Persian Aubergine (Eggplant) Stew with Meatballs & Dried Lime
Last night when I realised the only things I had in the fridge were a few aubergines, a handful of cherry tomatoes and some mince, the first thing that came to my mind was an aubergine stew, a cheat’s version, though. The proper one is made with cubed lamb.
What I made is a quick version of the scrumptious Persian gheymeh bademjoon, one of the variants of a fragrant stew of lamb/beef/chicken with slow-fried aubergine called khoresh bademjoon (aubergine/eggplant stew).
Meat plays the second fiddle to vegetables and herbs in many Persian dishes. Have you ever heard of a kilo of herbs going into a dish for six people? Well, that’s quite normal for a Persian dish. For the same reason the name of this stew remains “aubergine stew” whether it’s lamb, beef (chunks or mince or meatballs) or chicken that it’s cooked with. Aubergine is the king and reigns in this stew, quite rightfully!
Aubergines are often paired with chicken. One of the tastiest ever Persian stews is the one in the picture below. It’s made with aubergines and chicken and is flavoured with unripe sour grapes (ghooreh), saffron and cinnamon. Sour grapes sound a bit daunting but their lemony flavour brings out the best in aubergines and chicken.
Last year I posted a recipe for one of the other quick variants of khoresh bademjoon with chicken breasts and courgettes. That one (in the picture below) became very popular with my readers. For the recipe look here.
I’m very lucky the UK, at least the south, is so cosmopolitan. London has so many Persian and Middle eastern groceries I’m never lacking for ingredients. Every time I visit London to see friends I make sure I stock my pantry for a good while. There aren’t any Persian groceries in our town but luckily there are Asian shops where I can find a lot of the ingredients I need and a large array of vegetables, herbs and spices I can’t normally find in big supermarkets.
Supermarkets in the UK usually stock one type of aubergine, the big slightly rounded one, whereas in Asian shops I often find several different types including the lovely sweet and longish ones in the picture above.
I like to keep this dish a bit on low-fat side and usually make it with olive oil but if you don’t have my scruples about calories do add a big knob of butter to the sauce and use more oil to fry the aubergine slices. Makes it so much more delicious.
Aubergine stews are almost always served with plain Persian rice and obviously with such accompaniments as sabzi khordan (for a picture and non-recipe look here), torshi (vinegary pickles), yoghurt and perhaps a chopped tomato and cucumber salad (salad shirazi).
To serve four you will need the following ingredients:
- 200g yellow lentils (split peas)
- 2-3 dried limes (black or regular)
- 400g lean beef mince
- 1 small onion, grated
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp mild curry powder
- 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 5 tbsp oil (I prefer olive oil)
- 1tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 3 medium aubergines
- A handful of cherry tomatoes
- 1/8 tsp ground saffron
- Wash the limes and put in a small jar, cover with boiling water and put the lid on. Set aside to soak.
- Pick over the yellow lentils and rinse. Put in a small saucepan and cover with water. Brings to the boil, then lower the heat and let cook for about fifteen minutes (cooking time depends on the type of lentils. Asian ones which are larger in size cook fast while the smaller Persian ones take a bit longer to cook). Don’t overcook or they’ll get mushy. They must have a bite in the centre. If you are using yellow lentils that quickly go mushy (as they should be in Asian food), try cooking them in a little oil for a couple of minutes before boiling them. Coating with oil helps them keep their shape better.
- Put the chopped onions in a deep frying-pan with 2 tbsp oil. Cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until lightly golden. Add the turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon curry powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the spices are fragrant and onions are golden. Add the tomato past and stir. Cook for two minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Wipe the pan.
- Prepare the saffron according to the instructions in How to Use Saffron, the King of Spices with 1/2 tablespoon water.
- Put the mince in a bowl and add the grated onion, 1/2 tsp salt and the black pepper. Use your hands to mix well and shape into about fifteen meatballs.
- Lightly brown the meatballs in the same pan with one tablespoon of oil. Return the fried onion to the pan with the dried limes. Add about one cup of boiling water and bring to the boil. Cover and cook on medium low.
- Put one tablespoon of oil in a lidded frying pan and arrange half the aubergine slices in it in one layer. Put on medium heat and cook, covered for about five minutes until golden brown on one side. Turn, cover again and cook until the other side is browned too and the slices have softened. Repeat with the rest of the aubergine slices and another tablespoon of oil.
- Remove the frying pan with meatballs from the heat. Add the lentils and stir. Arrange the aubergine slices and cherry tomatoes in the pan.
- Add a little more boiling water and the saffron liquid and grinds. The water must almost cover the aubergine slices. Return to the heat. Bring to the boil, cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 40 minutes. The sauce should be almost as thick as thin gravy at the end of cooking so adjust with boiling water if required. Serve with rice. Enjoy!