​Khoresh-e bademjoon (Persian eggplant and tomato stew)

Khoresh-e bademjoon, or Iranian eggplant and tomato stew (pictured with tahdig, or Persian rice).
Khoresh-e bademjoon, or Iranian eggplant and tomato stew (pictured with tahdig, or Persian rice). Photo: Con Poulos/The New York Times
Dietary
Gluten-free

Bademjoon, sometimes spelled bademjan, was a childhood favourite of mine. Fresh lemon juice and ghooreh, or unripe grapes, lighten the stew and lend a particularly tart punch. Those sharp flavours contrast nicely with the soft, comforting texture of the eggplant and tomatoes, which grow silky as they cook down. This dish is particularly delicious with a piece of crunchy tahdig.

Ingredients

1 pound boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 5cm cubes

1 heaped tsp ground turmeric

fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 to 8 Japanese eggplants

5 tbsp olive oil, plus ¼ cup olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

4 small or 2 medium tomatoes (about 1kg)

3 tbsp tomato paste

¼ tsp crumbled saffron threads

¼ to ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from 2 to 4 limes)

⅓ cup fresh or frozen unripe grapes (ghooreh), optional

Method

1. In a large bowl, season lamb with turmeric, one teaspoon salt and half a teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

2. Peel the eggplants but leave the green skin on the stem end intact. Trim the tips of the stems and make an incomplete lengthwise cut in each eggplant from the bottom, leaving both halves attached at the stem. Place eggplants in a colander set inside a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and let sit for 30 minutes.

3. In the meantime, set a large Dutch oven or similar pot over medium-high heat. When the pot is hot, add three tablespoons oil. When the oil shimmers, add onion and cook, stirring regularly, until softened and browned, 16 to 18 minutes.

4. Add the meat and cook, turning regularly, until it browns evenly on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Add four cups water and increase heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for one hour.

5. In the meantime, rinse the eggplants, dry thoroughly and set aside. Remove stems and halve tomatoes through their cores and set aside. Line a baking sheet with two layers of paper towels and set aside.

6. Set a large frying pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, add a quarter cup oil and carefully lay eggplants in the pan in a single layer. It's crucial to leave space between each eggplant for steam to escape, so brown in batches if necessary. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, turning regularly, until eggplants are browned on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove browned eggplants to lined baking sheet and allow to drain.

7. Use the same pan to brown tomatoes, cut-side down, in remaining two tablespoons oil for about five minutes. Flip and cook tomatoes on skin side until lightly browned, one to two minutes, then remove to lined baking sheet.

8. Once the meat has cooked for one hour, stir in the tomato paste, saffron and quarter cup lime juice. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Carefully arrange the browned eggplants and tomatoes atop the stew and then sprinkle on the young grapes. Allow the stew to come to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, uncovered, until meat is falling apart and stew is thick and unctuous, about one hour. Without jostling the eggplants too much, taste a spoonful or two of the stew. It should be pleasantly tart, so adjust the seasoning with salt and lime juice as needed.

9. Serve hot, with Persian rice and mast-o khiar, as well as pickles, fresh herbs, scallions and radishes, if desired.

This is one of Samin Nosrat's 10 essential Persian recipes.

Samin Nosrat is the author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and star of the related Netflix show. This recipe originally appeared in The New York Times.