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This ethnic dinner for two combines the zesty and smooth flavors of Iran's Persian cookery for a unique taste of ancient history. It is a simple spread requiring twenty minutes to prepare and an hour to cook - Chilled Herby Fruit Yogurt Soup, Beef Eggplant and Tomato Stew, Steamed Jasmine Rice and Rainbow Salad in Grape Raspberry Vinaigrette.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS

For the soup:
3 tbsp. sunflower oil
2 tbsp. fresh spinach, washed and finely chopped
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, washed and finely chopped
1/2 tbsp. dried mint
1/2 tbsp. fresh leeks, white only, cleaned and finely chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup red radishes, coarsely diced
1/4 cup English cucumber, coarsely diced
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 tbsp. natural Balkan yogurt
salt and pepper

For the stew:
5 tbsp. sunflower oil
1/2 lb. eggplant, washed, stump removed and sliced lengthways (1/2 inch thick)
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup split yellow peas, soaked overnight in water
1 lb. stewing beef, cubed (1 inch square)
1 tsp. turmeric
2 tbsp. lemon juice
8 cups water
1 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. tomato paste

For the rice:
1 tbsp. sunflower oil
2 1/2 cups jasmine Thai rice, washed until water runs clean
1 tsp. salt
4 cups water

For the salad:
1 small bag salad greens, washed and coarsely chopped
1 yellow pepper, washed, deseeded and coarsely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp. sunflower oil
1 tbsp. raspberry vinegar
1 tbsp. unsweetened grape juice

METHOD

Heat the sunflower oil for the stew in a non-stick deep pot. Add eggplant slices in a single layer. Fry on medium heat until slightly brown and turn. Drain on paper towels to absorb oil and repeat for remaining slices. Set aside and add onions to pot. Fry until golden brown, not burnt. Add beef and turn until browned on all sides. Add split yellow peas and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Add turmeric, lemon juice, salt, eggplant slices and water. Cover and gently boil for 1 hour.

In another non-stick deep pot add rice's sunflower oil. Add rice and distribute evenly. Add salt and water. Leave uncovered and boil vigorously until water is below level of rice and rice is bubbling. Reduce heat to minimum and cover with a tight fitting lid for 1/2 hour.

Put salad greens, yellow pepper and red onion in salad spinner. Put vinegar, sunflower oil and grape juice in a small jug. Mix well and pour over salad. Close salad spinner and spin until salad is coated and excess vinaigrette has drained away. Put in salad bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in fridge until needed/

Check the stew. When the liquid is half-gone add tomato paste and bring back to a gentle boil.

Put soup's sunflower oil in another pot and gently fry spinach, cilantro and leeks until dark green, but not crispy. Add walnut pieces and onion and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat to cool. Combine radishes, golden raisins, mint, cucumber, yogurt, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add spinach mixture and combine well. Put in soup bowls and cover. Chill in fridge until needed.

Put rice and stew in separate covered and preheated serving dishes and keep in a slightly warm oven. Serve soup as a starter. Then serve stew on rice with the salad. Warm crusty bread is a nice addition.

TIP

When making steamed rice of any kind always check to see if the rice is cooked by putting a piece between your forefinger and thumb and gently pressing. If the piece crushes into a thick paste it is ready. If it is mushy it is over-cooked. Basmati rice is a good substitute for jasmine Thai rice, but with a less nutty flavor. Also choose an eggplant with a stem which has grown on an angle and not straight upright. Upright ones are male fruits and are very bitter.