Food writer Frank Browning gives the apple an honorable place in culinary history as he introduces the recipe for savory Iranian Veal-Stuffed Apples in "An Apple Harvest" (Ten Speed Press, $17.95), the cookbook he co-authored with Sharon Silva.
"Long before our European ancestors knew that there was more to a good meal than quarreling over flame-licked bear bones just beyond the cave door," he writes, "the Persians were sitting down to sumptuous feasts built around fruits and vegetables plucked from their own elaborate household gardens.
"Indeed, the culinary genius of the sophisticated Farsi-speaking cook fueled the rise of respectable kitchens from the Eastern Mediterranean to the jungles of Sumatra. No doubt a version of this classic dish was on Esfahan tables not long after the earliest Persian apple trees yielded their first harvest."
The recipe is among about 66 in this very civilized book. The text ranges from personal anecdotes to the world history of the apple, includes a survey of apple varieties, and is illustrated with good color photography.
Iranian Veal-Stuffed Apples
10 small to medium Rome Beauty, Jonagold, Stayman Winesap or other good baking apples
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons clarified butter
2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
1 pound ground veal
1 1/3 cups water
2 1/2 tablespoons long-grain white rice (see note)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons cider vinegar, or more if needed
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar, or more if needed
Cut a 1/2-inch slice off the stem end of each apple, reserving the tops. With a melon baller or grapefruit spoon, scoop out the core from each apple, being careful not to pierce the blossom end, and discard. Continue to scoop out the apple flesh to form a hollow cavity with sturdy sides. Set the removed pulp aside. Sprinkle the apple cavities with the granulated sugar and set aside with the tops.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a frying pan, warm the clarified butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the veal and cook, breaking up the meat with the spoon, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until it is no longer pink. Add 1/3 cup of the water, the rice and the cinnamon and stir well. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
Spoon the veal mixture into the apple cavities, dividing it evenly. Replace the tops. Pour the remaining 1 cup water into a baking dish large enough to hold the apples in a single layer. Arrange the stuffed apples in the dish, and then surround them with about 3/4 of the reserved apple pulp (reserve the remaining pulp for another use). Cover the dish with a lid or with aluminum foil.
Bake for about 30 minutes, then uncover the dish. Stir together the vinegar and brown sugar, mix into the pulp and juices in the bottom of the baking dish, and then baste the apples with the mixture. Continue to bake, uncovered, for 15 to 25 minutes longer, or until the apples are tender when pierced with a sharp knife.
Transfer the apples to a warmed serving platter and keep warm. Pass the pulp and liquid in the bottom of the baking dish through a sieve placed over a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and simmer until reduced to a nice sauce consistency. Taste and adjust with more cider vinegar and/or brown sugar to achieve a good sweet-sour balance. Spoon the sauce over the apples and serve at once.
Note: For variation, an equal amount of dried yellow split peas can be used in place of the rice.