Cooking with Aunty Mehrnaz-Cuisine from Gilan: Mirza Ghasemi and Baghala Ghatogh

Mirza Ghasemi

Mirza Ghasemi

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.

Sangak

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…

home

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

shayma sabzi khordan

baghali ghatogh

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…

Aunty Mehrnaz took out her book on the cuisine of Gilan, whilst B’s father, Uncle Bijan read us couplets from Nicholson‘s translation of Rumi’s Masnavi

Rumi and Gilan cuisine

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…

mirza ghasemi

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).

Shayma Cooking Gilani Cuisine

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…

tah dig

…which you douse with gravy and the oozing egg yolks from Baghala Ghatogh

baghali 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.

Mirza Ghasemi:

Serves 4 with bread or rice

Ingredients:
*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

Preparation:
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

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Comments

  1. Wow! Shayma joon, what a wonderful post on Gilani cuisine!! I’m from the south of Iran but I adore northern region food so very much! These are my favorite foods from Gilan but I don’t get to make baghali ghatogh since it’s so hard to get the pach baghali (special broad beans) around here. Love the beautiful and warm home of your Aunty Mehrnaz. Love the gorgeous home, delicious food, Persian hospitality, amazing post and stunning photography! By the way, I love your new website design! xx

  2. Thank you, Azita Joon. There is a huge Persian community in Toronto- you can find all sorts of Irani specialties / delicacies here. The best is the bakery where they make sangak in front of you- everyone brings cottons sheets to take it home in. And you can find pach baghali here, too. Incredible. Thank you for the lovely comments- Aunty Mehrnaz’s hospitality is typical off all Iranis :) x s

  3. Shayma firstly you look SO pretty! Everything is beautiful, the house, the people, the food. How fascinating it would be to hear Uncle Bijan read poetry. I love this kind of cultural mingling, hearing people’s story of their country and food, it takes you right back to place. And tea yes, in the Arab world you get tea served every other hour :)

    I could quite relate to the flavors in this recipe until I read fried eggs addition. I never had anything even close to that kind of thing. I’m sure it tastes great.

    PS – love the pictures

  4. Cooking with family is the best thing isn’t it? Talking about food, memories and then sitting around the family table, enjoying it.
    The dishes you prepared look really special and interesting but allow me to admire that pink carpet. It’s beautiful.
    Magda

  5. This makes me homesick for meals at my grandmother’s house or when we had guests at my parents’ house. I make mirza ghasemi sometimes but rarely eat baghala ghatogh. What a lovely time I’m sure was had by all.

  6. What a beautiful afternoon and such lovely sounding food. I’m going to have to experiment with this cuisine.

  7. A beautiful & welcoming home. I love the colors of a Middle Eastern home, always so warm. You look beautiful and the dish is one to try. The new blog design looks awesome…xo..Aysegul…

  8. This takes me right back to my grandparents’ house in Tehran. The bread, the sabzi, the carpets and the decorations are all so so Persian. It’s a long time since I was in Iran so it’s good to have the memories revived.

  9. I have to say that you are very pretty! the rug, the pillows, friends. poetry and recipes mingles and the outcome is what but a beautiful post!! I have never heard of aubergine & eggs combined. Would love to make this. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Loved, loved, loved the picture-heavy account. Makes it so much more richer!

  11. Wow, what a feast! Thank you so much for sharing.

  12. Hi! Love the new blog design! Also LOVE this post! Its so real and beautiful wonderful that this time you’ve got pictures of everyone! Makes its more warm and special …pictures of the house are lovely too!
    Im sure all of us here are hoping you will continue to take as many or more photos each time you post! Thats what makes you blog so special the stories you intertwine with the food! 2 of the best things in the world FAMILY and FOOD!
    God Bless … You look lovely and make me wonder how you stay so slim despite being such a great cook! Do let us in on that secret! And beauty tips welcome also…maybe you should consider another blog on Middle Eastern / NWFP beauty coz all of you look stunning!

  13. Weirdly enough I came across a recipe for mirza ghasemi that I just emailed to myself; yours looks better though. Sounds like a lovely weekend to have.

  14. @Kulsum It truly was a magical time, the snow falling outside, the tea, the stories, the poetry, the food, the company. And the addition of eggs to the aubergine was just delicious. It’s an easy dish and I’ll be making it often (especially because the eggs provide nutrients). Thanks for the lovely words.

    @Magda Thank you for visiting- the whole house was covered with even more beautiful carpets- absolutely exquisite.

    @Hilda It truly was a lovely time. I wonder where in Iran your family comes from? Thanks for the comment.

    @Corina Yes, please do- Irani food is really tasty and so versatile. Each region offers something different.

    @Aysegul @Ambreen @Clare Thank you, dear Aysegul.

    @BettyM You are so lucky to come from a country so rich in culture. Thank you for visiting my blog.

    @Aditi Thank you for your kind words. Food and family are so intertwined, aren’t they? As for writing a blog on ‘beauty’- I leave that to my sister- so here is a shameless plug-in- she writes a column for the Express Tribune http://tribune.com.pk/author/188/maria-saadat/ – enjoy!

    @Lizzie This is an easy-peasy recipe, hope you can try it soon. I know you love aubergine as much as I do.

