Friday, February 11, 2005

Kitchen Traveler

As you've probably guessed from previous posts, I have a keen interest in exploring the cuisines of other countries. Maybe it's due to having gone vegetarian and finding so many fabulous "ethnic" dishes in my search for good food... maybe we can blame it all on that long-long-ago (over two decades... eeps!) 4-H project I took on "International Foods." (That was a fun one... I rocked out on that project, researching a country's cuisine and putting on a dinner for my folks each month, complete with table decor and occasionally costume. Yeah, I've always been a total cooking geek. But I digress.)

So it will be no surprise to you when I say that after my recent forays into Georgian cooking (insert satisfied and rapturous sigh here), the snowfall yesterday inspired me to move only a bit further south, into ancient Persia and modern-day Iran.

A couple of years ago, I came across a gorgeous cookbook called Silk Road Cooking that spanned cuisines from Italy and Greece, through Central Asia, and on to India and China (with many stops along the way). The photography in the book made the dishes look especially appealing, so I copied down a number of the recipes to try in due course.

Last evening I hauled a plump, glossy eggplant out of the crisper for a fabulous dish called fesenjan-e bademjan. The eggplant, along with sauteed onion and garlic and spices and herbs, ends up being simmered in a delectable sauce of ground walnuts, honey, and pomegranate juice, my new favorite. The sauce delights the eyes as well as the taste buds because it starts off with that typical ruby glow and gets a wonderful pink froth as you blend it and add it to the eggplant. (Of course, it doesn't last, but it's fun while it does!)

The recipe suggested serving the dish with rice or pasta, neither of which I felt like making when faced with the last chunk of Georgian cheese bread. (Well, the two countries are almost neighbors, so why not?) The contrast in texture between the tender softened eggplant and the tiny ground walnuts, the contrast in flavors (sweet, slightly sour, and spicy), and the contrast in colors all made it a superbly exotic treat.

I may try this again in summer as there are a couple of warm-weather dishes that I think would go very well with it (a good borani, a melon sorbet). But for a winter's night, it made a pleasant getaway to warmer climes, even if only in my mind.

And it's anyone's guess as to where my cooking will travel next.


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