Living in a metropolis like Los Angeles introduces us to people from different countries. Many of us have immigrated here and brought our histories, cultures and delicious foods.  For the last 20 years, I’ve been fortunate to make new friends from Iran (its ancient name is “Persia”). When my family and I go to our friends’ homes, we dance to exotic Persian music and share our experiences in lively conversation. Last but not least, we feast on colorful foods made with  meats, vegetables and fruits!

Here’s one of my favorite Persian dishes – Eggplant and Lamb Stew. NOTE: Taking the time to prep this dish is worth it!

Active Prep Time: 30-40 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 3 hours (2-1/2 for stewing meat & 30 minutes in oven)
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients for Stew:
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds lamb stew meat (boneless leg of lamb, cut into 4-inch chunks)
2 large white or yellow onions, peeled & thinly sliced
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup frozen sour grapes, optional (buy this product at a Middle Eastern supermarket)
2 cups tomato puree, combined with 2 cups water in a bowl
2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons honey or sugar (optional, should you need to adjust sour/sweet level)
6 small Italian eggplants
2 tablespoons salt (for the eggplant)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Ingredients for Garnish:
3 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large white or yellow onion, peeled and thinly-sliced into half-moons
1 large tomato, diced

Directions for Stew:
1. In an 8-quart sauce pot, heat 3 tablespoons of oil. When oil is hot (not smoking), add the lamb chunks.

2. Brown the lamb, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

3. When lamb is brown, add onions, salt, pepper, saffron water, sour grapes, tomato puree mixture and the lime juice.

4. Simmer the lamb with added ingredients for 2 to 2-1/2 hours on low heat, semi-covered. Stir occasionally and, if the liquid dries out, add 1/2 cup water to prevent sticking at bottom of sauce pot.

5. After the lamb stew simmers for one hour, add the cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg; stir and taste. If needed, adjust salt and spice levels.

6. If stew tastes too “sour”, add some honey or sugar; taste & adjust sour/sweet levels.

7. Occasionally add small amounts of water to prevent drying and the stew sticking to bottom of sauce pot.

8. While the meat continues cooking, cut & discard top stems from eggplants; peel the eggplants.

9. Set eggplants in a colander over a bowl; sprinkle eggplants with a little water and then coat them with 2 tablespoons salt.

10. Let bitter juices from the eggplant drain for about 10 minutes.

11. After 10 minutes, in a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil on medium heat.

12. On medium-high heat, fry the eggplant until brown on each side.

13. Drain the eggplant on paper towel-lined plate; set aside.

14. After stew has cooked for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, taste the lamb. It should be fork-tender. If not, cook stew for an additional 10 minutes.

Directions for Assembling Stew & Eggplant:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Transfer the stew to a glass Pyrex baking dish measuring 14 X 9 inches.

3. Place eggplant on top of stew; set aside.

4. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons oil and fry the sliced onion for about 4 minutes or until translucent and light golden.

5. Stir in the tomato cubes; cook on medium heat for 2 minutes.

6. Spread the onion-tomato garnish over the stew in Pyrex baking dish; cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

7. Serve the Eggplant & Lamb Stew with steamed Basmati rice.
Text & Photograph ©2022 Nancy DeLucia Real