We find home cooking inspiration on every aisle of the Iraqi markets that populate Nashville’s Nolensville Road international corridor. In addition to the seemingly endless array of unfamiliar ingredients to experiment with, the merchants, bakers, butchers, and shawarma stand guys are invariably kind, generous, and friendly. They always seem glad to see us. I wonder if they feel as welcome in other parts of town.
The ground, seasoned lamb for quick kabobs is a regular purchase and grills beautifully on metal skewers. But, when a cold, rainy night calls for indoor cooking, a pound of this meat is the key to a Persian-style casserole. Delicious and elegant (or homey, as the occasion requires), this dish is an easily layered combination of:
- cooked ground meat
- roasted eggplant, any shape you like
- boiled sliced potatoes
- onion and garlic sautéed in oil, with a can of diced tomatoes mixed in
- a little shredded cheese, like Parmesan, scattered on top.
Cover the dish, slide it into a hot oven, and you’re there. That’s the whole game.
The approach in this recipe leaves plenty of space for you to adjust whatever you need in order for this dish to suit your parameters of the moment. If you’re off potatoes, make a couple of cups of brown basmati or jasmine rice in your electric rice cooker to serve with.
A note about the meat: big range of options here — from skip it entirely to use any ground meat you like — beef, lamb, beef/lamb blend, chicken, or turkey. When we don’t have the already-seasoned lamb from Iraqi markets, we season the meat with whatever shawarma seasoning packet falls out of the spice cabinet first, like this one:
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, diced or pressed
- Olive Oil
- 2-3 eggplant sliced into 1/2" thick rounds, or about 6 small Indian eggplant whole rounds
- 6 medium red potatoes, boiled and sliced into rounds
- 1 pound ground meat, sautéed and broken up with a wooded spoon
- Shawarma or Kabob seasoning, to taste (2-3 tablespoons)
- Parmesan Cheese, shredded (optional)
Heat the oven to 425F. Lightly grease a half sheet, lay out the eggplant rounds and drizzle with olive oil and Kosher salt. Cook until soft when pierced with a fork or knife, at least 30 minutes.
In a skillet cook the ground meat over medium heat, separating and chopping it up as it cooks with a spatula or wooden spoon. With a large spoon remove and discard meat liquid if it accumulates in excess.
Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and add Kosher salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and cook until a fork almost easily slides into the potato. Avoid overcooking the potatoes as they'll get more heat as the finished casserole coalesces in the hot oven.
In a saucepan sauté the onion and garlic in oil over medium heat. Give the onion a few minutes head start before adding the garlic. Don't let the mixture burn and reduce heat as necessary to soften both. Add the tomato to combine and heat through.
Grease a casserole with a little spray oil and start the layering process. Alternate the components as you like. Top with the cheese, cover and cook in a 375F oven until bubbling and heated through, about 30 minutes.
Serve with cooling raita--our simple go-to method is to just shred a cucumber and put it in a colander. Sprinkle it with salt and blend. Let it sit for about 15 minutes. Squeeze out the juices. Place the cucumber in a bowl and blend with labneh, Greek yogurt or regular plain yogurt. Sprinkle in some whole cumin seed. Shredding the cucumber is the key. Makes it an easy sauce to scoop on pita or plop on a casserole like this.