It’s been a chilly, gray and gloomy couple of days here in D.C., which totally has me craving stew. Specifically, my mom’s eggplant stew.
This was one of my favorite foods growing up, warm and meaty and comforting. It’s traditionally eaten over a pile of saffron-scented basmati rice, but it is equally delicious on its own or poured over your veggie of choice.
There are other versions of this recipe online, as every Persian mother has her own twist on the traditional meal. Of course, I prefer my own mom’s, which is packed with eggplant, tomatoes and dried limes known as limu omani.
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Limu omani look like dark brown ping pong balls and are quintessential in many Middle Eastern soups and stews. When reconstituted in these foods, the limes lend a flavor that is sour and kind of funky — delicious in a fermented, vinegar-y kind of way. The limes pair wonderfully with proteins such as beef, chicken and lamb. In fact, this stew, while traditionally made with lamb, can easily be made with any of those meats. (My mom despises the “earthiness” of lamb — blasphemy, I know — so I grew up eating the beef version.)
I suppose you could even make this meat-free; lentils or split peas aren’t exactly traditional, but they’d be a tasty vegetarian option.
Note: You’ll be tempted to push the cooked limes to the side and discard them, but don’t! At the very least, smash them with your fork and let the sour juices flow out into your bowl. Better yet, if you’re feeling adventurous, eat the lime with your food.
Persian Eggplant Stew (Mosama Bademjan)
1.5 pounds stew meat (beef, lamb or chicken), cubed
3 large eggplants, peeled and sliced (or 9 baby eggplant, peeled and whole)
3 large tomatoes, quartered
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 dried limes (available at Middle Eastern groceries and online)
Juice of one fresh lime
Oil for sauteing onion and meat (I like coconut oil)
Oil for roasting eggplant
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of ground saffron
Salt and Pepper
About 5 cups water
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Toss the peeled and sliced eggplant with a couple tablespoons of salt and place aside in a colander. (This step is intended to pull out some of the eggplant’s bitterness, my mom says.)
3. In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high, heat a couple tablespoons of oil and saute the onions about 8 mins, until they become soft and start to turn gold. Add your meat chunks and brown on all sides; don’t worry about cooking the meat through.
4. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, dried limes, lime juice, cinnamon, turmeric, saffron, salt and pepper and water. Stir to combine. When the liquid begins to bubble after a few minutes, cover the pot and reduce to medium-low heat. Cook for about 45 minutes.
5. Toss the salted eggplant with a bit of oil and arrange the slices on a baking sheet. Roast the eggplant at 350 until soft and golden. (Alternatively, you can fry the eggplant on the stovetop).
6. When the eggplant is done and after the stew has been cooking for about 45 minutes, nestle the eggplant slices on top. Cover again and let simmer for another 10-15 minutes.
7. Serve over veggies, rice (basmati, cauliflower, or otherwise) or enjoy a bowl by itself. The stew keeps well, so don’t be afraid of leftovers or making this ahead of time. Noosh-e jan!