Sunday, May 25, 2014

Persian-Inspired Chickpea & Herb Soup with Eggplant for Cook The Books April/May: "Funny in Farsi" and Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

A quick clue to the authenticity of my ethnic cuisine recipes is if I call something "inspired" by a cuisine. That means that I have tinkered around enough with the recipe to make me uncomfortable claiming it as an authentic representation. 'Inspired by' is usually the way I cook by the time I take out the meat, reduce the saturated fat, and change up the ingredients to fit what I like and what I have on hand. Case in point, this Persian-Inspired Chickpea and Herb Soup with Eggplant adapted from a couple of different recipes and my dish inspired by the warm and humorous Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas. Funny in Farsi is the April/May selection for our virtual foodie book club, Cook the Books, hosted this round by Rachel, The Crispy Cook.   

I first read this book when it was published in 2003, drawn to it for the humor and another glimpse into a culture that I had a small amount of experience with. My first roommate after college is half Iranian and before we got an apartment together, she lived with her Iranian-born aunt and uncle and their family. I spent time there and was always intrigued by the mix of Iranian and American culture in their house--which mostly looked like the average American household except for the ornate hookah (water pipe) in the corner of the dinning room and the constant aroma of saffron in the kitchen. They were a big family with their young-adult children mostly born and raised in the U.S. and there was usually much 'discussion' about their actions and ideas versus what their parents wanted and expected.

Funny in Farsi is the author's stories of arriving in Southern California from Iran with her family in 1972 at age seven, through her adulthood and married life with a French national. It is a wonderful blend of laugh-out-loud stories (often involving her father) and more poignant moments as the family tries to assimilate into the culture with varying degrees of ease and success. Dumas' writing is warm and chatty, and she clearly writes with love about her family. It's a quick read, easy to relate to regardless of what your background is. If you have a family that you love but that sometimes embarrasses you, you have traveled or spent time in/with another culture or country, or even if you just grew up in America, you'll recognize and connect with the author's experiences and enjoy this book.  

Of course food plays a key role in Dumas' stories--both traditional Persian food as well as the American dishes the family was introduced do--some of the most engaging parts of the book. I loved reading about the 'cafeteria food tastes' Dumas' father developed and his 'going to lunch' with his brother which turned out to be hitting the sampling tables at the regional big-box, warehouse store. (Maybe that is also a generational thing as I tease my own mom about making a meal from in-store sampling.) ;-) I love Persian food, having developed a taste from the dinners with my roommate's family. My favorite dish was one her uncle often made, a mix of rice, lima beans and dill with chunks of chicken breast called baghali polo. Appreciating the fact that I liked his cooking, he would often send a container-full home with us--topped with plenty of tahdig--the crispy layer of rice that develops at the bottom of the pot while it cooks. My roommate was lucky to get a few bites as I would devour every bit of it that I could get away with. 

For my book-inspired dish, I turned to Persian Cooking: A Table of Exotic Delights by Nesta Ramazani to find an eggplant stew, mentioned a few times in the book. The book notes that there are three basic types of Persian or Iranian soups; meat-based (ab goosht), vegetable-based (ash) which can also contain meat, and finally a thin soup that resembles a French soup (soup). Back in my meat-eating days, I made the Ab-Goosht or Persian Lamb Shank Soup from this book which was hearty and good. It turns out most of the soup recipes in the book, particularly those with eggplant contained lamb or other meat so I decided to pick a recipe (Chickpea & Herb Soup or Ash-e Shol Ghalamacar), replace the lamb with eggplant, then add a few aspects/ingredients from a couple of the other recipes to turn it into a hearty vegan soup/stew. The Ash-e Shol Ghalamacar recipe is below with my changes noted in red.

Persian-Inspired Chickpea & Herb Soup with Eggplant 
(Ash-e Shol Ghalamacar Bademjan)
Adapted From Persian Cooking by Nesta Ramazani
(Serves 8-10)

1/2 lb chickpeas
1/2 lb beans (navy, pinto or kidney)
2 large onions, chopped or sliced
2 Tbsp butter or shortening (I used 1 Tbsp olive oil)
1 tsp turmeric 
2 lbs lamb shank (I replaced with eggplant)
1/2 lb lentils (I used split yellow peas)
(I added 3 cups vegetable broth + water) 
3 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups rice (I used basmati)
3 lbs mixed greens (such as scallions, parsley, dill, coriander, spinach), chopped (I used about 1 lb mostly spinach, with mint, dill, parsley and coriander)
(I garnished with extra fresh herbs and a pomegranate balsamic glaze)

Soak chickpeas and beans for several hours. Saute the onion in the butter or shortening olive oil until golden brown. Add the turmeric. Add the meat, soaked beans, lentils, salt and pepper and enough water to cover. I added a combination of water and vegetable broth. Simmer gently, covered, for 1 hour. Add the rice and chopped greens. Cook another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I browned the eggplant in a pan with a bit of olive oil and added it to the soup with the rice. Then I added in the spinach and herbs about 10 minutes before the soup was finished cooking.) 

