This simple but delicious and versatile dish came from Haniyeh Nikoo, guest of Episode 041 "What is Home". Generally, I try to write my impressions of each recipe. However, Haniyeh is a poet in her native language of Persian. Although English is a second language for her, I think her poet's soul shines through her English as well. There's no way I can do justice to this dish, and especially to her memories of the dish, as well as she can. So here is Haniyeh's description of the dish:
The food I would like to share with you is a vegetarian dish from the north of Iran where my mother comes from. This humble and yet flavourful dish is one of my favorites. It can be a side dish or served with bread as a light meal. Iran is a collection of different cultures each with its own unique traditions. People from the north of Iran particularly stand out to me for their lifestyle, habitat, traditions, and of course food. The northern part of Iran is situated between the Caspian Sea on the one side and the Alborz mountains on the other. Being geographically contained between these two has made the area particularly green with lush forests and a very fertile ground. Most of the rice and tea produced in Iran is coming from this region as do the fish, caviar, and citruses products. People’s diet is full of vegetables and vegetarian dishes are common. The dishes of this region are flavourful because of the use of garlic and many wild herbs.
Although there are many recipes I could think of from this region, Mirza Ghasemi is one of the easiest to make and most delicious dishes that has stuck with me even after I left Iran many years ago. The ingredients it requires can be found anywhere in the world. Mirza Ghasemi can be considered a spread or dip. It has a smoky taste that gets deeper with warmth of the fresh garlics. The tomatoes would add a sweet and acidic layer to the whole dish and the eggs bring a nutty flavour in as well as making it nutritionally richer. It’s a creamy, smoky savoury dish that can be enjoyed best with flat breads. I have vivid memories of my grandmother and mother cooking this dish. At the time we were living in a small apartment in Iran’s capital Tehran; not having an open space for a fire to BBQ, my mom would put the eggplants on our gas stove. I remember standing there and looking at the peels brightening up with the flames and turning red then grey and the smell was just amazing to me.
The one thing I'd like to say is that I was never able to really set the eggplant on fire quite the way Haniyeh described in the episode. However, I was able to cook the skin and still have the inside firm enough to chop using my outdoor grill. Haniyeh prefers to use the burner on a gas stove. Either way, figure out how to get that smoky flavor into the eggplant - the dish depends on it.
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