Meygoo Dopiyazeh

Prawn, pepper & onion curry

You may be familiar with dopiaza dishes from South Indian cuisine where this curry-style dish made with lots of onions commonly features. This dish actually originates from  Khorasan (in present-day covering the East of Iran and the West of Afghanistan).  It was apparently introduced to South Asia by the Mughals and accordingly spread to countries with a South Asian diaspora. Regional variants have evolved in locales such as Hyderabad, India and several regions of Pakistan. The name Dopiyazeh translates into two onions (do meaning two in Persian; and piyaz meaning onion) which makes reference to the amount of onions used in this dish.

Dopiayzeh is now firmly established as a traditional dish from Shiraz and it can be made with cubed or ground lamb/beef, chicken, shrimp, potatoes, and a copious amount of sliced onions.  My recipe is made with prawns (meygoo) and takes both the Persian origins and the South Asian development of this dish with a few extra additions of my own. There is a slight heat to my recipe, which you can leave out if you prefer.

This dish pairs well with my Sambuseh-e Sabzijaat (vegetable samosas) recipe, rice and some delicious pickles and chutneys such as mango chutney and turmeric pickle as pictured above. The rice I have made is Persian-style rice with naan tahdig but I have flavored it with turmeric, cardamom pods, some cloves and cinnamon to make it a pilau-style rice.


Meygoo Dopiyazeh

Prawn, pepper & onion curry
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 20 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian, Inspired by....
Keyword: curry, seafood, prawns
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 large brown onion (finely sliced)
  • 6 cloves garlic (minced or crushed)
  • 1 thumb size fresh ginger (grated)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 red pepper (finely sliced)
  • 1 red onion (finely sliced)
  • 800 ml water mixed with 1/8 tsp of ground saffron
  • Juice 1 fresh lemon
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 800 g frozen shelled tiger prawns (defrosted)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • A small bunch of fresh coriander (finely chopped)

Instructions

  • Place a large casserole pan or skillet on medium / high heat and add oil. Add cumin seeds, coriander seeds and mustard seeds and heat until they sizzle. Then add finely sliced brown onion and cook until they start to caramelise.
  • Add garlic, then ginger and stir into the onions mixture. Follow with turmeric, red chilli flakes, ground coriander and stir until evenly distributed into the mixture.
  • Add tomato purée and stir into the mixture. Then add sliced red peppers and red onion and stir until softened. Add water and saffron, lemon juice and garam masala and stir. Bring to a boil and then turn heat down to allow the sauce to simmer gently for 30 mins.
  • Add prawns to the sauce and stir. Add chopped fresh coriander and cook for a further 10 mins. Turn the heat off and serve the Meygoo Dopiyazeh with fresh chopped coriander sprinkled on top accompanied with rice and / or naan.

Sambuseh-e Sabzijaat

Vegetable samosas served with a coriander & mint dip

Did you know that the samosa has a Central Asian origin? The earliest recipes are found in 10th–13th-century Arab cookery books, under the names sanbusaksanbusaq, and sanbusaj, all deriving from the Persian word sanbosag. In Iran, we have a version which we call Sambuseh. These delightful little parcels filled with meat and / or vegetables were introduced to the Indian subcontinent in the 13th or 14th century by chefs from the Middle East and Central Asia.

The key difference with the Persian sambuseh is that we use lavash bread (a thin flatbread usually served with kebabs) as the outer casing. In Iran the lavash bread has large air pockets so it creates an amazing pattern on the Sambuseh that looks a little like bubble wrap in crispy fried bread form. 

The fillings for sambuseh vary from meat and vegetable to vegetables only. My preferred filling for a samosa / sambuseh is veggie so the recipe I have developed below is virtuously meat-free. In fact the sambuseh, themselves, are vegan. The accompanying dip can be adapted by using a plant-based yogurt to make this recipe fully vegan. I have also been drawn to spices more common to South Asian cuisine including the use of chilli, mustard seeds, garam masala and ginger. The coriander and mint dip I have accompanied the sambuseh with is also inspired by South Asian cuisine.

Feel free to experiment with vegetables and / or meat fillings. And leave out and / or include spices as desired. I encourage people to experiment with and put their stamp on recipes. What I hope I am providing you is ideas for you to expand your catalogue of recipes, which you can dip in and out of.

The sambuseh can be served with any sauces and pickles you fancy. This recipe has a coriander and mint dip to go with it but I also serve mine with mango chutney and some chopped tomatoes and red onion, dressed with fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime juice.

You can find a short video of me folding the Sambuseh to help with the recipe through the link to my Instagram below.

 

Just scroll across and you can see the video…

 


Sambuseh-e Sabzijaat

Persian vegetable samosas served with a coriander & mint dip
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Snack, Appetiser, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian, Cross-cultural
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan option
Servings: 20 (to 25)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Sambuseh

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 red onion (finely diced)
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 thumb size ginger (grated)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 450 g cooked potatoes (boiled and peeled) (finely diced)
  • 85 ml water
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 cup sweetcorn
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Small bunch fresh coriander (finely chopped)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 10 sheets lavash bread
  • Vegetable oil (to fry the sambuseh)

Coriander & Mint Dip

  • 70 g fresh coriander (stalks included)
  • 10 g fresh mint leaves
  • 6 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp sugar

Instructions

Coriander & Mint Dip

  • Add all ingredients to a blender / nutribullet / food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning and / or lime juice to taste. Pour into a container (i.e. jar) cover and place in the fridge until you are ready to serve the sambuseh.

Sambuseh

  • Place a frying pan or skillet on high / medium heat and add oil. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds and heat until they start to sizzle.
  • Add red onion and cook until they start to caramelise. Add garlic and stir in and repeat process with ginger, turmeric and chilli.
  • Add tomato purée and stir until the mixture is evenly coated. Add the cooked, finely diced potatoes and water and stir into the mixture. Follow with peas and sweetcorn. Lower the heat and stir the mixture until the potato is a little mashed into the mixture.
  • Add garam masala, lime juice, fresh coriander, salt and pepper and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning / lime juice to your preference. Turn the heat off and let it cool before filling the lavash bread pockets.
  • To make the lavash bread pockets - cut into long strips about 10 cm in width. Lay the long rectangle strip on your work surface with the short edge facing you. Fold over the right half of the lavash strip to form a triangle with the long edge facing downwards, then fold the bottom of the triangle up so the long edge faces up. Then take the left corner of the triangle and fold up to the right hand corner to make the final triangle pocket. You will be left with a flap to tuck in after filling the sambuseh. Fill the sambuseh pocket with some filling, making sure not to overstuff. Then trim the flap of the sambuseh pocket and cut diagonal strip off one of the corners of the flap so you can tuck it in. Tuck the flap in and put the finished sambuseh aside until you are ready to cook. Repeat the process until you have used all the filling (makes between 20 to 25 sambuseh).
  • To cook the sambuseh, half-fill a deep, heavy-based pan with vegetable oil and heat until a cube of bread dropped in sizzles and turns golden-brown in 30 seconds (please be careful with the hot oil and do not leave unattended). Fry the samosas in small batches for 4-5 minutes, or until golden-brown and crisp. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
  • Serve with the mint and coriander dip, mango chutney and some chopped tomato and onion, dressed in fresh lime juice as pictured above.

