There is just something particularly pleasing about stuffing a vegetable! It opens up the door to many possibilities and the potential to transform a vegetable into an entire meal.
And there is no shortage of stuffed vegetable dishes in Persian cuisine: stuffed grape leaves, bell peppers, onions, squash, and cabbage, to name just a few. These dishes are referred to as Dolmeh in Farsi.
Eggplants, otherwise known fondly as the potatoes of Iran, have a special place in Persian cuisine. You will find them fried, baked, charred over an open fire, or pickled. Their texture ranges from soft to creamy to chewy, and from smooth to chunky. They are cooked into Kuku (frittata) or preserved as a Torshi (pickled). They are integrated as a supporting element into a Khoresh (stew) or – in this case – featured as the star of the show!
Eggplants are so easy to love for their taste, texture, and adaptability to the flavors you offer them – and for those exact reasons, they are also easy to dislike!
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 kid who did not appreciate the taste of this vegetable, I would work 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! These days, however, I appreciate this vegetable precisely for the complexity of its flavors and textures!
For this recipe, the eggplant is typically fully or partially peeled, keeping the stem and cap attached. Then, using a paring knife, a shallow slit is made along the length of the eggplant so that it can cook properly and be ready for stuffing.
Eggplants, as you may know, love the company of oil. As a matter of fact, they can act almost like a sponge and soak up large quantities of it. The more traditional way of cooking this eggplant is to gently fry them in a frying pan. However, my preferred method is to roast them in the oven, allowing me to use less oil. Oil is drizzled over and inside the eggplants, which are then tossed with a sprinkle of salt, and baked.
The stuffing part starts out like most of the dishes in Persian cuisine; by sauteing the diced onions until they turn vibrant and colorful. Then, a touch of turmeric brings the onions to life and makes them particularly aromatic and golden. While I have used beef for this recipe, you may choose to use lamb, turkey, or a plant-based protein such as crumbled-up tofu or tempeh. Admittedly these latter are not traditional in Persian cuisine.
To make my stuffed vegetable dish even more exciting and nutritious, I have a tendency to add more vegetables to the mix. Sometimes, it is diced up carrots, or potatoes while other times, it could be bell peppers or mushrooms, or even green beans or sugar snap peas.
The choice of spices and seasoning can equally be as diverse and personalized to each family and region. I have kept the seasoning on the simpler side and limited it to turmeric, pepper, and cumin. I relied instead on added herbs to bring another layer of flavor to this dish.
The choice of ingredients is truly limitless, ranging from varieties of vegetables to different grains or beans. I hope you give this dish a try and, in the process, find your creativity and sharpen your skills in developing your improvisational and intuitive cooking talents!
Bademjoon shekam por
- 4 Asian eggplants, or 2 Italian
- 8 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- 1 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin, ground
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef, lamb or turkey
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 cup tomatoes, diced
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
- Using a peeler, fully or partially peel the eggplants, keeping the stem and cap attached.
- Using a paring knife, make a shallow slit along the length of the eggplant so that it can cook properly and be ready for stuffing.
- Place the eggplants on a baking sheet and drizzle the oil on the outside and inside of the eggplant.
- Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the salt over the eggplants, turning them to ensure the salt is well incorporated onto the eggplants.
- Place the eggplants in a 425 degree F oven and roast for 30-35 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan and saute the onions for 10 minutes.
- Add salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin, and garlic and continue to saute for 2 additional minutes.
- Add the ground meat and continue to saute on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned.
- Add the tomato paste and saute for 2 additional minutes to develop more flavor and depth.
- Continue by adding the tomatoes, green pepper, and water. Cover and increase the heat to high and bring the meat sauce to a gentle boil.
- Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
- Remove the mixture from the frying pan and place it in a mixing bowl.
- Arrange the eggplants in the same frying pan that the filling was prepared in.
- Gently open the eggplants where the slits were made and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt inside the eggplants.
- Using a spoon, fill each eggplant with as much stuffing as you can. Drizzle the remainder of the sauce and filling over the eggplants.
- Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook on low heat for 30-40 minutes.
- Adjust the sauce by adding more water if needed.
- Using a long spatula, carefully remove the eggplants from the pan and arrange them on a serving platter.
- Sprinkle the fresh herbs on top and serve hot.
- Bademjoon Shekam Por can be served with steamed basmati rice or flatbreads along with yogurt and a platter of fresh herbs.