Mitra Stricklen, a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Chicago, a gardener, cook and local food advocate, adores eggplant, particularly her mother's Persian-style sweet-and-sour eggplant. Ms. Stricklen says she carries the recipe for khoresht bademjoon in her head to farmers markets and modifies the basic formula to suit what is best in the market that day.
2 large eggplants
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 yellow onions, sliced
1/4 cup vegetable oil
One 14.5-ounce can whole tomatoes or 6 large tomatoes, roasted and peeled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup water or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Persian Herbed Steamed Rice (Chelo; page 63), for serving
1. Cut the eggplants into thick slices. Generously salt both sides of each eggplant slice and let drain in a colander for 15 minutes so the salt can pull out the bitterness.
2. Rinse the slices and pat dry.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over low heat and add the onions. Cook until soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.
4. Heat the vegetable oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and fry the eggplant slices until golden brown on each side. Remove from the oil and drain on a wire rack set over a baking sheet or paper towels.
5. In a large saucepan, combine the tomatoes, 1 tablespoon salt, the cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, water and lemon juice and mix well. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the eggplant slices and cook for 5 minutes more.
6. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the fried onions. Serve with chelo.
Excerpted from One Big Table: 600 Recipes from the Nation's Best Home Cooks, Farmers, Fishermen, Pit-Masters, and Chefs by Molly O'Neill. Copyright 2010 by Molly O'Neill. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster.