Let’s discover of one of the most ancient cuisines with a popular Persian recipe: khoresh bademjan.
What is khoresh bademjan?
Khoresh bademjan (خورش بادمجان) is a Persian stew (khoresh) that is prepared with eggplants, as well as lamb or beef and tomatoes. Like a number of stews in Iran, an acidic ingredient like sour grapes (ghooreh) or dried limes (limoo amani) are added to the dish to create this unique blend of flavors.
There are really two versions of khoresh bademjan: ghooreh bademjan (غوره بادمجان) which is made with sour grapes and gheymeh bademjan (قیمه بادمجان), which is prepared with yellow split peas. Today, I chose to prepare the version with sour grapes.
Sour grapes are unripe grapes that provide a very nice acidic component to recipes, mostly stews. You can find them fresh, but most Persians buy them frozen and have them handy in their freezer. The same way they always have limoo amani (dried limes) at hand in their pantry.
Khoresh (خورش) is a term that is used for stew recipes in Persian cuisine. The word, which is actually derived from the verb xordan (خوردن) “to eat”, literally means “meal”.
Persian cuisine offers a large variety of these delicately spiced and nutritious stews, including:
- khoresh ghormeh sabzi : fresh herb stew
Khoresh fesenjan: pomegranate and walnut stew)
- Khoresht aloo: prune stew
- Khoresht aloo esfenaj: prune and spinach stew
- Khoresh bamieh: okra stew
- Khoresh bamieh lapeh: okra and yellow split peas stew
- Khoresh beh: quince stew
- Khoresh havij: carrot stew
- Khoresht hadoo: zucchini stew
- Khoresht gharch: mushroom stew
- Khoresh gheimeh: split-pea stew
- Khoresht kangar: artichoke stew
- Khoresh karafs: celery stew
- Khoresht loobia sabz: green bean stew
- Khoresh reevaas: rhubarb stew
History of eggplant
We talked about sour grapes, but now let’s talk about the main ingredient of this stew: eggplant.
Eggplants have been cultivated in southern Asia and eastern Asia since prehistoric times. There have been some references to eggplant in Sanskrit literature, with the oldest possible mention dating 300 BC (circa).
Multiple other references have also been found in the ancient Chinese literature. The earliest can be found in a document known as Tong Yue, written by Wang Bao in 59 BC.
Another written record of eggplant can be found in Qimin Yaoshu, another ancient Chinese agricultural text dating 544 CE.
Arabic traders along the Silk Road are believed to have brought eggplant to the Middle East, Africa and the West, starting around the 6th century AD. In his book “Kitāb al-filāḥa” written in the 12th century, Agriculturist Ibn Al-Awwam from Seville in Arabic Spain described how to grow eggplants.
The English word “eggplant” was first recorded in 1767. It was originally used to describe the white cultivars. Indeed, the cultivars at that time were small, round, yellow or white, and looked like goose or hen’s eggs.
There are now numerous cultivars available on the market, depending on the regions. Some of the most prevalent include:
- Italian Eggplant: looks like a standard eggplant, but a little smaller and fatter
- Graffiti eggplant (also called Sicilian eggplant): its name comes from its purple and white stripes.
- Japanese and Chinese Eggplant: they are very similar and only differ by the Japanese eggplant featuring a deeper purple color. They are both characterized by their long and narrow shape.
- Fairy Tale Eggplant: small heirloom variety featuring purple and white stripes
- White eggplant: beside the obvious difference in skin color, white eggplant is less bitter, denser and creamier than the purple variety
- Indian Eggplant (also called baby eggplant): they are most often used pickled or in curries
- Little Green Eggplant: another heirloom variety that is plump and round with a pale green-colored skin. It has a mild flavor and is a creamier than other varieties.
- Thai eggplant: small, round, and greenish-white in color. They are most often used in Thai curries.
Although eggplants are available worldwide, Asia is still the main producer of eggplants, with China and India production representing more than 85% of eggplants produced annually.
For this bademjan eggplant stew recipe, you can use standard eggplants or the longer and narrower Chinese/Japanese variety.
I prepared this khoresh recipe for our Persian feast earlier this month. Although I ate this stew before, it was the first time I prepared it. I obviously do not always succeed my first attempts, but I have to say this khoresh bademjan is probably the best I have ever had!
- 6 Chinese eggplants (or 4 medium size eggplants)
- 2 lb beef stew , cubed
- 1 onion , thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic , crushed
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 (28 oz) can crushed peeled tomato
- 1 cup sour grapes (ghoreh), or juice of 1 lime
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon saffron , diluted in 1 tablespoon of water
- Vegetable oil
- Place the beef, 5 cups of water and the turmeric in a pressure cooker. Add salt and pepper and cook for about 45 minutes. You may also cook the meat in a Dutch oven for about 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, peel and trim the eggplants. Halve the Chinese eggplants lengthwise or quarter the regular eggplants lengthwise.
- Fry the eggplants in a large skillet with 8 tablespoons of hot oil for about 10 minutes or until brown. Remove from skillet and place on paper towel.
- In the same skillet, add 2 more tablespoons of oil and fry the onion until caramelized, for about 10-15 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste, garlic, saffron and continue cooking while stirring for another 5 minutes.
- Add the cooked beef, beef broth, crushed tomatoes, and sour grapes. Bring to a boil.
- Add eggplants, lower the heat and simmer for another 30 to 45 minutes.
- Serve over Persian steamed rice.