We kicked off our snow-covered boots and entered my friend B’s parents’ home through the side entrance. Our feet found their way onto the rose pink carpet from Tabriz, intricately woven, just like the delicately embroidered shawls my Ami wears.
The Hosseini home smelled like caramel. Sheets of sangak, an Irani bread dotted with white and black sesame seeds were lying in the kitchen, cloaked in a pink cotton sheet. They smelled nutty and of burnt sugar. Like a crème brûlée. B’s mum, Aunty Mehrnaz had brought this freshly baked bread from the Irani bakery for us. B and I tore off pieces of it, tucking some creamy feta and fresh tarragon leaves into it. Aunty Mehrnaz scolded us- we had a large meal ahead of us and we were not to spoil our appetities. Aunty Mehrnaz is from Gilan, a province in Iran, and she was going to teach us how to prepare some typical Gileki dishes.
But first, we sat down to amber-hued cups of Persian tea, fragranced with cardamom. And there was even some milk chocolate from England. I had a chocolate caramel, which melted in my warm mouth as the tea went down…
While the snow settled on the trees and rooftops, softly outside…
B & Aunty Mehrnaz
Aunty Mehrnaz and B brought bushels of herbs to the kitchen table…liquorice-scented tarragon, verdant coriander, spicy mint, sweet curly parsley.
I stood there with Aunty Mehrnaz tearing off each leaf one by one for sabzi khordan…
For the Baghala Ghatogh, Aunty Mehrnaz had soaked some pach baghali; small white kidney beans, from the night before. It is difficult to find these outside of Iran, perhaps an Irani grocer may carry them. She had meticulously peeled each and every single bean, freeing it of its skin. I sautéed slivers of garlic in olive oil, adding a mound of a vermillion turmeric, and spoonfuls of dried dill; it was such a heady, beautiful fragrance. We added a little bit of water and replaced the lid, allowing the beans to steam and all the flavours to continue coming together.
And like in all Irani households, it was time for tea again…
And then back into the kitchen to prepare Mirza Ghasemi, a Gileki dish. To prepare this, aubergine is slow roasted in the oven till it slumps, hisses and sighs, then it is scooped out from its skin. Mashed in a bowl, it is added to a frying pan with garlic…
You make a well in the middle and add chopped, blanched tomatoes and dustings of salt, pepper, turmeric and black pepper. Then some fried eggs with soft, pudgy yolks are added and mixed into the velvety aubergine.
You keep sautéing it for a few minutes (and turn to look into the camera for just a split second, as I did, here).
While Uncle Bijan continued to read and write Persian poetry…
in this beautiful home…
And then it was finally time to set the table…
Decant the tah dig; that rice with a crunchy base…
…which you douse with gravy and the oozing egg yolks from Baghala Ghatogh…
and Mirza Ghasemi, tucking pieces of fragrant herbs and bits of spicy radish into our mouths with each bite…
We gathered in the family room for more tea and dessert, but by that time the camera had been stowed away and we talked about Aunty Mehrnaz’s and Uncle Bijan’s family in Iran and the stories behind all the sepia photos I saw strewn in their home…
A huge thank you to Aunty Mehrnaz and Uncle Bijan for a beautiful weekend in their home.
Serves 4 with bread or rice
*2-3 tbsps olive oil
*6 medium aubergine
*4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
*3 medium tomatoes; skin removed by blanching, chopped
*1 heaped tsp turmeric
*1 heaped tsp black pepper
*4 eggs, fried
*salt to taste
Heat your oven to 400F
*Pierce each aubergine with a fork, arrange on a tray and roast in the oven for 1 hour or till they look soft and wilted.
*Allow the aubergines to rest and come to room temperature, then scoop out the flesh and discard the skin.
*Mash the aubergine flesh with a potato masher.
*In a large frying pan, add olive oil, garlic and turmeric and place on a medium flame. Sauté the garlic for 2-3 minutes.
*Add aubergine flesh and turn heat to medium-high. Sauté till the liquid from the aubergines water begins to evaporate.
*Make a well in the middle and add tomatoes. Continue to rigorously sauté.
* Add the fried eggs and mix together. Chop the eggs into small pieces, incorporating them into the aubergines and tomatoes with your spatula.
*Serve with rice or sangak