Aubergine Koresht

My green fingered mother-in-law presented me with a clutch of shiny, obsidian skinned aubergines - grown in her own garden. As I am having a love affair with all things Persian, khoresht (Persian fragrant stew) seemed a fitting end for them.

For those of you who have grown your own aubergines this recipe is a way of honouring both  your efforts as a gardener and the fruit of your labours.

For the rest of us, it's a nice late summer celebration of the aubergine whilst admitting that the nights do now have a little nip in them, which makes you appreciate something warm and round flavoured for supper.

Aubergine Koresht for 4-6 people

4-5 aubergines (1 kilo approx)
1 large onion
500g boned lamb shoulder
4 flavoursome tomatoes finely chopped
1 whole tomato
3-4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp saffron ground in a pestle and mortar with a pinch of brown sugar or salt
olive oil

Halve the aubergines length ways and make three slits down each of them almost through to the skin. Salt the aubergine halves and lay them face down on kitchen paper for at least two hours, changing the paper once during that time. This salting prevents the aubergines from taking up too much oil when you fry them and shouldn't be skipped!

when this is done, cut the aubergines into 2cm (approx) cubes, heat 1cm depth of olive oil in a large frying pan and fry very gently in batches until translucent. Do not heat the olive oil high or it will start to break down chemically and become damaging to your body. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.

Finely chop the onion and fry in a tsp of goosefat/chicken fat/coconut oil in a deep saucepan until pale golden and soft. While this is happening, cut the lamb into bite sized pieces. Sprinkle the turmeric over the softened onions and stir for 30 seconds to cook out the bitterness. Add the lamb and fry for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned. Sprinkle the saffron over, season with pepper and stir once to coat.

Add the finely chopped tomatoes to the pan and cook gently for ten minutes until the tomato tarts to darken and the sweet smell rises up from the pan.

Pour 250ml boiling water over the meat and bring everything up to the boil. Reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover firmly and leave to simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours. Check occasionally that the water is not evaporating too fast and top up if need be, but remember the koresht is supposed to have a thick sauce at the end, so some of the water should evaporate during the course of cooking. The less you top it up, the better the flavour will be.

Place the aubergine cubes on top of the meat and spread out into an even layer. There should be just enough liquid to cover the aubergine. Slice the remaining tomato and lay over the aubergine. Do not stir the koresht from this point onwards. Cover and braise gently for another 30 minutes.

Next gently push the koresht aside with a wooden spoon in one spot and pour in the lemon juice. Gently tilt the pan in all directions to distribute the lemon juice evenly. Sprinkle the tomatoes with cinnamon to taste, cover again and simmer for 30 minutes more until the sauce is thick. If it seems too soupy then take the lid off for a bit, but do not raise the temperature as the bottom will burn. If serving with rice, I usually put it on at this point.

Serve sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs such as coriander, parsley, chervil or mint and some finely chopped red onion. Accompany with a crisp, herby salad. Delicious!