Notes/Results: So, perhaps not the most traditional of Persian soups but quite good if I do say so myself. I like the color and texture of all of the ingredients and it makes for a satisfying but not heavy or oily bowl of soup. It's actually thick enough to be more of a stew with the beans, eggplant, rice, and yellow split peas absorbing much of the broth--so don't put in the rice or have more liquid on hand to add if you like a brothier soup. Since it's not a strongly-spiced soup, it became even better with a drizzle of a pomegranate balsamic glaze. Good comfort food for a drab, slightly rainy, mid-70's temp Sunday. I would make it again. 

The deadline for this round of Cook the Books is Sunday, June 1st and Rachel will be rounding up the entries on the CTB site shortly after. If you can't make it for this round, consider joining us for our June/July selection when I'll be hosting The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, a memoir by Jacques Pépin here at Kahakai Kitchen.

We have a Corina and Janet waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen with a soup and a salad to share--let's take a look. 

Corina of Searching for Spice brings Carrot and Ginger Soup with Marmite Croutons and says, "I often think carrot soup can be difficult to get right.  What it needs is something spicy, sour, bitter or salty to offset the sweetness of the carrots. Otherwise I feel like I’ve had enough after just a few spoonfuls. ...  I love ginger and ginger does go so well with carrot.   It was supposed to serve 4 but it only served me, twice. What I also loved about this was the discovery of the Marmite croutons.  They were strongly flavoured, crispy and salty – a perfect match for the carrot.  In fact, it was probably those Marmite croutons that made me love the soup so much in the end."

Janet of The Taste Space offers up this Asian Kale Slad with Edamame. She says, "Instead of tackling all the leeks and my new produce, I decided to dig through my vegetable bins to find the older vegetables. Finish off the snap peas, carrots and bell peppers, and the last of the scraggly cilantro and scallions. For protein, I quick-thawed some edamame. This combination reminded me of my vegetable buddha salad bowl but since we’re low on miso, I went with a dressing more reminiscent of my (other) raw Asian kale salad with edamame. With so many colourful vegetables and an Asian dressing, how could you go wrong?"

Thanks to Janet and Corina for joining in this week. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy Memorial Day Weekend and week!


  1. What a wonderful soup! I love your connection to Persian Americans too.

  2. You had more of a connection to the culture than I so I was really interested in reading this book. Great dish and I love that you swapped out the lamb for eggplant. Looks delicious, Deb.

  3. I love Persian flavors as well! And the soup sounds great. The story of you eating all of your roommate's food was also a pretty funny accompaniment. :)

  4. Well I did consider it "our" food since he usually sent it home with both of us but I always ate way more than my share! ;-)

  5. Thanks Corina! And thanks for joining in SS this week. ;-)

  6. Thanks Debra! It was a small connection from many years ago but always fun to revisit it. ;-) This CTB round did make me realize I need to cook more Persian dishes.

  7. Thanks Alicia! ;-)

  8. I've discovered that Persian food, or even Persian-inspired food, is probably my favorite. Loved reading about your roommate and the food you shared with her family.

    Love that this is so much like a thick stew full of all the things I love like lentils and chickpeas. I'm especially interested in the pomegranate glaze. Been wanting to get my hands on some since our YO days.

    The kale salad Janet shared looks fabulous. So many pretty colors!

  9. Totally love your creativity with your soup, Deb. It sounds delicious although I was initially concerned by all the herbs: 3 lbs??? Hopefully it was buffered with a lot of spinach ;)

  10. Hey Janet, good catch. The recipe does say 3lbs but I thought I noted that I reduced to about 1 1/4 lbs, mostly spinach + the other herbs but I guess I didn't. I went back in and added the amount I used. 3lbs of greens--especially herbs seemed too much to me too--even if they cook down. ;-)

  11. Thanks Kim! Yes, the pomegranate glaze is pretty yummy--I need to use it more often. ;-)

  12. I LOVE this soup. I will definitely give it a whirl soon.

  13. Sounds very good Deb, and an interesting review with your college time memories.

  14. Hi Deb -- I just loved the stories in this book. All families are alike when you get right down to it. It was a nice read - -cathy


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