Khoresh Kadoo ba Aloo

Chicken, Courgette & Sour Plum Stew

(aka the 1 hr stew)

Khoresh (Persian stew) season is awakening from it’s summer slumber after an array of kebabs, kuku and salads in my household.

I love this season with the deeply comforting stews to warm us through the colder months and, of course, any excuse to eat more Tahdig. I appreciate that cooking Persian food can appear daunting to some, but as with any recipe after you have cooked the dish say about 3 times, added your own little bit of magic to it too, the whole process is familiar and fairly swift. With all that said I am always looking for ways to produce delicious Persian food for weekday meals at a shorter time than sometimes prescribed for our dishes, particularly our slow-cooked stews.

So here it is, let me introduce you to Khoresh Kadoo ba Aloo (chicken, courgette & sour plum stew). This khoresh is ready to eat about an hour from when you start chopping all the ingredients. The use of chicken breast means it doesn’t need to slow-cook and the meat remains juicy. Courgettes cook in no time at all and a few little tricks with additional spices / condiments means it is perfectly balanced and feels like the khoresh has fallen into place with its flavours (as if it has been simmering for hours). This dish is a great transition dish from summer to autumn as it uses courgettes which are still in season to October.

Aloo is the name we give to the dried sour plums (Aloo Bukhara) you can buy them from Asian (for example Indian and Pakistani) supermarkets. If you don’t use all the packet in one go then put the remaining plums in the freezer and they keep for ages until you want to cook this recipe again or try out my other recipe featuring them Khoresh-e Beh ba Aloo (chicken stew with quince, sour plums and apricots). Remember that the sour plums have pips in them which you can remove while you are eating – the plums will fall apart easily once cooked and you can remove them with your spoon and fork while eating.


Khoresh Kadoo ba Aloo

Persian Chicken, courgette and sour plum stew (aka the 1 hr stew)
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: easy recipe, stew, Middle-Eastern Food, khoresh, weekday meal
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 medium courgettes (quartered and then halved)
  • 1 large brown onion (finely diced)
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 4 medium chicken breast (cut into bite size pieces)
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 500 ml vegetable stock plus 1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in the stock
  • 15 to 20 Aloo Bukhara (dried sour plums)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • Salt and pepper to season

Instructions

  • Take a large non-stick casserole pan / skillet with a lid and place over high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of oil.
  • Fry the courgette on all sides until browned and golden. Remove and place on a kitchen towel on a plate.
  • Add diced onions to pan and cook until golden. Add garlic and stir in, followed by turmeric. Stir until evenly distributed in the pan and you can smell the aromas.
  • Add chicken and stir until the chicken pieces turn white (from pink). Then add tomato purée and stir until the chicken mixture is coated evenly.
  • Throw in cardamom pods and bay leaf and then pour in the saffron infused stock. Add the Aloo Bukhara plums. Season with salt and pepper, squeeze in the juice of 1/2 lime and add honey. Stir the mixture.
  • Gently place the fried courgettes in the stew so they are part submerged.
  • Bring the stew to a boil and then turn the heat down to allow the khoresh to simmer with the lid on (approx 30 mins).
  • Serve with Persian rice and salad.

 

 

 

Cherry and Feta Salad with Pistachios

We Persians are not known for our long list of salad recipes. In fact we generally only have two known salad recipes. The first is Salad Shirazi – our chopped cucumber, tomato and red onion salad with a lime, olive oil and mint dressing. The second is Salad Olvieh – our take on a Russian salad dish, which we make with chicken, potatoes, egg, pickled cucumbers, peas, carrots and mayo (recipe coming soon).

This salad is very much a homage to ingredients that are associated with Persian cuisine (cherries, feta, mint, pistachios and pomegranate molasses). It is also a homage to the summer season with its refreshing feel and seasonal ingredients. 


Cherry and Feta Salad with Pistachios

Prep Time20 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern, Inspired by....
Keyword: vegetarian, mint, salad, cherries, feta
Servings: 6 (to 8)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

  • 70 ml olive oil
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp Za'atar spice blend
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Salad

  • 180 g lettuce / mixed leaves (roughly chop if using lettuce, mixed leaves should remain intact)
  • 1 - 2 celery sticks (medium sliced)
  • 1 red onion (finely sliced)
  • 150 g cucumber (I use baby or Persian cucumbers - quartered then medium sliced)
  • 250 g cherries (pitted and halved)
  • 15 - 20 g fresh mint leaves (small leaves can be kept, roughly chop larger leaves)
  • 100 g feta (crumbled)
  • 40 g pistachios (shelled and roughly chopped or bashed in a pestle and mortar)

Instructions

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

  • Make the dressing a minimum of 1 hour before you want to serve the salad to let the flavors infuse. Take a jar with a lid and add all the pomegranate vinaigrette ingredients. Screw the lid on and give it a good shake. Taste and adjust elements to taste. Place the jar in the fridge until ready to serve.

Serving the Salad

  • Layer your ingredients for the salad in a bowl. Give the jar of dressing a good shake and pour over the salad. Using salad tongs / spoons, toss the salad to ensure it is evenly coated with the pomegranate vinaigrette. Serve immediately after dressing.

Kuku Loobia Sabz

Green Bean Frittata 

Kuku (also spelled kookoo) is an Iranian frittata-style dish. It is often vegetarian and is made with beaten eggs and various herbs and / or vegetables folded in. The main difference between kuku and its western counterparts is the ratio of egg to vegetables, with kuku favouring the latter.

It is served either hot or cold as a starter, side dish or a main course, and is accompanied with bread or rice and either yogurt or salad.

