Eggplants, otherwise known fondly as the potatoes of Iran, have a special place in Persian cuisine. You will find them fried, baked, charred over open fire, or pickled. Their texture ranges from chewy, smooth, chunky, and soft to creamy. They are cooked into Kuku or preserved as a Torshi (pickled) or integrated as a supporting element into a Khoresh or – in this case – featured as the star of the show!
Aubergine, eggplant, berenjena, melanzana, nasu, bademjan, or called by any of its other names, is a somewhat unique vegetable. For as long as we’ve been cooking eggplants, we’ve been debating and fussing over the salting part. Some swear by it, some do it because their grandmother did it and, some deem it to be a time-consuming and unnecessary step.
A little background on the eggplant.
There is a common belief that eggplants are bitter, and need to be salted to remove both the moisture and the bitterness. I have several opinions on the matter, no surprise! One is that the eggplant varieties that are now available to us no longer have the level of bitterness they once had. So we salt to take the bitterness out, even though they are not actually bitter. Also, I rather subscribe to the unpopular belief that bitter is good for us, and frankly I think bitter got the short end of the stick when it came to flavor marketing!
The other reason why eggplants are salted is to remove some of the moisture, in the belief that this will reduce the amount of oil needed to cook them. Eggplants are quite spongy, and within their cellular structure, they hold a lot of moisture. So when salted the liquid within the sponge is extracted and consequently, the vegetable becomes more porous and actually more receptive to receive whatever liquid you offer it. So, the notion that salting will make the eggplant cook with less oil is actually FALSE! Salt because you are seeking a luscious and creamy texture for your eggplant, but not because it reduces the amount of oil. Alternatively, not salting the eggplant will maintain the moisture within the eggplant which then creates a more dense and chewy texture.
Did you know that eggplants are gendered, and come as males and females? Why would that even matter when it comes to cooking? Well, this is nature at its best: Mother Nature has a way of self-sustaining and protecting future generations. So seeds generally have bitter flavors to deter critters from eating the seedlings, thus protecting the next generation of eggplants. Female eggplants produce more seeds than their male counterparts, and so they tend to be more bitter. So, when you’re in the market for eggplants, attempt to identify their gender, and pick them according to your taste! Male eggplants (less bitter) have a shallow and round indentation on the bottom while female eggplants (more bitter) have a deeper and dash-like indentation. Voila!
Khoresh Gojeh Bademjan
- 4 Asian eggplants (or 2 Italian), peeled and sliced in half or quartered depending on the eggplant size
- 1 onion, diced
- 6 tablespoons oil, divided, more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, ground
- 2/3 cup water, more as needed
- 2 tablespoons Ghooreh, (unripe sour grapes)
- 6-8 tomatoes on the vine
- Peel the eggplants and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of salt for 20 minutes. Wipe off the moisture and salt with a paper towel.
- In a large frying pan over medium heat, saute the onion with 2 tablespoons of oil for about 10 minutes or until translucent.
- Add the turmeric and garlic and continue to saute for 2 more minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- In the same pan, add the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and begin sauteing the eggplants over medium heat, about 5 minutes on each side.
- Once the eggplants are golden brown, remove from the pan and set aside.
- Return the onions to the pan and add tomato paste, salt and pepper, and toss for 2 minutes over medium heat to blend in and bring out the flavor of the tomato paste.
- Add water, Ghooreh and the tomatoes, cover and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes.
- Place the eggplants in the stew and gently press them down into the sauce. Cover and cook over low heat for 20-30 minutes.
- Adjust for seasoning and liquid level. The stew should have some liquid, but not be too watery.
- Serve with steamed basmati rice with a side of yogurt.