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!
Today I found myself wanting to stay close to home and do all kinds of domestic things. After the chores had been knocked off one by one, I was still longing to do something comforting and truly homey.
Naturally, I ended up in the kitchen, and I started to explore some less well-known Persian recipes. I found myself changing them around just a little to suit my craving for comfort food.
Persian cucumbers have ruined it for me! When you grow up eating cucumbers in the way that Americans eat apples and oranges, you are in for a disappointment the first time you cross paths with an ordinary cucumber. Persian cucumbers are delicate, high on cucumber flavor, and low on the chalky/bitterness factor. Their skins are sweet and soft, though frequently peeled and sprinkled with salt and pepper, allowing the cucumber to be eaten as you would eat a banana.
When it comes to selecting cucumbers, I always choose this tender and flavorful variety if I can. When I don’t have access to the Persian variety, my go-to is the English cucumber. I feel quite cheated by the regular variety of cucumber as by the time I have peeled the tough and thick skin, I then have to deal with the big, pesky, watery seeds that deliver a good dose of bitterness.
Cucumber salads are very common in Iran, and of course there is the famous and tasty Salad-e Shirazi that has the cucumber mingling with ripe red tomatoes, spring onions, mint, freshly squeezed lime juice, and olive oil. Refreshing and delicious!
This is a slightly different variety in that it uses apples instead of tomatoes and the dressing is a little more complex.
Zeitoon parvardeh is full of umami flavors, a mixture of olives, creamy ground walnuts, and fresh herbs topped with pomegranate and a unique Persian spice called golpar, a hogweed seed. This is a Caspian Sea specialty that also uses locally grown herbs that are unique to the area and otherwise not available elsewhere. Hence for the recipe, I have simply eliminated it and increased the quantity of the other herbs!