Serving appetizers before a meal is not the traditional order when serving a Persian style feast.
Guests are welcomed with freshly brewed tea and abundant arrays of sweets, nuts and fruits.
Many dishes now called appetizers were presented at the dinner table as side dishes, alongside the main dishes. As the world became more globalized and cultures adapted and incorporated serving styles, many of these side dishes have been presented as appetizers. Many of the main dishes in smaller portions have also found their way to appetizer tables (i.e. varieties of kukus here & here, grape leaf dolmehs, kotlet and more). I have also presented some options of side dishes/appetizers in my post Persian Side Dishes and will be adding more to the post.
One of the favorites and popular appetizers is kashk’e bademjan, which is an Iranian and Azerbaijani dish literally meaning “whey’ed eggplant”. The recipe also includes caramelized onions, garlic, walnuts, mint, spices and is always served with fresh Persian nán.
Kashk'e Bademjan • کشک بادمجان • Whey'ed Eggplant Appetizer
Recipe by: Fae’s Twist & Tango (fae-magazine.com)
To prepare the eggplants
• 200 g/ 2 medium-sized, Japanese eggplants (hardly any seeds) or available eggplants
• vegetable oil
• 2½ Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
• 340 g/ 1 large onion, cut in half and sliced thinly in crescent (¼ used for garnish)
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1/8 tsp turmeric
• 1/8 tsp salt (no more, whey also contains salt)
• pinch (1/16 tsp) ground black pepper
• ¾ cup hot water
For the garnish
• 1 Tbsp olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, cut in strips
• 1 Tbsp dried mint flakes
• 2 Tbsp walnuts, chopped coarsely, small
• 2 Tbsp liquid kashk/whey (if too thick, dissolve in 1 Tbsp water)
• 1/16 tsp ground saffron, dissolved 1 Tbsp hot water
◊ Peel eggplants. Chop stem off but keep hat-like top near the stem intact (this helps handling of the eggplants while and after cooking).
◊ Put peeled eggplants in a colander with a deep dish under it or put it in the sink. Sprinkle salt generously all over the eggplants and let them sweat for 20~ minutes to extract bitterness/toxins and excess liquid. This process is called ‘degorging' (it also helps to fry faster and absorb less oil). Rinse and pat dry with paper towel.
◊ In a fry pan, pour oil (enough to cover eggplants half-way while frying) and put on medium. When the oil ripples, place eggplants in the oil. Fry both sides until well-browned (not burned). Set aside for next step.
◊ While eggplants are degorging… In a non-stick medium saucepan, add oil and set on medium-high heat. When oil begins to ripple, add cut onions. Once it starts boiling, lower the heat to medium. Stay with it, stir occasionally for even frying to golden (20 minutes). Take ¼ of the caramelized onion to use for garnish later.
◊ Add minced garlic to caramelized onion in the saucepan. Stir for 1 minute. Remove caps of eggplants and add them to the pot. Add turmeric, salt, pepper, hot water, and let it simmer, covered for 20 minutes or until the liquid evaporates and the mix renders oil and starts frying. Remove from heat. Use a masher (or a flat bottom bottle) to mash the mixture well. Do not use hand blender or food processor to mash. The idea is to keep the eggplants’ fibers intact. Transfer onto a plate and rest it tilted for the oil to render and flow to the side, in-case it is preferred to remove the excess oil.
◊ While eggplant mix is simmering… In a small saucepan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add slivered garlic and watch carefully. In several seconds, at first indication of color change (do not let it burn to bitterness), remove sauce pan from heat and quickly scoop garlic strips from oil into a heat safe small bowl. Garlic strips should be semi-crispy. While the oil is hot in the saucepan (off the heat) add dried mint, swirl the saucepan and let sizzle. Empty into a heat safe small bowl and set aside. (If it looks like it is still cooking in the bowl, place the bowl in shallow, cold water to drop the temperature and keep from burning.)
◊ To plate… Either add ½ of kashk/whey, fried mint, walnuts, and mix with eggplant mixture and use the rest to garnish, or use all garnish ingredients on top in the > design of liking. Finally, drizzle on saffron water. It is best that at least some of the eggplant mix shows from under the garnish (I used too much garnish). Serve with fresh lavash bread.
Note: After all, this dish is called ‘whey’ed eggplant’, however, if whey is not available at your market or maybe it is not to your liking, yogurt may be used instead.
 Degorging: – The bitterness in eggplant is caused by toxins that build up if the eggplant has grown slowly (hence, it’s more of a problem in colder countries, less of a problem in sunny, Mediterranean climates). It is less likely to be a problem with smaller, heavier eggplants.
These toxins can also cause gastric upsets. Salt may be used to reduce bitterness/toxins. Cut eggplants as called for in the recipe. Then either soak in salted water or sprinkle the dry, just peeled or cut pieces all over with salt. The eggplant will give off a brownish sweat, which before cooking, should be rinsed and pat dried by paper towel.
~ Noushe jan • نوش جان ~
So, what’s cooking in your kitchen?