I first made this stew a week ago, when I was looking for something to do with the small Thai Eggplants that were going to waste in my refrigerator. Aromatic and warmly spiced, this Iraqi stew was so delectable that I was actually happy that I was going to have to make the whole meal again.
You see, I had timing issues. I expected the yellow split peas that had been aging in my freezer for, well, ages to behave like fresher peas, and as a result, the stew I imagined taking two hours to cook took over three. And because I had thrown in the eggplant during hour one, it had completely dissolved and become unrecognizable by the time we ate the stew.
It was still delicious, and to be honest, disintegrated eggplant is a plus when you’re feeding an eggplant-hating child (in other words, she didn’t know it was there.) But I wanted to get the timing right and perhaps have tender cubes of eggplant, so less than a week later, I was back in the kitchen making this dish again.
You’ll notice when you read the instructions that I don’t give a specific cooking time for the split peas; that’s because the cooking time varies depending on how old your split peas are, the hardness of your water, and (I think, though I have no proof of this) your elevation. The peas need to be falling-apart soft before you add the other ingredients because they form a sauce around the eggplant and seitan. If your peas are as old as mine, you just need to cook the heck out of them first. I used a pressure cooker, so my second go-round with this recipe took a lot less time.
While I was redoing the recipe, I also decided to tinker with the seitan that goes into it. Previously, I had baked the seitan before tossing it into the stew. This time around, I tried adding the seitan raw to save a step and to see what the resulting texture would be. I’m happy to report that cooking the seitan in the stew worked beautifully; it became more tender and “meaty” than the pre-baked seitan. Which way is better is a matter of taste: I liked the tenderness of the unbaked seitan, while my husband slightly preferred the chewiness of the baked. I’ll leave the choice up to you.
And while I’m talking about seitan, I apologize to my gluten-free readers. I think you still may be able to enjoy this stew with, perhaps, chickpeas or another bean standing in for the seitan. Or maybe you can add an extra half cup of split peas and cook them just until al dente before adding the eggplant. If you try it, please let me know your results.
I know the recipe seems like a lot of work, but I think it is worth it for this unusual and delicious dish. If you really want to cut time, though, consider using a pound of packaged seitan instead of homemade.
Iraqi-Inspired Seitan and Eggplant Stew
- 1 large onion coarsely chopped
- 1 cup yellow split peas rinsed and picked over
- 6 cups water
- 2 dried red chile peppers
- Seasoning blend see below or baharat
- 1-2 teaspoons salt or to taste
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 large eggplant diced
- additional seasonings to taste
Seasoning Blend (mix all together)
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
Heat a large pot or pressure cooker and add the chopped onion. Cook, stirring, until onion is caramel colored and flecked with brown, 6-10 minutes. (Be careful not to burn.)
Add the split peas, water, dried chilies, and seasoning blend. Cover and cook until split peas are dissolving. How long this takes will depend on the age of your split peas but allow at least an hour for regular stove-top cooking. (The peas I used were older, so I used the pressure cooker and cooked at high pressure for 16 minutes then quick-released.) Once cooked, split peas should still be very watery, not thick like soup. Add water as necessary to prevent drying out.
While the split-peas cook, prepare the seitan. Mix the dry ingredients together and add the cold water and tahini (or other nut butter). Mix well. Turn out on a board and knead several times. Flatten out the dough, and using a sharp knife, cut it into rough 1/2-3/4 inch cubes. Set cubes aside. Trim the eggplant and cut it into 1/2-inch pieces.
Once the split peas are completely tender and starting to fall apart, add the salt, pomegranate molasses, seitan, and eggplant to the pot. There should be enough liquid that the ingredients are just covered but are not floating. If necessary, add more water. Check seasonings and add more if necessary (I added about 1/2 teaspoon of cumin and coriander.) Cover loosely and cook at a low simmer, stirring often, for about 45 minutes, until seitan is firm and cooked all the way through and eggplant is tender. (Toward the end, be sure to stir from the bottom to avoid sticking.)
Remove the chile peppers and serve in bowls with rice or pita bread.
Cooking the gluten in the stew results in a tender seitan. If you’d like a firmer, more chewy seitan, flatten your gluten and bake it at 400F for 20 minutes before cutting into cubes; add it to the stew with the eggplant. Pre-baked seitan will be spongier and look less like m*e*a*t.