The two most well known kuku recipes are Kuku Sabzi (made with herbs and barberries and / or walnuts); and Kuku Sibzamini (made with potatoes). We also have Kuku Kadoo (made with courgettes). Ultimately there are no hard and fast rules about what you should put in your kuku – I have made ones with potatoes, feta and beetroot; curried mushrooms; kale and red pepper; bacon, cheese and tomatoes and the list goes on… 

This Kuku recipe hails from Tabriz, a city in northwestern Iran, serving as the capital of East Azerbaijan Province. It is the fifth most populous city in Iran and the largest economic hub and metropolitan area in northwest Iran. The population is overwhelmingly Azerbaijani who speak the Azerbaijani language, though Persian is spoken by residents as a second language.

This dish is a gorgeous addition to the summer catalogue of recipes as it is light and easy to prepare. some variations of this recipe include potatoes but the version I prefer is with caramelised onions and sliced green beans as set out in the recipe below.

 


Kuku Loobia Sabz

Green Bean Frittata
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time55 mins
Course: Main Course, lunch, Appetiser, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Iranian, Middle-Eastern
Keyword: vegetarian, frittata, Green beans
Servings: 4 (to 8)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium red onion (finely sliced)
  • 4 garlic cloves (minced or crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 250 g green beans (sliced)
  • 1.5 tsp Advieh (persian mixed spice)
  • 1/3 cup saffron water (bloom 1/8 tsp of ground saffron in the water)
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 20 g fresh coriander plus a bit extra for garnishing the kuku before serving (finely chopped)
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas mark 4.
  • Place a non-stick skillet or frying pan which can be placed in an oven on medium / high heat on the stove (size of pan anything between approx 10" and 12" i.e. 25 to 30 cm).
  • Add 2 tbsp oil and heat until it glistens. Then add finely sliced onion and cook until golden and caramelised. Stir in garlic, turmeric and advieh.
  • Add sliced green beans, the lime juice and saffron water and stir until the beans have wilted and the liquid has cooked off. Lower the heat if required.
  • Stir in the freshly chopped coriander. Turn off the heat while you prepare the egg mixture.
  • Add flour and baking powder to a bowl. Crack in one egg and whisk until all the flour is incorporated and no flour lumps remain. Then add remaining eggs, the salt and pepper and whisk. Pour in the bean mixture and stir until fully incoprated with the egg mixture.
  • Turn the heat to medium / high on the stove. Place the skillet on the heat and add 1 tbsp of oil. Pour the kuku mixture in and tip the pan gently side to side to make sure it is evenly distributed across the pan. Heat on the stove for approximately 3 minutes. Then place in the preheated oven and bake for a further 20 to 25 mins. To check the kuku is done, use a thin skewer and gently poke the middle of the kuku. It should come out clean.
  • Remove the kuku from the pan and serve with a sprinkle of freshly chopped coriander alongside a salad, flatbread and yoghurt-style dip and / or mezze-style dishes. Kuku can be served hot, warm or cold. Leftover kuku is a great sandwich filler too!

Beetroot Hummus with Feta and Anything-Green Topper

This gorgeous hummus with a contrasting and complementary green topper came about by chance one weekend.

I love both beetroot and hummus – the combination of the two brings about a delicious hummus with a slightly sweet yet earthy flavour profile. The colour, as you can see, is a vibrant pink and will look incredible at any dinner party as an appetiser for your guests.

After making a batch, my eyes kept being drawn to green items in my fridge which I felt would look incredible as a topper for the hummus.  Luckily, the green items I had in my fridge all complemented a beetroot hummus perfectly including cucumber, olives, spring onions and dill. With the addition of feta (also a great friend of beetroot) and a few extra sprinkles (nigella seeds) and spice (cumin), a dash of olive oil and lemon juice, this hummus was complete. It went down a treat with my chief taster (husband), who often turns his nose up at beetroot, so I knew I had hit the jackpot with this recipe.

So here it is – my beetroot hummus with feta and anything-green topper. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family and I do.


Beetroot Hummus with Feta and Anything-Green Topper

Prep Time30 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Dip, Appetiser, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern, Inspired by....
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan option, hummus
Servings: 6 (to 8)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Beetroot Hummus

  • 1 jar chickpeas (660g / drained weight 425g) (drained and rinsed)
  • 125 g cooked beetroot
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced or crushed)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (60 ml)
  • 1/4 cup tahini (60 ml)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup water (60 ml)
  • Salt & pepper (to taste)

Topper

  • 2 baby cucumbers
  • 2 spring onions
  • 5 green olives
  • 50 g feta cheese (non-dairy alternative if vegan or preferred)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp nigella seeds
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
  • Drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice

Instructions

Beetroot Hummus

  • In order to get a smoother hummus (and if you can be bothered), after draining the chickpeas and rinsing, place the chickpeas on one half of a tea towel and rub gently with the other half of the tea towel to agitate the skins off. Then pick out the chickpea skins before blitzing.
  • Add all hummus ingredients, except water, salt and pepper to a food processor / nutribullet. Blend until smooth. Then add water and blend further until you have a creamy texture. Season to taste. Adjust seasoning and / or lemon juice to taste. I leave my hummus in the fridge while I prepare the topper to firm up the consistency a little.

Topper

  • Finely dice cucumbers, spring onions and olives. Crumble in feta and add cumin, nigella seeds and dill. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice and stir gently to mix all the topper ingredients.

To Serve

  • Spoon the hummus onto a serving dish and arrange the topper in the shape of a crescent as pictured above. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve alongside flatbread, crisps / crackers or vegetables to dip into the hummus.

Persian Fried Chicken Burger aka PFC Burger

 

Fried chicken in any form has a special place in my heart (and my belly)! I am continuously looking for ways to bring new joy to me eating crispy fried chicken from my curried chicken schnitzel (recipe coming soon) to my shwarama flavoured crispy goujons.

It was only a matter of time before I found a way to make a Persian version of a fried chicken burger and here it is in all its glory. Chicken thighs marinated in a blend of buttermilk, saffron, turmeric, chili sauce, onions and garlic. Then coated with flour flavoured with Persian mixed spice (Advieh), Za’atar, onion and garlic powder and then deep fried to perfection. Served in a toasted brioche bun with lashings of moosir mayonnaise, crispy onions, Persian pickled cucumbers, Thai basil, tomato and lettuce. This amazing variation to the classic crispy chicken burger really is worth going the extra mile to get your hands on three Persian elements which are not readily available in your local supermarket.

