Khoresh bademjan, a Persian eggplant stew, is served with basmati rice. It can be prepared with different types of meat, mostly beef or lamb. The most common variation of this meal is eggplant, onion, and tomato, but okra also makes an occasional appearance. The name of the dish derives from the Persian words khoresh, meaning stew, and bademjan, meaning eggplant.
This stew is a family favorite and is often made by Tala Voosoghi. Earlier this month as she quickly moved around the kitchen gathering ingredients while overripe tomatoes and large eggplants lay side by side. Then she produced small bowls of spices often used in Persian recipes and a saffron grinder—a tiny golden mortar and pestle.
The saffron jar was difficult to open, but I caught a whiff of the aromatic spice as we removed the lid. A subtle floral scent hung in the air. Saffron, which comes from the crocus flower, is the world’s most expensive spice, partly because it is so difficult to harvest. In fact, Voosoghi shared, “It’s more expensive than gold.”
Voosoghi and I continued our conversation about the many spices used in her family’s favorite dishes. Spices like turmeric and saffron are essential to a Persian pantry and are included in most recipes.
“They go into all Persian foods,” Voosoghi said. “You probably won’t find a Persian dish without them.”
Turmeric’s golden color and earthy scent make it a popular ingredient in Persian cuisine. Meat tends to lose its wild flavor when the spice is used in stews. Because of its health benefits, Voosoghi incorporates this spice into their cooking whenever possible.
Cooking has always been a passion for Voosoghi. While she learned to cook by watching her parents, she sought this occupation independently as an adult. In 2009 she started a food blog called The Hungry Nomad. There she shares recipes and restaurant reviews on site and while traveling.
Voosoghi, an attorney and business owner in Lafayette — Tala Immigration Law — came to Louisiana with her husband from Vancouver, Canada, seven years ago when he relocated for work — and she brought all of her favorite recipe books with her.
Voosoghi flipped through a popular Persian cookbook and looked up the recipe. She uses the traditional version but incorporates elements that she and her family like, such as garlic.
“It’s not in the recipe, but I add garlic to everything,” she said.
Voosoghi started the dish with onions, garlic, spices, and beef in a medium soup pot. The layers of the garlic bulb’s papery skin rippled as she peeled off two cloves and added them whole. On her husband’s birthday, lamb is substituted for beef as a special treat.
She added most of the spices in the beginning, but never the salt. According to her mother and grandmother, salt should be added last, as it makes the meat tough.
While the beef sauce was simmering, Voosoghi peeled and sliced the eggplant, then salted it. The eggplant’s bitter juices are expelled during the sweating process, which should last about an hour, she said. At this point, she then rinses the eggplant and uses either paper towels or a clean towel to pat the slices dry. Then it’s ready to cook. Since aubergines absorb a lot of oil when frying, she recommends cooking them separately. As a healthy alternative, Voosoghi bakes the eggplant.
When eggplants are in season, Khoresh Bademjan is her favorite recipe. Tomatoes and eggplants thrive in the warm, humid climate of a Louisiana summer. And Voosoghi grows many of the herbs and vegetables she uses in her garden.
“My mother-in-law uses fried okra in the dish,” she said, leading me to believe this dish is meant to be southern compatible.
After the eggplant and meat sauce are almost done, she prepares basmati rice and tops it with saffron. Voosoghi eyed the saffron measure and ground it. Then she adds a tablespoon of water to the fine saffron to make a mixture. She combined a scoop of rice with saffron-infused water to get the desired shade. Then she adds this mixture to the cooked rice, creating a beautiful light yellow mound. The rice was perfectly cooked, each grain separated from each other.
When I was able to taste the dish, I immediately felt the comfort of the food. As a kid, I had a flashback to eating rice and gravy. Although I didn’t know the taste, I knew the feeling. The combination of the stew with basmati rice felt like somewhere I’d been before but completely new.
As I folded Khoresh Bademjan and rice, the colors on my plate changed – yellow spots between eggplant and tomato. The eggplant had a sweetness, not a hint of bitterness. Supple and flavorful, the combination of textures engulfed my senses.
Voosoghi calls the dish “Persian Soul Food”. The result, while time-consuming, is delicious home cooking—ideal for a relaxed Sunday afternoon get-together with friends and family.
Khoresh Bademjan (Persian Eggplant Stew)
For 6-8 people. The recipe comes from Tala Voosoghi.
1 cup white onion, diced
olive oil as needed
2 garlic cloves, whole
1 ½ pounds beef or lamb stew, diced
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups of water
6-8 medium Japanese eggplants or 3-4 large eggplants, peeled
3-4 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon saffron powder, ground
4 medium tomatoes
1. Dice the onion; Add olive oil and sauté until translucent.
2. Add the diced beef or lamb and garlic cloves to the onions for a minute or two.
3. Then add turmeric and ground black pepper to sauté together.
4. Once the meat is browned, sauté the tomato paste and beef for 3-4 minutes.
5. Add water to the medium stock pot. Please bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 1 to 1½ hours or until the meat is tender.
6. Meanwhile, go back to the eggplant. Peel the eggplant and cut lengthwise in half, or ¼ inch if they are large eggplants. Add salt and leave for an hour. This will eliminate the bitterness and prevent the eggplant from absorbing too much oil while frying.
7. Rinse the eggplants with water, then pat dry with a paper towel or clean tea towel.
8. In a separate pan, add 1/4 cup oil and tomato paste to fry the eggplant, flipping in the center and searing on both sides. Then put on napkins to remove the excess oil.
9. You can bake the eggplant instead of frying it for a healthier version.
10. While the eggplant is cooking, cut the tomatoes into thick slices, which will be used at the end.
11. After the meat has cooked for an hour, add salt to the stockpot along with lime juice and a pinch of saffron to flavor the stew.
12. Once the aubergine is ready, fry the tomato with the remaining oil. It takes about 30 seconds on each side.
13. Once the meat is tender and cooked, add the aubergine and then the tomato for another 10 minutes. You put the eggplants on top so that the flavor of the stew is absorbed by the vegetables. Then add the chopped tomatoes. Be careful not to over-stir the stew. You want to let the stew rest.
For 6-8 people. The recipe comes from Tala Voosoghi.
3 cups basmati rice
6 cups of water
2 teaspoons of salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Place the rice in a fine mesh sieve. Let the rice run cold and agitate for 1 to 2 minutes to release excess starch.
2. Bring the rice, water, salt and oil to a boil in a medium saucepan.
3. Cover the pot, then cook over medium-high heat until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Remove the pot from the stove and let it rest covered for 5 minutes.
5. Fluff the rice with a fork and combine with the saffron-infused mixture.