The Story

Iranian Eggplant Stew

By Lindsay Sterling

I went to the Kismet Inn a couple blocks from the water in downtown Bath, Maine, to learn how to cook the innkeeper’s Iranian eggplant stew. Shadi Towfighi greeted me. Her shoulder length, wavy, gray and black hair surrounded her round face. She offered me slippers and glass of tea brewed with cardamom. “Yes,” she said, as we headed toward the kitchen, “I was born in Iran.” She pronounced it, ee-RON. She lived there until she was thirteen. Then she went to boarding school in England, and has lived most of the rest of her life in the United States.
She’d begun cooking long before I arrived. On the counter were bowls of rice and yellow split peas soaking in water, and a bowl of homemade tomato sauce, which she’d made from organic farm tomatoes (sun-drenched on her porch for weeks “for more vitamin C”), cooked on low with garlic, black pepper, and a mix of thyme, oregano and dill. She opened a spice jar and gave me a whiff of her homegrown herb blend. My sinuses awoke. And so our cooking session went, moment by moment revealing detail, after detail of care.
            While the stew simmered we talked. To my surprise she said, “Women [in Iran] are doctors, engineers, dancers, firefighters, taxi drivers, chefs, restaurant owners, writers, bookshop owners.” She continued, “Brilliant Iranian women and men write. It’s a profound old culture, that’s what it is.” In decorating the inn, Towfighi has combined colorful weavings and a filigreed silver tea set from her mother’s dowry with African textiles and contemporary art and furniture by local artisans: two painters, a woodworker, and a blacksmith. The result is surprisingly serene, clean, and profoundly refreshing.
We finished with a feast. China on a white tablecloth displayed an earthy brown mix of pickled scallions, shallots, and green beans, bright yellow saffron rice with a crispy bottom, and fresh garden cucumber salad with onion and tomato. The main dish was a gorgeous golden tumble of chunks of shallow-fried green tomato and eggplant on a reddish gold stew.

Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2009