A Taste of Culture
Mina is a Brown-RISD Social Innovation Fellow. She traveled to her home in Iran last summer and brought back a cultural souvenir: the book she wrote, Taste of Culture. She explores Iranian families, streets, stores and the stories and spirit embedded in the recipes of Iranian food. She hopes to start a conversation about the benefit of knowing cuisines of different cultures to connect societies.
This year's class of Brown-RISD Social Innovation Fellows have just begun their yearlong foray into the world of social entrepenuership. Check out their projects here.
A Vegetarian Canvas with the Eggplant Dip
There are some dishes that take a little bit of patience to get used to and then love; with some others the love story starts from the beginning. Kashk Bademjan is of the second group.
I made Kashk Bademjan several times for my American friends before I dared to serve it to one hundred and fifty people at the Eat the World Food Festival in Providence this October. At Eat the World, international students at RISD prepare their cultural food and this year there were representatives from 20 countries. Humanity’s appetite is at peace with delicious food of all nations!
Kashk Bademjan was the Iran ambassador at the festival and I was the cook
I registered for the festival when I was almost done writing Taste of Culture, but I squeezed the festival experience in the book to share the experience of tasting this dish in the States. For an Iranian cook, no appreciation is more appealing than someone liking their food, and I am no exception. I was really thrilled by hearing and seeing people enjoying Kashk Bademjan at the festival. People were curious about the ingredients in Kashk Bademjan and they wanted to know what makes that “amazing taste and texture.” It is this unique taste that also makes Kashk Bademjan one of the Iranians’ favorite dishes.
Other than the taste, there are some other details in this dish that amaze me. For instance, having a combination of walnuts and garlic in Kashk Bademjan is incredibly thoughtful. Not only does the crunch of the walnuts in the creamy texture of mashed eggplant bring pleasure, but walnuts are also said to remove the garlic odor from the breath. What would be better than having an delicious and odor-free garlic dish?
Kashk Bademjan, like many Iranian dishes, is cleverly balanced in its ingredients and is considered to be a neutral dish. Based on ancient Iranian and Persian medications in the Iranian food vocabulary, each food has either a cold or a warm character. When cold and warm ingredients are combined together, the result is a neutral dish that is in balance with the body. According to the same medicine methodology, each person has a cold or warm bodily constitution, based on which either cooling or warming foods are suitable for them to have. Kashk Bademjan is one of those dishes that is good for both groups.
You may follow the recipe below and fall in love with this dish, as I do, every single time that I make it. The actual story in the book is longer. If you liked it so far, you can access the printable and the full version here.
My niece, Bahar, who lives in Iran sent me her selfie with her sister Negar and with their garnished Kashk Bademjan.
Bahar has used pistachio, mint, onion, garlic and kashk to garnish her Kashk Bademjan.
Kashk Bademjan Recipe
Ingredients for serving 6 people
Estimated cooking time: 1 hour
Brief: Fry onion, garlic and eggplant separately. Mix all with dried mint and walnuts.
Eggplant: 3 medium sizes
Walnuts: ¼ cup
Dry mint: 2 tbsp
White Onion: 1
Garlic: 5 cloves
Vegetable oil: 4 tbsp
Kashk or sour cream or Greek yogurt: ½ cup
Saffron: 1 pinch (optional)
Fresh herbs, sabzi (optional)
Lavash or pita bread
1 Skin the eggplants and slice horizontally. Soak in salt water for at least one hour. Salt water takes the bitter taste out of the eggplants.
2 Wash the soaked eggplants with cold water and let them dry. Leave them in a mesh strainer or use a clean towel to pat them dry.
3 Fry the eggplant in a pan. Leaving the lids on the pan helps reducing the amount of oil needed to fry the eggplants. You may want to bake the eggplants prior to the frying to make the frying process shorter. Meanwhile, slice onion approximately to half inch pieces.
4 Fry the sliced onion in a separate pan until the color turns golden. Add salt, turmeric and dried mint to the onions. Stir the mix for one minute.Turmeric and mint need to be fried for 1 minute so they lose their raw taste. Stir the mint frequently to avoid burning.
5 Remove the onion from the pan and fry the garlic pieces until they turn golden.
Stir often as garlic burns fast.
6 Separate and save one third of the onion, garlic and mint for garnish.
7 Boil one third of a cup of water, remove from heat, and wait for one minute. Then add saffron. Boiling water kills the saffron aroma.
8 Pure the eggplant in a blender or mash it with any pestle-like tool.
9 Mix it with the remaining onion, garlic and mint. Add water, and cook covered on medium heat for half an hour.
10 Remove the lid, add kashk and saffron and let it simmer until the water evaporates and you end up with a thick, creamy mix. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.
11 Pour the mix into a serving bowl, and garnish it with kashk, onion, garlic and mint.
Kashk Bademjan is usually served with bread and fresh herbs.