Advieh is the Persian equivalent of mixed spice. It is used in many dishes with the combination of spices varying from region to region in Iran. It is a fragrant mix of spices and can be compared in use to garam masala in Indian cooking, whereby the addition of advieh seasons the dish and adds a further layer of aroma. It can simply be sprinkled on a plain rice dish, added to stews and marinades for meat. The one I use is a mixture of nutmeg, rose petals, cumin, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon and black pepper. I buy it online from a supplier on Etsy; however, this can also be picked up from most Iranian or Middle Eastern food shops. This spice forms part of the flour dredge for the chicken thighs and takes the flavour profile to another level of delicious.    

Moosir is described in English as a Persian shallot and similar to a Solo or Elephant garlic and, like the Solo and Elephant varieties, has a flavour profile similar to garlic but slightly sweeter and softer in its spiciness. They grow wild in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, and have to be found and dug out of the earth – a similar process to truffles. It adds an amazingly distinctive flavour to dishes. You can buy moosir from most Middle Eastern food shops or online. It is available in its dried form and needs to be rehydrated by soaking in water overnight. Whilst we usually use this for our yogurt dip Maast O’Moosir, I started adding it to my mayonnaise and have not looked back. It is so delicious that I am pretty sure once you try it, you will also never want to have mayonnaise any other way. The Moosir Mayo compliments this chicken burger brilliantly.

Khiarshoor  is the name we call our pickled cucumbers (translated as salty cucumber). They are baby cucumbers pickled in salt, vinegar and flavoured with tarragon. Our pickled cucumbers are not sweet like British pickled cucumbers and they really compliment this burger. You can buy them online or in most Middle Eastern supermarkets, but if you cannot get your hands on them then normal dill pickles usually used in burgers are absolutely fine.

With the exception of three items above, you should be able to source all the other ingredients from your local supermarket. Both Tescos and Waitrose now have Thai basil available but if you can’t get your hands on Thai basil, then Italian basil is totally fine.


See my how to reel on instagram via the link below.
 

 


Persian Fried Chicken Burger aka PFC Burger

Prep Time45 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time1 hr
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Buttermilk Marinade

  • 500 ml buttermilk
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp chilli sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 onion (medium sliced)
  • 4 chicken thighs (skinless and boneless)

Moosir Mayonnaise

  • 8 discs dried moosir
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

Flour Coating

  • 250 g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp advieh (Persian mixed spice - Cardamom, Black Pepper, Dried Rose Petals, Cinnamon, Nutmeg)
  • 2 tbsp Za'atar spice blend
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Vegetable oil (for deep frying)

To serve

  • 4 Burger Baps (such as Brioche buns)
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Thai Basil
  • Pickled cucumbers

Instructions

Marinade the Chicken Thighs

  • Take a large bowl, add buttermilk, ground saffron, turmeric, chill sauce, salt, pepper, garlic, onion and mix with spoon. Add the chicken thighs and ensure they are full submerged in the marinade. Cover and leave in the fridge to marinade anything between 8 hrs to 24 hrs.

Rehydrate the Moosir

  • Rehydrate the moosir by placing n a bowl and adding boiling water. Cover and leave overnight.

Moosir Mayo

  • Drain the rehydrated moosir discs and rinse. Mince finely with a sharp knife, discarding any tough parts. Take a bowl, add mix the moosir and mayo. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for the flavour of the moosir to permeate through the mayo (no less than 3 hours before you want to eat your burger).

Prepare the Flour Coating and Fry the Chicken

  • Make the coating by combining the flour, advieh, za'atar, garlic and onion powder, salt and pepper.
  • Drain the chicken thighs and sliced onion, reserving the marinade. One by one, dredge each thigh in the flour, then dip in the reserved marinade, then dredge again in the flour, pressing on as much as you can to coat. Transfer the coated thighs to a large plate. Do the same with the sliced onions.
  • Heat a 20cm depth of oil in a saucepan or deep-fat fryer until it reaches 175C (please be careful with the hot oil and do not leave unattended). Lower two of the thighs in at a time and fry undisturbed for 3 mins, making sure the temperature doesn’t drop below 160C (it should stay at about 170C). Fry until deeply golden and crisp on both sides. Lift the chicken out and transfer to a tray lined with kitchen paper to drain, then put on a rack and keep warm in a low oven while you fry the remaining thighs and sliced onions. When all the chicken and onions have been fried get ready to build your burger!

Serving the Chicken Burgers

  • Lightly toast your burger buns. Spread the Moosir Mayo on both ends of the buns, layer with lettuce, sliced tomates, Perisan pickled cucumbers, the fried chicken thigh, ketchup, the crispy fried onions and Thai Basil. Pop the top of the bun on and tuck in! A side of fries go very well with this burger and hoepfuly there will be some of the Moosir Mayo left to dip into.

 

 

Saffron & Sun-Drenched Tomato Focaccia

Saffron in everything! Well I am Persian and it is important to us as garlic is to the Italians. Here is my simple no-knead focaccia recipe with the addition of saffron and sun-drenched tomatoes.

Focaccia is a flat leavened oven-baked Italian bread. It can be served as a side dish or as sandwich bread and it can be round, rectangular, or square shape. I love making focaccia in the summer and this recipe feels particularly summery with its warming saffron notes and the use of sun-drenched tomatoes.

So what is the difference between sun-dried and sun-drenched? Sun-drenched tomatoes have had less time in the sun (to remove some of their water content) and are slightly less chewy than sun-dried but you can totally substitute with sun-dried tomatoes. Feel free to add rosemary or other herbs to the focaccia, my sun-drenched tomatoes come in an oil and basil dressing so I just use that.

You achieve a rise from a no-knead focaccia by leaving the dough it in the fridge over night but if you want the focaccia quicker, then mix all the dough ingredients and knead by hand for 10 to 15 minutes, leave to prove until it has doubled in size (up to 2 hrs) and then follow steps 3 to 5 below.

I usually serve mine with a Charcuterie-style board of Italian cold cuts and picky bits as pictured above.

Picture above – before the focaccia is popped in the oven.