  15. From the first photo, I never would have guessed there were fried eggs in there! Ah… look at the glorious tahdig!

  16. This is so glorious – and what wonderful photographs. A feast for the eyes, as well as the table. x

  17. This is a beautifully described piece …and thanks to the eastern hospitality of your Iranian friends we have learned something exotic. It’s rare to get an inside peep into the daily lives of people who cook with a passion and whose cuisine adds richness to any table. By the way, love your new format…as fresh as mint tea ..that your host family served! Uncle is such an intellectual…reads Rumi and Hafiz and even writes poetry…Wow!!!

  18. shayma, i have been a longtime follower of your blog but this is the first time i am commenting. i have never in my life run across such a beautiful and passionate woman as you! your posts make me want to go home to my kitchen and envelope myself in fragrant, colorful, satisfying cooking. your writing style is so genuine, and your photographs are absolutely stunning. my sister lives in toronto, and while we have explored the various indian eateries and shops, i haven’t ventured to see the persian ones. that is definitely on my list the next time i visit her. any recommendations on good sources for persian food and groceries?

  19. @Su-Lin You mash them up really well with your spatula ;)

    @MrsTrefusis Thank you, darling Mrs T. As always.

    @Gourmand It was a magical weekend; Uncle really is an intellect- tea, food, poetry, wonderful company- it’s all you need, really.

    @Suman Thank you so much for these kindest words. As for places in Toronto-there are so many- my favourites are: Super Khorak (you can buy freshly baked breads from here) and Tavazo (a shop dedicated to dried fruits and spices). For delicious kebabs- a hole in the wall- Adel Kebab. Hope you’re able to visit these places when you’re in Toronto next.

  20. Thanks for the recipe! I’ve thought about making Mirza Ghasemi before but always postponed it…now I don’t have any more excuses :-)
    All the best,
    A Pakistani crazy about anything Iranian….

  21. What a delightful insight into Iranian cuisine which I know next to nothing about. It has been an eye-opening experience reading your post.

  22. The rich Sangak, that perfect Tah Dig, the eggy Mirzha Ghasemi…the stories attached…all so very beautiful

  23. Your friend and her parents seem so lovely and very warm and hospitable! Gorgeous pics and spread! I am hungry now. :)

  24. Gosh I love reading your posts, Shayma! You are an amazing writer! What a lovely weekend of cooking,eating & poetry you had..priceless! I love visiting your blog..it takes me to a nostalgic era..I start to dream! I adore those tea cups! Thanks for sharing! :)

  25. Lovely post Shayma. The feast layed out on the table looks divine. Reminds me of family meals in India and just how it brings everyone together x

  26. Beautiful food and beautiful people all in one post. I’m so glad I found your blog!

    I would have scolded you too. Never ruin your appetite right?! :)

  27. The blog is looking great–so many gorgeous photos! I thought of you last night as we were having dinner at Balaboosta, and feasting on divine labne, eggplant, falafel and even a carrot pizza! xo

  28. What a delightful table! I love that you treat the whole herbs as a proper condiment. Just lovely – and the crust on that rice…

    It seems that many cuisines have a version of Baghala Ghatogh – in Greece, we call them gigantes and use a broader white lima bean stewed with dill and tomato (http://anthimeria.com/2010/01/19/gigantes-baked-beans/).

  29. Great cooking and great photography :) Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  30. Absolutely, one of the most worth reading posts in the net !! So much beauty in all senses, in all things Shayma! and that carpet…wow!! I imagine its silky touch..Thanks for letting us know this side of your life, your family, your people…You must be proud!!

  31. wow…looks like a colorful feast. i love the decor and recipes

  32. Love that dish and the peeling reminds me of myself peeling the chick peas one by one! Love the Persian tea, the poetry reading and all of these customary rituals that remind me of being in a Persian home surrounded by refinement, warmth and wonderful smells.

  33. I found ur blog and am walking away , so impressed and in love, actually not walking away coz i will be here again:-)
    I loveee ur story and ur life and the thought behind all the food on this wonderful space.
    Pics are stunning ,food is filled with love , and thats what really matters!
    Am loving this day , wonderful memories!
    Sunshine smiles for a super sparkly day babe!

  34. And can i ask u something , do u know of any online store(besides amazon)that sells Iranian green pistachios and Iranian saffron online?
    Any store is fine, as long as its online:-)

  35. This blog is wonderful…bravo!

  36. What a lovely post Shayma…I came here after Mahasweta pointed me here after reading my mom’s blog posts on Iran. We are Bengalis from India. Lived in Iran at Rasht in 78,79. I was really tiny there…here are my mom’s memories from there….hope you find them interesting. I hope to go back to Iran someday http://www.finelychopped.net/search/label/On%20a%20Persian%20Carpet

  37. What a lovely blog you have! I don’t know how it is that I haven’t come across it before. And I think to myself, how can it be that you exist and I know you not? That must be remedied some day. For the time being, I will settle for the mouthwatering recipes and the mesmerizing stories. I’ve bookmarked this blog so I don’t lose it. Best wishes to you.

  38. Beautiful pictures and stories, thanks for such a great post. The mirza ghasemi looks fantastic! -Louisa

  39. An Old Traveller says:

    Shayma Khanum

    What a lovely description. I have missed Mirza Ghassemi since my first wife made it decades ago when we lived in Iran. You have wonderfully captured the heart and soul of Iranian hospitality.

    Of course there is poetry and music.

    Blessings on you and your family

Trackbacks

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