Honestly, this is hard to write about because it was such a formative experience for me. When I was seventeen, I had a dear friend and neighbour named Zibandah. She was in her early-ish twenties, a recent Kurdish refugee from Iran with her husband and young daughter and had the most beautiful and mischievous twinkle in her eyes. It also happens that she was the best cook I’d ever know. Beautiful spreads of luscious food; plates of fresh herbs, the most incredible steamed rice, homemade spicy pickled vegetables… but I digress. I miss her.
One afternoon, we took a trip out to a you-pick vegetable farm. We came home with bags of fresh produce and she went off to the kitchen and came out with this – no idea what it’s called, though it seems similar to Iraqi Tapsi – which, to this day, remains the most incredible, delicious and wonderful thing I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Simple and fast to make, this rich, silky stew is an absolute knockout. It melts in your mouth, is buttery and decadent. There aren’t enough superlatives in the world to describe how I (and everyone here) feels about this. It is heavenly. It sparked a love affair with fresh food that will never end.
She served it in a plain pita pocket, topped with plain yogurt, with double steamed basmati rice on the side (the second steaming you cover the bottom of the pot with oil, place a small pita on the oil and then the rice back on top, which give you the fluffiest rice with a bonus pita/rice chip) and a plate of fresh herbs to cleanse your palate. You might consider adding some chickpeas at the end, if you want to! I like it without as chickpeas hurt my stomach a lot and my husband is allergic. It’s very important you salt the eggplant before trying to cook it; you can read my guide to eggplant here. Everything, including freshly steamed rice should be on the table in less than thirty minutes.
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large firm eggplant, sliced into 1/2 inch half moons
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch half moons
1 large tomato, sliced into 1/4 inch half moons
1 large green pepper, seeds removed and roughly chopped
~300 ml of tomato paste, which is two small cans worth
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
Slice and salt the eggplant. Cover the bottom of a heavy-bottomed skillet with olive oil and turn heat to medium-high. Add the eggplant and turn to make sure they are all coated in oil. Let them start to sweat, while you chop the rest of your vegetables. In layers, salting in between, add the onions, green peppers and then tomatoes. Let those start to sweat, turning the heat down to medium. Add the tomato paste, moving the vegetables around so they are coated in tomato paste. Season with salt and sugar. Turn the heat down to low, partially cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. Ready to eat when all the vegetables are soft. Serve hot with rice or potatoes. Can also be served hot or cold in a pita.