Mella Ghormeh is a signature dish from the Caspian Sea region of Iran that celebrates the region’s abundance of local produce while bringing a depth of flavor into a simple dish.
In many regions of Iran, there is a heavy reliance on a medley of spices. However, many Northern Iranian dishes rely on simpler fresh and flavorful ingredients to create enticing and rich flavors.
No other vegetable evokes as many memories for me as the distinctive eggplant! As a kid, I wouldn’t go near this vegetable: the flavor, oh, the texture, oh no, mom not again, not another eggplant dish! The only saving grace for this eggplant-hating child was that most Persian eggplant dishes also have other ingredients that were more palatable to me.
You are likely to see eggplant cooked with pieces of beef, lamb or chicken in tomato sauce along with yellow split peas or – the best of them all – eggs! As a child, I would work my way around the eggplants and fill myself with the surrounding ingredients. Occasionally I would be so “lucky” as to bypass the entire dish and be allowed to eat hot dogs instead!
Rest assured that as an adult my palate has changed, and I have long grown out of that awkward picky-eating phase of my life.
This continues to be very special dish for me for a myriad of reasons. For years when I would travel to visit my mom, she would prepare this to suit my then vegetarian needs.
Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to cook this dish live on Instagram with the great Chef Mojdeh. We talked, cooked, danced and cried as we reminisced about our childhoods and the traditions associated with Northern Iranian cuisine.
I did my best to describe the techniques and elements that go into preparing this dish, all in Farsi. But even if you are not a Farsi speaker, I have a good feeling you can pick up the love and emotions that went into preparing this dish.
- 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Italian eggplants, or 4 Asian eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes
- 1 cup roma tomatoes, diced
- 1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
- 1/2 cup Ghooreh (unripe sour grapes), or juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt, adjust as necessary
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup water, adjust as necessary
- 4 eggs
- Select a large frying pan and saute the onions with 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
- Add the turmeric and garlic and continue to saute for an additional 2 minutes. Once the onions have turned a golden color, remove from the pan and set aside.
- To the same pan, add the remaining olive oil and saute the eggplants over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure the eggplant pieces are lightly browned on all sides. Take care to not over mix.
- Return the sauteed onions and garlic along with the rest of the ingredients with the exception of the eggs to the pan. Gently stir, cover and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce heat and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.
- Once the eggplant pieces have softened, check to make sure there is enough of the sauce left in the pan to poach the eggs. Add a touch more water if needed.
- Using a spoon, pull the eggplants back to make room for the eggs to get cracked into the pan. Crack the eggs into the eggplant mixture one at a time.
- Sprinkle a touch more salt, pepper and turmeric on top of the eggs, and then cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 5-7 minutes depending on how runny or cooked you prefer your eggs.
- Once the eggs are cooked to your liking, turn off the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.
- Serve this dish with Persian steamed basmati rice or Persian flat breads.