Our Cook the Books Club selection this time brings us to Iran, thanks to Jennifer Klinec, author of the memoir The Temporary Bride.1 The book starts with the story of Klinec's upbringing in Canada, her move to London to follow her corporate career and her decision to leave such career in favor of opening a cooking school out of her apartment. That is the background to her trip to Iran: Persian food called out to her and dissatisfaction with her life added its weight. In Iran, she meets a young man and the story of their relationship and attendant tribulations takes up the rest of the book. I found the first part of the story more interesting. Once Klinec arrives in Iran, the book could not hold my attention and my progress in reading was slow.
While traditional Persian dishes feature in the book, there are no recipes. I did some reading, focusing on eggplant, a favorite vegetable that I can still find at the farmers' market here. I also wanted a vegetarian dish, so ended up on a vegetarian version of Khoresht gheymeh bademjan, stew of split peas (gheymeh) and eggplant (bademjan). I had never cooked with split peas before so this gave me a great chance to change that.
I read a number of recipes2 then went off on my own to create a dish with an infusion of personal preferences. In particular, I did not fry the eggplant and cut them into bite-sized pieces rather than large ones. I also made my own tomato sauce (salsa di pomodoro), taking advantage of farm-fresh tomatoes from the market. I forwent saffron (zafferano): I tried to get some, but the price was above my budget. I tested different quantities of the other spices and the recipe below reflects my favorite rendition.
- 1/2 cup / 100 g yellow split peas
- 2 cups / 475 ml water
- 3 tablespoons / 45 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces red or yellow onion, finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- Peel of 1/2 lemon, grated with a microplane
- 10 ounces tomatoes for sauce
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup / 60 ml water
- 10 ounces eggplant
- 1/4 cup / 60 ml water
- 1/2 tablespoon / 7.5 ml fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
Put the split peas in a small saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer until the peas are tender (i.e., you can mash them easily when pressed between your fingers). The cooking time depends on the peas: check them after 30 minutes and regularly after that time. When ready, take the saucepan off the heat, uncover and set aside.
Rinse the tomatoes and cut a cross through their skin at the bottom. Blanch the tomatoes in a small saucepan holding enough boiling water to almost submerge the tomatoes. After 30 seconds, take the saucepan off the heat, pour out the boiling water and cover the tomatoes in cold water. Drain, peel and chop the tomatoes into a bowl. Set aside.
In a Dutch oven or sauté pan, warm up the olive oil on medium heat, turn down the heat to medium-low and cook the onion for 8 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and grated lemon peel, stir and cook for 2 minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes and all the spices (cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, pepper, and cinnamon), stir well, add 1/4 cup / 60 ml of water, stir, cover and continue cooking for 5 minutes, regulating the heat so as to maintain a gentle boil.
In the meantime, cut the eggplant crosswise into 1/2-inch / 1.25 cm thick slices, then cube them.
Add the eggplant and the other 1/4 cup / 60 ml of water to the pan, stir well, bring to a boil then regulate the heat to maintain a gentle boil, cover and cook until the eggplant is tender, about 30 minutes (taste a piece after 25 minutes and gauge the time remaining).
Add the split peas and their cooking liquid to the pan. Add the lemon juice and sea salt and stir well. Cook for another 5 minutes, then taste to adjust salt. Take the pan off the heat and serve the stew warm. Enjoy!
The stew is excellent! The original dish is served with basmati rice (the preparation of which features prominently in Persian cuisine). I don't like white rice (long story), so I ate it accompanied by other dishes, like sautéed radicchio di Castelfranco (the variety on the bottom of the photo below). Containing both vegetables and proteins, this stew is a complete and versatile dish.
1 The book introduction on the publisher's website and a review in The Guardian, which also explains the temporary marriage custom.
2 Like this one and also this (if you search for: recipe persian eggplant split peas, you will get a long list of hits)
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FTC disclosure: I have received the table linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.