Saffron & Sun-Drenched Tomato Focaccia

No-knead focaccia
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Appetizer, Side Dish, Appetiser
Cuisine: Cross-cultural
Servings: 10
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 400 g strong white bread flour
  • 5 g fast-acting dried yeast
  • 4 tbsp olive oil (plus extra for greasing)
  • 160 g pack sun-drenched tomatoes (I use Waitrose ones which have a basil dressing)
  • 1 tbsp sea salt flakes
  • 250 ml tepid water plus 1/4 tsp of ground saffron (bloom the saffron in the water for about 5 minutes before adding to flour)

Instructions

  • Add flour, yeast, 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp salt into a large bowl. Add 250ml saffron water and mix with a wooden spoon to make a sticky dough. Cover with cling film and put in the fridge overnight or up to 24 hrs.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, remove from the fridge and leave in a warm place for no less than 1 hr to bring up to room temperature.
  • Oil a 23cm (ideally square) roasting tin and scrape the dough in. Oil your hands and push the dough out towards the edge of a tin to create a rough square shape. Cover and leave for about an hour or two in a warm place.
  • After this further proving time, the dough will be very soft and airy and filled the tin comfortably. Scatter and push in the tomatoes, sprinkle the remaining salt over and drizzle with a little olive oil. Use your fingertips to create dimples in the dough, pressing in the tomatoes and spreading the dough to the corners. Cover and leave to rise for another 1 hr.
  • Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7 at least 15 mins before cooking the bread. Uncover the dough, drizzle with the remaining oil and bake on the middle shelf for 20 mins or until golden brown. Cool in the tin for about 10 mins before transferring to a wire rack, or eat warm.

Adasi

Persian Lentil Stew

Commonly eaten for breakfast, this dish made with green lentils, onions and spices is often described as a soup by Persians. I personally consider it is closer to the dal recipes from the Indian sub-continent but to compromise between the two I have called it a stew.

I cook this the day before I want to eat it as the flavours intensify overnight. The recipe below yields a big batch (up to 8 people) and lasts up to 5 days if refridgerated, so it is a great dish to make and dip in and out of for various meals during a working week.

I love eating this with some type of flatbread such as Persian Noon-e-Sangak or naan, alongside some eggs (poached, boiled or fried) and some fresh herbs as set out in the picture above. It can also be served with rice (chelo or kateh) for a heartier meal.

Adasi is a wholesome vegan dish and cubed potatoes can be added as a variation to the recipe. I prefer it without potatoes so my recipe excludes them. I also add cumin and a little ginger in my version which adds further aromatic notes to the traditional turmeric and cinnamon. Feel free to add some spicier notes with chilli should you like a little heat. Otherwise this dish is a family friendly dish and loved by children (even the fussiest).


Adasi

Persian Lentil Stew
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Breakfast, Main Course, Brunch, lunch
Cuisine: Persian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan
Servings: 6 (to 8)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the Adasi

  • 400 g dried green lentils (washed and soaked in water for 2 hours)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large brown onion (finely diced)
  • 1 tbsp garlic and ginger paste
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1.2 litres vegetable stock
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

For the Garnish

  • 1 large brown onion (finely sliced)
  • Vegetable oil (to fry the onions)
  • Ground golpar (Persian hogweed - optional)
  • Olive oil (to drizzle on top)

Instructions

  • Place a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add olive oil and heat until it glistens. Then add onions and cook, stirring regularly until they start to turn golden.
  • Add garlic and ginger paste, followed by turmeric, ground cumin, cinnamon and stir until evenly distributed into the onion mixture. Then stir in tomato purée.
  • Drain and add in pre-soaked lentils and stir until evenly mixed with the onion mixture.
  • Pour in the stock, lime juice and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Then turn heat down, put the lid of the saucepan on and let the Adasi simmer for approximately an hour or until the lentils are tender.
  • Whilst the Adasi is cooking fry finely sliced onion in vegetable oil over a high-medium heat until crispy.
  • When the Adasi is cooked take a stick blender and blitz some of the lentil mixture to thicken (about 1/3). Taste and season as required with salt and pepper (stock usually has salt in it so further salt may not be necessary). Squeeze some more lime juice if desired. Then ladle into a bowl, top with the crispy onions, a sprinkling of ground golpar and a drizzle of olive oil.

Havuç Tarator

Turkish Carrot, Walnut & Yoghurt Dip

First post in a while! And the first since returning from our travels to Türkiye. Other than a long holiday, life and my job as a lawyer taking priority over my recipe development for this site, I’ve been busy writing recipes for other sites and you can find them by clicking these links – The Kitchn and Simply Recipes

I have cleared my timetable now and can dedicate some time this summer for some lovely additions to my catalogue of recipes, which I hope you will love too. You will be seeing more Persian recipes but also recipes from Türkiye and my own recipes influenced by my cross-cultural upbringing. 

Anyway back to my holiday! We travelled to Istanbul and did some sightseeing and most importantly lots of eating before flying to Antalya for the second leg of the holiday to spend most our time sunning by the sea, lazing by the pool and eating more delicious Turkish food.

It was a glorious holiday my first time abroad since late 2018, when I became pregnant with my daughter. I had so many plans to travel once she had arrived and I was off work on maternity leave, but then the world went topsy turfy in 2020 and we were all grounded. So this was our first proper holiday in 4 years. And we were not disappointed! So many beautiful sights were seen and so many delicious dishes were tried. Turkish hospitality is finely tuned to perfection with so many kind people willing to welcome you to their country and talk to you about their incredible history and introduce you to their delicious cuisine. 

This is not the first time I have travelled to this wonderful country and will no doubt not be the last time either. We Iranians have a very special place in our hearts for Türkiye and for many of us it is a home away from home as so many aspects feel familiar to us.

I have returned fully inspired to develop and include some Turkish recipes on this site and the first of these is a simple yoghurt-based dip with sautéed grated carrot, crushed walnuts with a hint of garlic. Absolutely delicious, easy to knock up and I guarantee will end up being one of your go-to dips at any time of the year (because who doesn’t have some sorry looking carrots in their veg drawer once in a while). So forget about using those carrots for soup or coleslaw and try this dip and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

It can be served alongside a mezze-style meal with lots of other dishes; as an accompaniment to kebabs or other BBQ dishes; or just with crackers or crisps.


