At the table: Soul food with saffron | Entertainment/Life

Khoresh bademjan, a Persian eggplant stew, is served alongside basmati rice. It can be prepared using different meats, most often with beef or lamb. The most common variation of this meal includes eggplant, onions and tomatoes, but okra makes an occasional appearance as well. The dish’s name is derived from the Persian words khoresh, meaning stew, and bademjan, meaning eggplant.

This stew is a family favorite, and Tala Voosoghi prepares it often. Earlier this month, as she moved swiftly through the kitchen gathering ingredients as over-ripened tomatoes and large eggplants lay alongside each other. She then brought out small bowls of spices often used in Persian recipes, as well as a saffron grinder — a tiny gold mortar and pestle.

The saffron tin proved challenging to open, but I caught a whiff of the aromatic spice once we removed the lid. A subtle floral aroma permeated the air. Saffron, which comes from the crocus flower, is the most expensive spice in the world, partly because it is so difficult to harvest. In fact, Voosoghi shared, “it’s more expensive in weight than gold.”

Voosoghi and I continued our conversation on the many spices used in their family’s favorite meals. Spices like turmeric and saffron are essential to a Persian pantry and are included in most recipes.

“They go in all Persian foods,” Voosoghi said. “You likely won’t find a Persian dish without them.”

The golden color and earthy scent of turmeric make it a popular ingredient in Persian cuisine. Meat tends to lose any gamey taste when the spice is used in stews. Because of the health benefits it provides, Voosoghi incorporates this spice into her cooking whenever possible.

Cooking has always been a passion for Voosoghi. While she learned to cook by watching her parents, she sought this activity out on her own as an adult. In 2009, she created a food blog called The Hungry Nomad. There, she shares recipes and restaurant reviews locally and whenever she travels.

Voosoghi, an attorney and business owner in Lafayette — Tala Immigration Law — made her way to Louisiana from Vancouver, Canada, seven years ago with her husband as he was relocated for work — and she brought all her favorite recipe books along.

Flipping through a popular Persian cookbook, Voosoghi looked for the recipe. She uses the traditional version but incorporates elements of her liking and that of her family, such as garlic.

“It’s not in the recipe, but I add garlic to everything,” she said.

Voosoghi began the dish with onions, garlic, spices and beef in a medium-sized stockpot. The layers of the garlic bulb’s papery skin crinkled as she pulled off two cloves and added them whole. On her husband’s birthday, lamb is substituted for beef as a special treat.

She added most spices in the beginning, but never the salt. According to her mother and grandmother, salt shouldn’t be added until the end since it causes the meat to become tough.

While the beef sauce was simmering, Voosoghi peeled and sliced ​​the eggplant, then salted it. The bitter juices of the eggplant are expelled during the sweating process, which should take about an hour, she said. At this point, she then rinses the eggplant and uses either paper towels or a clean towel to dab the slices dry. Then, it is ready for cooking. As eggplants absorb a lot of oil during frying, she recommends cooking them separately. As a healthy alternative, Voosoghi bakes the eggplant.

When eggplants are in season, khoresh bademjan is her go-to recipe. Tomatoes and eggplant flourish in a Louisiana summer’s warm, humid climate. And, Voosoghi grows a lot of the herbs and vegetables she uses in her backyard.

“My mother-in-law uses fried okra in the dish,” she said, which makes me believe this dish is meant to be compatible in the South.

After the eggplant and meat sauce are nearly finished, she prepared basmati rice and infused it with saffron. Voosoghi eyed the measurement of saffron and ground it. She then adds one 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 hue. Then she adds that mixture to the cooked rice, creating a beautiful bright yellow mound. The rice was cooked to perfection, each grain separate from one another.

When I could taste the dish, I immediately felt the comfort within the food. I had a flashback to eating rice and gravy as a kid. While I wasn’t familiar with the flavor, I knew the feeling. Combining the stew with basmati rice felt like someplace I’d been before, yet entirely new.

As I folded the khoresh bademjan and rice, the colors shifted on my plate — specks of yellow, among eggplant and tomato. The eggplant had a sweetness to it, not a hint of bitterness. Smooth and flavorful, the combination of textures engulfed my senses.

Voosoghi calls the dish “Persian soul food.” Although time-consuming, the result is delicious comfort food — ideal for a relaxing get-together with friends and family on a Sunday afternoon.

Khoresh Bademjan (Persian Eggplant Stew)

Serves 6-8 people. Recipe is by Tala Voosoghi.

1 cup white onion, diced

Olive oil as needed

2 garlic cloves, whole

1 ½ pound beef or lamb stew meat, cubed

1 tablespoon turmeric powder

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

3-4 tablespoons tomato paste

3 cups 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 cubed 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 tomato paste and beef for 3-4 minutes.

5. Add water to the medium stockpot. Please bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 1 to 1½ hour or until the meat is tender.

6. Meanwhile, go back to the eggplant. Peel the eggplant and cut them in halves lengthwise or ¼-inch in case they are large size eggplants. Add salt and let sit for an hour. This will remove the bitterness and prevent the eggplant from absorbing too much oil when frying.

7. Rinse the eggplant with water, then pat dry with a paper towel or clean dishtowel.

8. Add a quarter cup of oil and tomato paste to a separate pan to fry the eggplant, flip mid-way, and brown both sides. Then place on napkins to remove the excess oil.

9. You may bake the eggplant for a healthier version instead of frying it.

10. While the eggplant is cooking, thickly slice tomato to be used at the end.

11. Add salt to the stockpot after the meat has been cooking for one hour, along with lime juice and a pinch of saffron so that the stew is well seasoned.

12. Fry the tomato with the remaining oil once the eggplant is done. It takes about 30 seconds on each side.

13. Once the meat is tender and done, add the eggplant and then the tomato for another 10 minutes. You’ll lay the eggplant on top so that the flavor from the stew absorbs into the vegetable. Then add the sliced ​​tomatoes. Be careful not to stir the stew too much. You want to let the stew settle.

Basmati rice

Serves 6-8 people. Recipe is by Tala Voosoghi.

3 cups basmati rice

6 cups of water

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Place the rice in a fine mesh strainer. Run cold running over the rice, moving it around for 1 to 2 minutes to release excess starch.

2. Bring the rice, water, salt, and oil to a boil in a medium-sized pot.

3. Cover the pot, and then cook on medium-high heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender.

4. Remove pot from the heat and allow it to sit covered for 5 minutes.

5. Fluff the rice with a fork and combine with saffron-infused mixture.


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