Month of May: “Together: Our Community Cookbook” Recipe: Intlak Alsaiegh’s Beef and Eggplant Casserole

“We write to taste life in the moment and in retrospect. ” Anais Nin

This Persian recipe takes a little time to prepare. Each ingredient is gently pan fried and then assembled together for a final roasting. I didn’t have any tamarind paste so I substituted lime with brown sugar. I also didn’t have fresh tomatoes so I used canned ones instead. The sweetness of the sauce makes for a delightful surprising combination to enhance the soft eggplant and brings all the flavors together.

Yesterday I started packing up my studio. I have just a few more days there and then my blog is ready to end. I organized the box of letters I had written Abby she so lovingly saved over the years. Over the months, I have read and re-read each letter that spans a decade of the 1990’s. Not only is it a precious belonging to me now but also I have also come to see what it also means in a larger context. It is a box of longing. Letter after letter, the theme of longing is strikingly present. Longing to be in driftless region of southwest Wisconsin… longing to be near my friend, longing to be in those hills, longing for the independence, year after year, writing after writing. It is undeniable. The box also included romantic letters from an old love that I must have given her to hold onto. She knew all too well that I had a tendency to throw away memorabilia out of anger and pain. I am so glad she saved them for me so that now I can remember things differently. There was also a letter from a few friends and lovers of hers, photos, cards and some poetic scribblings. I had no idea Abby had kept them. The shoe box was stuffed, it was black and it was labeled rock and candy.

I thought about the last time Abby and I ever talked. Days before she sent her last text to me we were having a phone conversation while I was taking a walk. I remember it was a warm early morning and the crab apple blossoms were all over the sidewalk were I was standing. I was looking down. I vividly remember a dense layer of pink petals all around me on the ground. She said Rita had come to get the kids and she needed to hang up. We were trying to agree upon a good date for a visit. I was finally coming back to the Midwest to see her. That next morning she texted me. ” I’m sorry I had to go so abruptly….I feel there was something else you wanted to say.” Can you believe it?? Those were her last words to me, forever and ever. So haunting, so uncanny, so prophetic. I responded with a one word “nope” and a winking emoji.

But I was wrong. I was very wrong. There were many many many more things I wanted to say…. hence “A Year at Portsmouth.”

Ingredients: 3/4 pound ground beef, 4 large minced garlic cloves, 3/4 tsp curry powder, 2 eggplants about 1.5 pounds cut into 1/2 inch slices, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 large potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices, 1 large onion peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices, 1 large green pepper cored and sliced ( I used red), 1.5 cups water, 4 tbsp tamarind paste, 1.5 tbsp sugar, 3 ripe tomatoes cut into 1/2 inch slices, salt and pepper.

1.Preheat oven to 400. Place the beef and half the garlic into a bowl, add curry powder ( I used ground cumin and turmeric) and mix. Make into 12 small meatballs and set aside.

2. Heat a large non stick pan to medium high heat. Brush the eggplant with oil on both sides and cook for 4-5 minutes each side until golden. Brush the potato slices with oil and cook for about 6 minutes on each side. They should be golden but not cooked all the way through. Set aside.

3.Cook the onion slices and pepper in about 2 tbsp of oil for about 5 minutes. At last minute put in remaining garlic and set aside. Cook meatballs for about 2-3 minutes until golden but not cooked through.

4. In a measuring cup mix the water with the tamarind paste (I used brown sugar and lime juice to taste) and sugar until blended. Arrange the eggplant, potato, onion, pepper, tomatoes and meatballs in a 12 inch round baking dish overlapping them. Pour over the sauce. Cover with foil and cook for 30 minutes then uncover and cook 20 minutes more. Serve with basmati rice.

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