Havuç Tarator

Turkish Carrot & Yoghurt Dip
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Turkish
Keyword: vegetarian, dip
Servings: 6
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 medium carrots (grated on the coarse side of a box grater)
  • 1 large garlic clove (crushed)
  • 500 g Greek yoghurt
  • 30 grams walnuts (coarsley crushed)
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Pul Biber or Aleppo Pepper (red pepper flakes)
  • Squeeze or 2 of fresh lemon juice

To garnish

  • Pul Biber or Aleppo Pepper
  • Olive oil (to drizzle on top)
  • Walnuts halves

Instructions

  • Place a frying pan on a medium-high heat and add olive oil. Once the oil starts to glisten, add grated carrot. Then add crushed garlic and stir until the carrot wilts and the garlic is evenly distributed - this should only take a few minutes. Turn off the heat and let the carrot mixture cool.
  • Take a bowl, add yoghurt, grated carrot, crushed walnuts, lemon juice, salt, Pul Biber and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning or other flavours as desired.
  • Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for the flavours to intensify and mix well through the yoghurt (no less than 1 hour).
  • When you are ready to serve the dip, drizzle some olive oil on top and decorate with walnuts and a sprinkle of Pul Biber. Serve as part of a mezze-style spread of dishes, or as an appetiser.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Khoresh Porteghal

Slow cooked chicken thighs with fennel, oranges & barberries

This dish is inspired by two Persian dishes – the traditional saffron chicken we cook to accompany a few of our rice dishes, and Khoresh Porteghal (chicken and orange stew). My recipe below sees the addition of fennel and barberries to the traditional recipes. From December to May, I also swap in blood oranges, which are in season during these months, and the picture above is the blood orange version.

It is surprisingly low effort and an incredibly satisfying accompaniment to a number of Iranian rice dishes. The chicken is slow-cooked so the meat falls off the bone, which is a requirement for us Iranians as we eat most of our dishes with a spoon and a fork (the spoon helps to shovel the rice in) – no knife needed for the chicken here! The oranges provide a sweetness to the dish balanced out with the tartness of the barberries. The cooked orange peel is not bitter and adds a musky depth to the casserole with a marmalade like jamminess to each bite.

I often knock up this dish as it is so simple and serve it with a crunchy citrus-dressed salad, pickles (torshi) or a side of fresh herbs (a mix of coriander, mint, Thai basil, parsley and chives) and Persian steamed rice – chelow. If you want an even quicker rice accompaniment then serve it with kateh (Persian rice cooked the easy way). But you don’t just have to resign this to a dish eaten with rice, you can serve it with buttery mashed potatoes and a side of green vegetables or pasta.

Other than saffron, advieh (Persian mixed spice made with nutmeg, rose petals, cumin, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon and black pepper) and the dried barberries, all the other ingredients are easy to source from your local supermarket if not already inhabiting your kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer. You can order saffron, advieh and dried barberries online or buy it from your local Middle-Eastern food shop. Remember to grind the saffron strands into a powder to make sure you get more bang for your buck.


Khoresh Porteghal

Slow cooked chicken thighs with fennel, oranges & barberries
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time3 hrs 15 mins
Total Time3 hrs 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian, Cross-cultural
Keyword: comfort food, chicken casserole
Servings: 4 (to 6 people)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 kg chicken thighs (skin on / bone in)
  • 1 medium brown onion (halved and finely sliced)
  • 4 garlic cloves (crushed or minced)
  • 1 large carrot (about 150g - cut into 2 inch batons)
  • 2 small fennel bulbs (halved and medium sliced)
  • 1 heaped tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp advieh (Persian mixed spice)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron bloomed in 600 ml of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 medium oranges (1 to juice and 2 sliced for the casserole itself)
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • Juice of a fresh lemon
  • 2 tbsp dried barberries
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Pre-heat oven to 140°C (fan oven) / 160°C (conventional) / gas mark 3.
  • Heat a large shallow casserole pan or saucepan with a lid over medium/high heat and add 2 tbsp of oil. Season chicken thighs on both sides and then place the chicken in the pan skin down and fry until golden brown. Then flip the chicken and fry for a few minutes on the other side. You are simply crisping the skin and sealing in the flavours. The chicken will cook through in the later steps of the recipe. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
  • Add onion to the pan and cook until golden (the chicken would have released oil so use this instead of adding more oil). Add garlic and stir to release aromas. Add turmeric and stir in until the onion and garlic mixture is evenly coated.
  • Add carrots, fennel and follow with the advieh and stir until evenly mixed. Add flour and stir to coat the mixture. Add the tomato purée and stir in.
  • Add the stock with the bloomed saffron, the juice of 1 orange and the juice of a lemon. Stir until everything is evenly combined. Place the cinnamon stick and bay leaf in the mixture.
  • Place the chicken thighs into the pan so that they are 3/4 submerged. Add the sliced 2 remaining oranges and arrange so that they are part laying on the chicken thighs and part submerged in the casserole gravy.
  • Put the lid on the pan and place into the preheated oven to cook for 3 hours. Halfway through cooking (at 90 mins), remove pan and spoon juices over the chicken and oranges and adjust positioning if required.
  • About 45 mins before cooking time is over, remove the lid and slow cook further so the skin of the chicken crisps up a little and the casserole gravy becomes a little thicker.
  • After cooking time is over, remove from the oven. Take a few tablespoons of the sauce and mix with the barberries then pour back into the pan, distributing the barberries evenly among and on top of the chicken thighs. The barberries will be cooked in this quick method and will retain their bright red colour.
  • Because of the seasoning of the chicken, the advieh and stock, you may not need to season further, but taste once and add further seasoning if required.
  • Serve with kateh or chelow and a citrus dressed salad or torshi. For alternative serving suggestions see notes above.

Roasted Red Cabbage with an Orange and Cashew Dressing

A while ago I ate an incredible Middle Eastern inspired salad bowl from Grain Kitchen – a lunchtime salad bar based in London, E1. They had a number of different themed salad bowl options such as the California Bowl or the Mediterranean Bowl but obvs I chose the Middle Eastern bowl!

Part of the salad offering was a charred red cabbage wedge with a cashew and carrot dressing. I fell in love with the vibrant color and taste of this component and set about trying to recreate it in my own home. And after a few goes the recipe below is the one I am happy to share with you. This dish is very versatile, not complicated to make and will really brighten up your plate. The dressing recipe yields a fair bit, we usually use all of it but if any remains just drizzle over a green salad – it will last up to a week if kept in the fridge.

You can eat this dish as part of a mezze-style offering…

Or you can make your own little salad bowl…

You can even eat it as an accompaniment with a pie and chips.. 


