Yatimcheh – Little Orphan (Eggplant)
Yesterday was Father’s Day here in the U.S. I hope those of you observing the occasion had a sweet time celebrating the fathers and father-figures in your life. My own father (“baba” as we say in Farsi for “dad”) is a lovely man and I love him dearly so I could easily write an essay if not a book in praise of his character and qualities but in a nutshell: he is a mensch or “agha” as we say in Farsi. Kiyoumars is his name -an ancient Persian name straight out of the revered masterpiece Shahnameh– and he hails from a western region of Iran called Kermanshah.
In honor of Father’s Day, Maman and I asked Baba to suggest a favorite recipe from his hometown and he fondly recited a number of dishes that Shah Bibi (my dear late grandmother, a sweet-natured matriarch) made for her house full of children.
Yatimcheh, literally “little orphan”, a simple eggplant dish served with one’s very own bowl of vinaigrette (a mixture of red wine vinegar, chopped white onion, and dried mint) is the hometown-specialty we chose to make. This dish, new to me, was, no exaggeration: a revelation! Let me repeat: a revelation! I kid you not: easy to make, outrageously delicious (a mixture of flavors and textures in every bite–in no small measure thanks to the tangy, crunchy, and aromatic vinaigrette), so much fun to eat, and elegant to boot!
Where has this dish been all my life? I’ve seriously missed out. Here’s the recipe so you don’t have to miss out!
- 6 Chinese egg plants (the long slim eggplants, violet to purple in color)
- 1 medium onion (for the eggplant) and 1 small onion (for the vinaigrette), both chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger (optional)
- 1 to 1/2 cups of red wine vinegar (3 tablespoons per bowl)
- 4 teaspoons dried mint
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Skin eggplants, stab each a few times with a fork to make holes, sprinkle with salt and let stand for an hour (to rid it of bitterness), then rinse, dry, and chop into one inch cubes.
- In a big-enough frying pan heat oil and sautee onion for a few minutes, then add minced garlic, ginger,turmeric, and a pinch of salt and continue to sautee for another minute.
- Add the chopped eggplants to the pan and mix well, stir mixture for a bit (no longer than a minute), then cover frying pan with a lid (or transfer mixture to lidded pot) and continue to cook on low heat for approximately 15 minutes until all the eggplant juice is absorbed into the mixture and it is cooked and tender. Sample and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Per each serving bowl, add 2-3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, layer with a tablespoon (or more if you like) of chopped white onion, and top with a with a teaspoon of dried mint. Measurements are roughly given. Use your own preference when layering the ingredients.
Each person gets a medium sized bowl of cooked eggplant and a small bowl of the vinaigrette. Serve with bread and preferably some fresh herbs. Make a little bite of a sandwich with the eggplant and chase it with a taste of the vinaigrette. Savor the fabulous flavors and textures and sigh with contentment. Repeat till the belly is full or your bowl empties. Whichever comes first.
Until next time, let’s take leave with these beautiful pix of Kermanshah, courtesy of the adorable shutter bug: Banafsheh F. (We love you B!)