Kashk-bademjaan, exquisite style!

Back in Shiraz, when I was much younger, whenever we had a visitor who my mom wanted to impress, she would take over in the kitchen and make one of her mouth-watering and visually artistic dishes. Kashk-bademjoon (made of eggplants and Iranian whey) with ground meat on the side was one of those memorable dishes. Remember Aash-e reshteh (“noodle-soup”)? Well, this dish shares some of major and unique ingredients with the aash, namely kashk, and fried mint, and crispy onion and garlic for garnish. If you don’t know what kashk is, please visit that post anyway to find out!

Ingredients: (serving 4) Eggplants, 4 medium, peeled and sliced in 3-4 pieces length wise. Ground veal or beef, 400 gr. Onion, 2 medium, thinly sliced. Garlic, 2 cloves, mashed, or very finely chopped. Kashk, hard liquid form, 1 tbsp. Turmeric, ½  teaspoon.  Salt and powdered black pepper, to taste.  Oil, lots of it! (see “variation” for a less greasy dish)  Note: This dish is traditionally made without meat. For Garnish: Onion, 2 medium, super thinly sliced. Garlic, 4 cloves, finely sliced. Walnuts, 2 tbsp. chopped. Dried mint leaves, 1tbsp. Kashk, hard liquid form, 2 tbsp.  Oil.

Method: Start with eggplants: place them in a colander on top of a bowl and sprinkle 1 tbsp salt. Shake well and let rest for an hour. This is meant to help extract bitterness out of eggplants. However, in my experience, if you buy fresh young eggplants they are sweet and need no extracting. In any case, do not leave them longer than an hour. Discard the dark liquid, if any, before rinsing, drying and frying the eggplants.

Meanwhile, get busy with meat. In a pan, heat 1 tbsp. oil and stir fry 1 sliced onion until translucent. Add ground meat and fry over medium heat for about 15 minutes until brownish; stir constantly to separate the meat in smallest bits possible. Add turmeric, salt and pepper and mix well. Set aside.

In a small-medium pan, heat 1 tbsp. oil. Fry 1 sliced onion till translucent, then add mashed garlic to the pan. Stir and continue frying for 1-2 minute, until you smell the heavenly scent of fresh frying garlic. Transfer fried onion-garlic to a bowl. Now, dry sliced eggplants with paper towel, and using the same pan, heat 1-2 tbsp oil, and stir fry eggplants on both sides until golden. Use a masher to manually mash eggplants. In a small cup, mix 1 tbsp. kashk with 1 tbsp warm water and add to the pan. Add your fried onion-garlic to the pan as well and mix well. Turn heat to low and cook with closed lid for 10-15 minutes. This is the base of your dish, which will go in the center of the serving platter – it should be neither runny nor too hard, but a homogenous soft mix.

To garnish and serve:  You have more frying to do; don’t despair, though, these will look fascinating!  First, prepare crispy golden fried onion, following this instruction.

Second, use the same frying pan to do your fried garlic. Finely chop 3-4 garlic cloves and briefly fry them in hot oil over medium heat.  Be careful not to burn them, they could be darker and harder than you see in this picture, but not too much so.  Take the fried garlic out of the pan and leave on a kitchen towel.

Lastly, briefly fry 1 tbsp of powdered dry mint in 2 tbsp. hot oil (this needs to be done just before serving).

Time to serve!  Spoon the eggplants mix in the middle of a shallow platter.  It should be surrounded with the following: Fried ground meat, ground walnuts, crispy-fried onion, fried garlic – arrange them the way my sis has (shown in the picture) or if you are more creative than I am, use your own style.  Dilute 2 tbsp of kashk and evenly pour it over the eggplants mix. Top it with splashes of runny fried dried mint.  Tip: take a few minutes to let gusts admire your creation before breaking into the patterns and starting to serve!

Variation: For a less greasy dish, do not fry eggplants at all.  It is very simple: wash eggplants, but do not peel.  Using a fork, make several deep holes in the eggplants to let their bitter juice out. Place them in a baking dish and cook in oven preheated to 400 F. for 45 minutes, or until they look like collapsing on themselves; turn them at least once during the cooking process.  Let them cool for 10 minutes and peel. Skin should come off very easily. You can now mash the flesh, add it to the pan with the fried onion, and take it form there. I often try this method and am absolutely happy with the taste and texture.

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