Roasted Red Cabbage with an Orange and Cashew Dressing

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Inspired by....
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan option
Servings: 4 (to 6)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Cashew and Orange Dressing

  • 75 g raw cashew nuts (soaked overnight)
  • 100 ml orange juice
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 50 ml water
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tsp maple syrup or honey
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Roasted Red Cabbage

  • 1 whole red cabbage (c. 1kg)
  • Olive oil (to drizzle over cabbage before roasting)
  • Finely chopped fresh parlsey (to garnish)

Instructions

  • Prepare the dressing by putting all the ingredients in a blender (if you have a nutribullet then blitz in that as it blends the almonds to a smoother consistency). Blitz until smooth. Pour into a container, cover and place in the fridge until ready to use.
  • Cut red cabbage into eighths so you have wedges. Then place in a saucepan of salted water and bring to a boil over a high heat. Cook until tender approx 8 minutes in boiling water.
  • While the cabbage is cooking, preheat oven to 200°C / Fan 180°C / gas 6.
  • When the cabbage is tender, remove from heat and drain water from saucepan. Drizzle the cabbage with olive oil until all the wedges are lightly coated. Place the wedges on a baking tray and place in the oven to roast for approx 20 mins until slightly charred on edges.
  • Remove the cabbage from the oven, plate up, drizzle with the dressing and sprinkle the finely chopped parsley. Can be eaten hot, warm or cold.

Sesame and Nigella Seed Flatbread

Hands down, this is the best flatbread recipe I have developed. After a a year of testing various quantities (with milk, without milk, with yogurt, without yogurt, yeast or no yeast – and the list of variations goes on), I am so happy with this fluffy, pillowy yet perfectly chewy flatbread.

This recipe does include yeast so proving time is required, but it makes a better flatbread as no yeast alternatives can be dense and become even more so if you don’t eat them straight away. I have used a combination of strong white bread flour and stone ground strong wholemeal bread flour, but feel free to change the quantity ratios of each if you prefer a more or less ‘wholesome’ bread. The use of Greek yogurt provides a delicious tanginess to the bread and the sesame and Nigella seeds provide a nutty and aromatic pop with each bite. 

See below for a number of my recipes you can dip this flatbread into – dals, dips and curry!

From top left: Persian-Style Dal; Mirza Ghasemi; Borani Laboo; Maast O’Moosir; Kashke Bademjan; Rose Harissa Aubergines and Hummus; Borani Esfenaj; Coconut and Herb Chickpea curry; Maast O’Khiar.


Sesame & Nigella Seed Flatbread

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Proving2 hrs
Total Time3 hrs
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Middle-Eastern
Servings: 8 flatbreads
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 400 g strong white bread flour (plus extra for dusting surface if kneading by hand)
  • 100 g stone ground strong wholemeal bread
  • 250 ml tepid water
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 7 g sachet of dried yeast
  • 100 g Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (plus extra to oil proving bowl and to drizzle over dough pre second prove)
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp Nigella seeds

Instructions

  • Pour water into a jug, add sugar and yeast and stir to dissolve. Leave loosely covered for 10 minutes until it activates and has a bubbly surface.
  • Sift the white and wholemeal flours into a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer. Stir in salt, sesame seeds and Nigella seeds. Pour in yoghurt and olive oil.
  • Gently pour in the activated yeast and bring the mixture together (either by hand or slow speed on the stand mixer). Then increase speed and / or knead by hand until smooth-ish and elastic for about 8 to 10 minutes (the wholemeal flour and seeds will not result in a typically smooth dough). If kneading by hand you may need to add a little extra flour for dusting your surface as the mixture is quite wet.
  • Tuck the dough under to form a ball and place in a bowl oiled with a drizzle of olive oil, cover with cling film and then a tea towel and leave in a warm part of your home to prove until it has doubled in size (usually between 1.5 to 2 hrs).
  • Once the dough has proved, knock back gently and remove from the bowl. Divide into 8 pieces, dust with a little flour, and using the palm of your hand roll into balls. Leave the balls of dough covered with a tea towel on your work surface for about 15 mins to prove further.
  • Roll the dough pieces one by one, using a rolling pin, into a circle shape approx 20 cm in diameter.
  • Heat a medium sized frying pan or flat skillet on medium heat (allow for about 1 minute).
  • Brush one side of the uncooked flatbread with olive oil and place that side down into the frying pan and cook until bubbles start to form on top of the flatbread (approx 1 to 2 minutes). Brush the topside of the flatbread with a little olive oil and then flip and cook on that side for about 30 second to 1 minute. The aim is to get the flatbreads golden and bubbly.
  • Remove from the heat and place the flatbread in a tea towel to keep soft and warm, while you cook the others.
  • Serve warm and straight after cooking, or reheat later on either by toasting in a toaster on a low heat or wrapping in foil and warming up in a medium / low oven circa (160°C (fan oven) / 180°C (conventional) / gas mark 4) for about 10 mins.

 

 

Harissa and Lime Chicken Kebabs

Chicken kebabs marinated in harissa & lime

Simple yet delicious, this marinade for chicken can be used whether you are cooking on the BBQ, roasting in the oven, under the grill, on a griddle, in an air fryer or just frying the chunks of chicken in a pan. Either way the result is a powerhouse of flavour with very little effort required. 

One of my favorite ways to eat this chicken is an element to a salad bowl (kind of like a Buddha Bowl) with the fragrant and smokey flavors from North Africa and the Middle-East, as pictured below. But it can be eaten with anything or any way you want, whether you want to eat it as a kebab roll with the chicken wrapped in some flatbread with salad, pickles and some garlic and / or chili sauce alongside some chips; or with some rice or Tabouleh or other healthy grain based salad. 

The ingredients are simple – chicken breasts, harissa paste (any variety – I use Rose Harissa by Belazu but apricot or just the plain one is absolutely fine); crushed garlic, dried za’atar leaves or oregano and fresh lime juice. Leave the chicken to marinate for a minimum of 4 hours but for best results overnight and you will not be disappointed.

For those of you who may not be familiar with za’atar, it is a herb grown in some Middle-Eastern countries, like Lebanon, with a flavour like a cross between thyme and oregano. It is also the name for a spice and herb mixture used like a condiment.

Harissa originates from North Africa. While every region has its own variation and take on the paste, it’s particularly associated with Tunisia. It is a hot chilli pepper paste, the main ingredients of which are roasted red peppers, Baklouti peppers, spices and herbs such as garlic paste, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, cumin and olive oil. Rose harissa contains dried rose petals, and, usually, rosewater too. This softens the heat and adds a subtle floral note to the dishes it is added to. The use of yoghurt in the marinade also tempers the heat a little further making this a recipe that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Using a shop bought paste like this really helps to reduce thinking and preparing time so I welcome these shortcuts. A little addition of extras like lime, garlic and yogurt make it more personal.

On a side note – I am slowly putting together recipes for all the other elements of the pictures as they are all too delicious not to share with you so please watch this space!

