are pretty amazing!
Unripe grapes are quite acidic in flavour when raw but the flavour mellows with cooking. They impart a flavour similar to limes and lemons to stews. So if unripe grapes can’t be found, you can still make the stew and flavour it with fresh lime or lemon juice. I’ve made this dish a few times with slightly unripe gooseberries (both fresh and frozen). Gooseberries almost look like unripe grapes and the flavour is similar too.
Enough choices? You may even have a vine with grapes that haven’t ripened yet, won’t ripen because the weather has just not been warm enough or you need to thin out a few bunches to allow the other bunches to grow better. Pick some and chuck in the freezer. They will be delicious in many stews where lemon or lime juice are called for.
We often use verjuice to flavour this and other stews too. Verjuice is the juice pressed from unripe grapes. It’s a fantastic souring and flavouring agent. I was quite surprised when I found out that verjuice had been a staple in British kitchens before lemons from the Mediterranean became available. And I hear that it’s now being produced in Sussex, England, from grapes destined for sparkling white wines. I still have to try that but I suspect it will be a little less acidic than the Iranian variety which is quite strong and deep red in colour.
For this recipe try smaller aubergines so they keep their shape better and look nicer after cooking. I made this one with very small aubergines (about 12 centimetre long and a bit chubby) that I found at our local Asian grocery. They always have a variety of aubergines of all sizes, shapes and colours. Long and slender aubergines are the best but they are not common in supermarkets.
This recipe will feed four. Serve with plain rice and a nice chopped tomato and cucumber salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar. Add about 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon or lime juice to the sauce before arranging the chicken and aubergines in the pan if you don’t have unripe grapes or verjuice.
- 4 medium aubergines or 3 large
- 3-4 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed or other vegetable oil
- 2 medium red onions, finely chopped
- 30g butter
- 4 pieces of chicken (large thigh or medium breast), skin removed
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 small piece of cinnamon stick
- A few threads of saffron, ground to powder (optional)
- 400ml boiling water
- A handful of cherry tomatoes
- A handful of brined unripe grapes (ghūreh ghūreh) or fresh unripe grapes
- Peel the aubergines, remove the stems and halve lengthwise (cut them in four if they are too big). With smaller aubergines like the ones I used (see the picture above) you can keep the stem on and cut almost to the top without separating the two halves at the stem end. They will be a bit faffier to fry but I like the presentation better. Once they are golden and soft on the outside you can spread the two flaps to fry the inner sides too. Your choice which way to go.
- Put the prepared aubergines in a large shallow casserole dish or frying pan (preferably non-stick). Drizzle the oil on the aubergines and rub the oil all over them. Cook the aubergines on medium-low heat, turning occasionally, until they are golden brown all over. Partially covering the pan with a lid during the first few minutes helps soften the aubergines faster and you get a better and more even colouring. Add more oil during cooking if the pan is too dry. Alternatively, brush the aubergine halves generously with oil and roast in a preheated 180C/375F oven on a non-stick coated baking sheet for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the aubergines from the pan and set aside.
- Melt the butter in the same pan and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add one more tablespoon of oil to the pan and cook the chicken pieces until golden on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Return the fried onions to the pan. Add the turmeric and tomato puree and cook for two minutes, stirring from time to time. Pour in the boiling water and bring to the boil. Add the ground saffron, salt, pepper and cinnamon stick, lower the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
- Add the fried aubergine to the pan and scatter the unripe grapes and cherry tomatoes on top. Brined unripe grapes can be quite salty. Taste and rinse with water before adding to the pan if needed. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. If using lemon/lime juice it’s time to add it now.
- Cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes or until the chicken pieces are well done, the aubergines are very soft and buttery and the sauce has reduced in half. The sauce must be of the consistency of gravy. Serve with rice.