Asefeh Zeinalabedini is Iranian, born and raised, and is residing in Australia at the moment. She is a linguist and writes and performs in Persian, Azerbaijani and English.
Experience shows that it does not matter how long you stay in a land different from your land of birth, you will still tend to pick the recipes that you enjoyed the most in your own country, had the best memories sharing with your family members, and that were carved into your heart when it comes to eating. Eating, food, recipes, and various methods of cooking with special ingredients are features of all cultures, and while the specifics are different in different countries, the broad features seem common to all.
Hence, the latter point can be and is usually a common start to conversations between people of different nations; an exchange of the very essence of important experiences in a lifetime – in those twists of vine leaves, where the technique changes ever so slightly from one hand to another; in frying instead of steaming potatoes in a particular dish, and so on. I believe that such experiences and memories are what make someone who they are, so when they share a cooking tale with you, they share a small bit of themselves with you.
One such experience for me, that I would like to share, comes to my mind when I think back to the great cuisine of my culture – to a food that is not a common Iranian dish, but rather a special Azeri food. The dish, very famous in my hometown of Tabriz, is called Qarni Yariq.
Qarni Yariq means “cut stomach”. “Qarin” means “stomach”, and “qarni” means “its stomach”. “Yariq” is the past participle for the Azeri word “yarmaq”, which means “anything that has been cut”. No, no! Do not worry – we do not cut our own stomachs, but the eggplants’! Yes, the main ingredient of Qarni Yariq is yummy eggplants with a cut in their chubby stomachs!
In these pictures, the dish has been made by the soft hands of my mum, and that is how I learned to make it. So it has become almost a holy food for me as it takes me back to the delicious memories of lunch and dinner at my family’s table in Tabriz.
The following recipe serves four people. I hope you will try to cook some for yourself – you won’t regret it!
- 4 large eggplants
(Note: the number of eggplants that you use depends on their size. Usually, each Aussie eggplant, with their chubby bellies, is a good serve for one person. For Azeri eggplants, two will serve one person.)
- 500 g minced beef or lamb
- 1 medium-sized onion
- 3 small garlic cloves
- 3 medium-sized carrots, grated
- 2 medium-sized tomatoes (and / or red capsicum)
- 3-4 sprigs of parsley (or to your satisfaction)
- 3-4 sprigs of dill (or to your satisfaction)
- 4-5 sprigs of basil (or to your satisfaction)
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon of your preferred spice mix
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (or vinegar)
The meal will be ready 20 minutes after it has all been assembled in a pot and set to low heat on your stove-top.
Wash and dry the eggplants, then give them a clean cut in their stomachs, leaving the far ends untouched and making sure you do not slice through to the backs, since you do not want the filling to drop off at the ends or fall out through the back. Give a touch of oil to an oven tray and line the eggplants next to each other inside it. Add a bit of salt to them, inside and out, and leave them in the oven for 20-30 minutes to roast slowly at 150-180ºC. Check them to see if they are soft enough that you can empty a bit of that chubby belly out, and when they are, leave them aside.
At this stage we need to prepare our mix of ingredients for the bellies, so put the eggplants aside to cool down!
Chop the onions and garlic as tiny as possible. Sauté them in hot oil, adding salt, pepper, turmeric and your preferred spice mix after a few minutes. When they turn a golden colour, add in the minced meat. Once the meat is broken up and cooked through, add the grated carrots. Stir the mixture well, put the lid on your pan and let it all cook well in the natural juices (add a little bit of water here if the mixture is too dry). Next, chop up the tomatoes and the herbs (again, as small as you can), and add these to the filling mixture.
Mix together the tomato paste and the lemon juice with one or two spoonsful of hot water. (I should mention here that this recipe is for sour/lemony taste-lovers, but you can always make it suitable to your own taste with more or less of either ingredient.) Add this sauce to the mixture in the pan and stir well. Put the lid on and let it cook altogether until most of the liquid is gone and you are left with a moist, but not wet, mix of ingredients.
Assembling the dish
We are now just a few steps away from enjoying this delicious meal! Next, we just need to fill up those eggplant stomachs with the mix we have prepared. Be careful not to overload them with filling – you don’t want it to spill out when you give them a last simmer on the stove-top.
Once you have stuffed all your eggplants and lined them up in a deep pot, add a bit of water at their sides and leave them to cook with the lid on. At this stage, you can add a bit more tomato sauce (with vinegar this time instead of lemon juice).
(Note: you could also add dried plums and apricots and raw grapes at this stage. This combination is so popular in Tabriz; it will give you a sweet-sour rich sauce that complements the eggplants deliciously!)
Let this simmer for a few minutes, to let the sauce become richer in taste.
Comments: Qarni Yariq is served with special bread called sangak. The word literally means “small stones”, describing the small stones of the kiln or tandoor that mark the bread during the preparation process. It can also be served with naan lavash, or really any bread that you have access to. It also goes along well with a fresh salad or a yogurt-mint sauce, or fresh herbs and radishes.
Seeing these photos again, and the way the table is decorated in my mum’s style is making me miss my lovely family in Tabriz, so I am going to go make this myself now! I hope that I have tempted you enough to cook it soon, too.
Nushe jan! (Bon appétit!)
© Asefeh Zeinalabedini, 2017