Aubergine dip with kashk
This dish literally translates as ‘kashk and aubergine.’ Although it is described as a dip, as with many dip-style dishes from the Middle-East, it is substantial and can be eaten as either an appetiser or a main dish. In our family we tend to serve it as a starter with flatbread before the main event at our larger family gatherings. At home, as a family of 3, we eat it as a main course with a hearty salad like tabbouleh, Noon-e Barbari and some fruit for afters as pictured.
We have other delicious aubergine dip-style dishes like Mirza Ghasemi (tomato based with beaten eggs folded through) and Kal Kabob (made with walnuts and pomegranate molasses) both from the North of Iran. But my heart belongs to Kashke Bademjan as it is the one I grew up eating regularly and the depth of flavour that comes from the ingredients coming together is incredible.
There are various iterations of this recipe but the one I have shared with you is the one I have developed and includes aubergines, garlic, turmeric, caramelised onions, dried mint and kashk.
So what is kashk, I hear you ask. Kashk is a range of fermented dairy products used in Iranian, Turkish, Balkan and Arab cuisines. Kashk has been a staple in the Iranian diet for thousands of years.
Persian “kashk” is a fermented / preserved food that comes in liquid or dried form and is traditionally made with the whey left over from cheese-making. It is used in dishes like Ash-e Reshteh (a herb, lentil, bean and noodle soup), Kashke Badamjan (recipe below) and Kaleh Joosh (a soup made with walnuts, onions and mint). In its dried form it needs to be soaked and softened before it can be used in cooking.
The taste of kashk is distinctive and almost indescribable. It is well worth purchasing and not substituting with an alternative, such as yoghurt. Kashk provides a sour, salty, creamy and slightly cheesy flavour to the dishes it is added to. I may not be selling this to you but I promise if you make this dish you will not be disappointed.
When I was growing up, my maman used to have the dried balls of kashk which she would soak in a bowl in preparation for using them in one of dishes above. Apparently before she knew she was pregnant with my sister, a relative surmised she was as she saw her sucking on kashk like they were sweets! Nowadays, you can buy kashk in liquid form in jars from Middle-Eastern food shops or online. I use Kambiz Kashk and buy it online here or by popping into a local Middle-Eastern supermarket.
I fry the aubergines, as do most Iranians when they cook this dish. But if you would prefer not to, instead of following step 2 to 5, you can oven roast the aubergine, after brushing them with a little oil, for about 30 – 40 minutes or until they are cooked through and soft (oven temp – 180°C (fan) / 200°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 6). Also, if you roast your aubergine, you will need to add a little oil to your frying pan at step 6 to cook the garlic.
We garnish the dish with fried onions, a mint-infused oil, diluted kashk mixed with saffron and ground walnuts.
- 1 cup Vegetable oil (plus more if required)
- 3 large aubergines
- 2 large onions (sliced very finely)
- 5 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 250 ml water
- 2 tbsp kashk (plus a little more diluted in a little water for the garnish / topping design)
- 1 tsp dried mint
- 1 tbsp ground walnuts
- 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tsp of water - for decorating the dish - optional)
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- Peel the aubergines and cut them lengthwise (approximately 1 inch thick slices). Salt them and leave them in a colander for 30 minutes to remove some of the water content. This will help to reduce the amount of oil that is absorbed and to reduce the cooking time required. When you are ready to cook them, dab them with a paper towel to remove the moisture.
- In the meantime, take 2 tsp of vegetable oil and heat in a small pan on a low heat with 1/2 tsp of dried mint. Let it infuse on the low heat for 10 seconds and then remove and leave until you are ready to garnish the dish. Be careful not to burn the mint.
- Place a large frying pan on a medium / low heat. Add 2 to 3 tbsp of oil and add the onions with a pinch of salt. Fry them gently until they caramelise and start to turn a little crispy (they will get crispier once removed from the oil). Be careful not to burn them otherwise they will be bitter. Once cooked, remove them and place them on an absorbent paper towel on a plate / bowl for use later.
- Add half of the remaining oil to the frying pan and fry your aubergines in batches until they are golden brown. Top up the oil in the pan, if required, after frying each batch. You want to make sure the aubergines do not have a green tinge to them and are fully cooked through. Using the back of a fork press down on the aubergine while it is frying to aid the process.
- When cooked, remove the aubergines from the pan and place them on an absorbent paper towel on a plate / bowl for use later.
- You can re-use the pan you fried the aubergines in for cooking the next stages but if you do, make sure you give it a wash. Place the pan on a medium / low heat. Some oil will have formed on the top of your aubergine, drip this into the pan - just enough to sauté the garlic.
- Add the garlic and let it sauté for only 10 seconds. Then add your aubergines and stir until it has mixed with all the garlic.
- Add the turmeric and 125 ml of water and stir. Then mash the aubergines using a fork or potato masher. Add the rest of the water (125ml) and mash and stir further until it has a stringy texture.
- Add 1/2 tsp of dried mint, half of your onions (reserve some of the fried onions for the topping / garnish) and 2 tbsp of kashk. Mix until everything is fully incorporated. Taste the mixture and then season further with salt (if required - as kashk is quite salty you may not require any) and pepper. Let the mixture gently heat through and stir occasionally. The dish only needs to be warm for serving.
- Turn the heat off and spoon the aubergine mixture into a serving dish of your choice. Spoon off any extra oil which may have formed on top before garnishing.
- Garnish with the fried onions, diluted kashk, saffron water (you can mix some of the kashk with the saffron water to make a yellow kashk as I have in the picture above), mint oil and ground walnuts in any design you like. Serve with flatbreads and salad.