Persian-Italian Eggplant Stew – Recipe (Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten-Free)

Persian-Italian Eggplant Stew (Vegetarian, Vegan, and Gluten-Free)
Persian-Italian Eggplant Stew

Yes, I said Persian-Italian. Bear with me here for a second. I was looking for some sort of moist eggplant dish to serve with Persian rice (a wonderful basmati pilaf with a crunchy crust; I’ll tell you about that soon). I came across several recipes for a Persian dish named Fesenjan-e Bademjan, which is eggplant braised in a sauce of walnuts, pomegranate, and honey.

This sounded amazing, but I had two problems: I had no pomegranate molasses in the house, and I can’t serve walnuts. I scanned my pantry for something that might replace the pomegranate, and hit upon mosto cotto (aka saba), which is the cooked grape must that would become balsamic vinegar if it was aged.

Mosto cotto is fruity, sweet and sour in a way very comparable to the pomegranate molasses. So I decided to roll with it and reimagine the dish as if it were cooked by a Persian traveling on a trade route through Italy in the 10th century. (I have an active imagination). The sweet / sour / spiced flavors seem almost medieval.

As for the walnuts, I figured that their main purpose was to thicken and enrich the sauce. I substituted roasted, unsweetened sunflower seed butter. But if you have walnut butter or can toast and grind whole ones, I’m sure that would be great.

You’ll notice I don’t salt and drain the eggplants. Some people feel this is essential to remove bitterness. To me, it just makes them wet so they don’t brown well. I don’t find them particularly bitter.

Persian-Italian Eggplant Stew
Vegetarian, vegan (if you replace the honey with say agave nectar), and gluten-free
Serves 4

  • 3 medium or 2 large eggplant (I used normal Western style eggplants)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
  • several grinds fresh black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons mosto cotto (saba)
  • 2 tablespoons honey (replace if you want vegan)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons roasted, unsweeted sunflower butter (or see above)
  • 2 cups water
  • salt
  • handful parsley leaves
  • 2 teaspoons sumac powder
  1. Trim the eggplants and cut them in quarters, lengthwise. In a large skillet, heat the oil over a medium high-flame. Fry the eggplant on all sides until well seared and golden brown. Remove to paper towels and season with salt.
  2. Leaving the remaining oil in the pan, reduce the heat to medium and fry the onion and garlic for 3 minutes. Add the cumin, cinnamon, cayenne and black pepper and cook for one more minute. Add the mosto cotto, honey, red wine vinegar, and sunflower butter and water. The sunflower butter will be a lump at first, but once it heats up you can whisk it in easily.
  3. Simmer for a few minutes and then season with salt as needed. Cut the cooled eggplant into bite sized pieces and add back to the sauce. Reduce heat to a bare simmer. Cook until the eggplant is fully tender and the sauce thickened, about 10 minutes.
  4. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, cayenne, or vinegar as needed to achieve a complex mixture of spices, sweet, and sour.
  5. Garnish with parsley leaves and sumac and serve.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Tuesday, May 11th, 2010 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Main Courses, Recipes, Vegan or Modifiable.

15 Responses to “Persian-Italian Eggplant Stew – Recipe (Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten-Free)”

  1. Reply
    May 11, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    Can’t wait to try this!!

  2. Reply
    May 11, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    I do have pomegranate molasses in the fridge, so how much should I use? The same 2 tbsp?

  3. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    May 11, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Hi Heron – if you want to make something like my dish, yes, 2 Tbsp would be about right. Otherwise, google Fesenjan-e Bademjan and you can see more about the traditional recipe.


  4. Reply
    May 11, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    I can’t say I will ever become a vego. But this veg fish is STUNNING!

  5. Reply
    May 12, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    This looks really interesting. I am always looking for ways to use up eggplant from our CSA. I tend to sneak it into soups, stews, and sauces since my husband’s not a fan.

  6. Reply
    May 17, 2010 at 12:07 am #

    Interesting use of mosto cotto. Just like to add, it takes a bit more than ageing to make mosto cotto into balsamic. (You need the fermentation and acetic bio- oxidation – turning the must into vinegar) before the ageing. Sorry for sounding so dotty, and please indulge me Michael, the fact is that I am from Modena…. 🙂 😉

  7. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    May 17, 2010 at 6:46 am #

    @Alessandra – you are so right! By the way, do you use the terms mosto cotto and saba interchangably?

  8. Reply
    May 18, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    Some people do, Saba is mosto cotto, grape must cooked for a few hours in a copper pot (with some whole walnuts inside – usually 12, don’t know why, so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom) it becomes very sweet and it is bottled as saba or sapa. To make balsamic vinegar you also cook must, in bigger pots, for about 11 hours, without walnuts 🙂

    I mean, there are many types of mosto cotto, and some is called saba.

    FYI, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is made only with cooked must, while Aceto Balsamico di Modena (without the word tradizionale) is made with cooked must and wine vinegar.

  9. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    May 18, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    Very interesting about the walnuts, that could be a hidden nut allergy risk!

  10. Reply
    May 22, 2010 at 11:28 am #


    Maybe I’m blind, but in the directions you don’t mention when the water is added..


  11. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    May 22, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    Thank you, fixed!

  12. Reply
    June 14, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    You may find it interesting to know that we Persians have another dish (called khoresht-e-bademjan or eggplant stew) which is basically eggplant cooked with some meat and tomatoes, and in that we put something we call “ghooreh” which is green (as in not ripe) grapes or the cooked juice of that “ab-ghooreh”. Ghooreh is sour and I’ve never tried mosto cotto, but maybe it is similar to ab-ghooreh. Ab-ghooreh is also the perfect salad dressing in my opinion.

  13. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    June 14, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    Wow, that sounds really interesting! Sounds more similar to verjus (link to than mosto cotto. We are lucky enough to live in an area where it shouldn't be hard to get unripe grapes, so I'll have to try making that myself (both cooked and uncooked).


  14. Reply
    July 24, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

    I’m very excited to try this recipe. Have everything from the pomegranate molasses to walnut and sumac!! Will definitely blog about it if it turns out good 🙂

  15. Reply
    March 6, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    I’m trying this tonight. I don’t have walnuts but I’m going to ground some sunflower seeds and use that instead. I have prepared eggplant in both ways and with my experience I have found that when you salt, rinse and dry the eggplant they roast/brown really well and keep their form ie don’t become mushy. The salt brings out excess water moisture and the key is to rinse and pat dry before cooking.

    I look forward to eating this. It sounds delicious

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