See my how to reel on instagram via the link below…


Harissa & Lime Chicken Kebabs

Chicken kebabs marinated in harissa & lime
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Cross-cultural
Keyword: chicken, kebabs, harissa
Servings: 4 (to 6)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1.2 kg chicken breasts (about 4 to 5 large chicken breasts)
  • 4 tbsp harissa paste (I use Belazu Rose Harissa)
  • 4 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • Juice of 1 large lime
  • 2 tsp dried za'atar leaves or oregano
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 to 2 tbsp butter and / or olive oil (Melted - to baste the chicken while cooking)

Instructions

  • Chop your chicken into chunks (fairly large as they will shrink when cooking). Put the chicken pieces into a bowl and then add all the ingredients except the butter and massage into the chicken until all the marinade is mixed in and evenly distributed amongst the chicken pieces. It will be a bright red / orange colour.
  • Cover and leave in the fridge for the flavours to develop for a minimum of 4 hrs but best left overnight. Take the chicken out of the fridge about 30 mins before you want to cook to bring up to room temperature.
  • When you are ready to cook the chicken (either on your bbq or under the grill on the highest setting), divide the chicken on to about 4 / 6 skewers and cook, basting with the butter and / or olive oil and turning the skewers until the chicken is a little charred. It takes roughly 15 to 25 minutes on a bbq or grill (depending on how hot your bbq / grill is).
  • Serve alongside chips, rice or lavash bread / flatbread, salad, mezze-style dishes including hummus and yoghurt dips.

Coconut and Herb Chickpea Curry

This recipe came about one evening when I had a jar of chickpeas, a can of coconut milk and a pillow of herbs starting to look a little pathetic in my fridge. The resulting dish totally bowled my family over and is now in the top 5 of our go to vegan dishes. 

The spices used for this curry are turmeric and coriander seeds with the addition of red chilli, garlic, ginger and coconut milk to give those familiar aromatic curry notes. The use of herbs such as dill, parsley, coriander and fenugreek bring a about a flavour profile more common to Middle-Eastern cuisine. This dish is deeply savoury but with a kick of citrus from the use of fresh lime juice to make it an all-round delightful meal.

The recipe below yields enough to feed 4. If you have fewer people to feed, honestly, don’t revise the measurements down! As with most curry-style or Persian khoresh (stew) dishes, leaving it a day for the flavours to intensify by the ingredients getting to know each other better makes the experience of eating leftovers even more spectacular than your first bite of this dish straight after cooking!

Other than the amazing herbs and spices, the real key to this dish is the type of chickpeas you can get your hands on. I always find that the chickpeas that are available in jars are larger and more buttery than tinned chickpeas. So I recommend finding a good deli or  posh shop somewhere to buy these. I actually buy mine from Amazon – a little pricey but hands down worth it!


Coconut and Herb Chickpea Curry

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Cross-cultural
Keyword: chickpeas, curry, vegetarian, vegan
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds (crushed in a pestle and mortar)
  • Thumb size ginger (grated)
  • 2 tsp dried fenugreek
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 400 ml coconut milk
  • 720 g jar of chickpeas (drained weight aprox. 420g)
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (dissolved in 250ml water)
  • 30 g fresh dill (finely chopped either by hand or in a food processor)
  • 30 g fresh parsley (finely chopped either by hand or in a food processor)
  • 30 g fresh coriander (finely chopped either by hand or in a food processor)
  • Juice of 1 largish lime
  • 1 red chilli (sliced finely and diagonally along the chilli - remove seeds for a milder version)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Some extra fresh herbs and / or sliced red chilli to garnish (coriander or parlsey or dill or mint - or a sprinkling of all of them)

Instructions

  • Place a medium-sized pan on medium / high heat and add 2 tbsp of oil. Add finely diced onion and cook until it starts to caramelise.
  • Add garlic and turmeric and stir into mixture until the aromas are released. Then add crushed coriander seeds, followed by grated ginger and stir in.
  • Stir in the dried fenugreek and place bay leaf into the pan. Then pour in coconut milk and stir (lower the heat if required to get it to a gentle simmer).
  • Leave to simmer for 5 minutes and then add drained chickpeas and stock. Simmer for a further 10 minutes.
  • Add chopped fresh herbs, lime juice and sliced red chilli and stir the curry until evenly distributed. Place a lid on the curry and let simmer for a minimum of 20 mins.
  • Taste the curry and adjust seasoning and / or lime juice. Garnish with some more sliced chilli and / or fresh herbs. Serve with rice and / or naan.

Khoresh Bademjan

Persian lamb & aubergine stew

This Persian stew is probably my favourite of all the khoresh dishes. A controversial statement as most Iranians would say Ghormeh Sabzi (a stew made with lamb, kidney bean, herbs and dried limes). But my love for aubergines and tomatoes makes this my number one, although really there is not much in it between this and the other khoresh dishes we Iranians cook and eat.

Khoresh translated from Farsi means stew, but technically my version of this dish should be called a casserole as it is slow cooked to perfection in an oven, as opposed to simmered on a stove.  If you prefer, you can cook this all on the stove. Just continue to simmer on your stove top (medium / low heat) at step 6 below for over 1 hour until the meat is tender and falls off the bone when prodded.

The ingredients for this amazing khoresh are lamb (on the bone), aubergines (‘Bademjan’ in Farsi), onions and some tomatoes (either halved or on the vine) placed on top to slow cook with the rest of the stew. The flavour profile of this dish is enhanced by the use of garlic, turmeric, saffron, a bay leaf and cinnamon with some tomato purée and fresh lime juice for good measure.

Although the traditional recipe for this khoresh is with lamb, some make it with beef or chicken. You can make a vegetarian version by using tofu or lentils if you fancy. If you are looking for a vegan / vegetarian Persian khoresh then check out my recipe for Khoresh Kadoo-e-Tond here (a spicy red lentil and courgette stew). You can replace the courgettes with aubergines.

The key to this dish is frying the aubergine separately before adding it to the khoresh. It really does make a massive difference to the flavour and the consistency of the aubergine, which should be soft and not spongy. You can, of course, oven roast your aubergine if you don’t want to fry them. But the recipe below is as close to the version most Iranians make in their homes.

As long as I can remember this khoresh has featured at many of our family gatherings over the years, held during the winter months. It is deeply comforting and will warm the cockles!

It is commonly served with chelow and tahdig (rice and crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot while cooking), and further accompanied by a salad (such as Salad Shirazi), yoghurt dip (such as Maast O’Moosir or Maast O’Khiar) and pickles (Torshi).


Khoresh Bademjan

Persian lamb & aubergine stew
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time3 hrs 25 mins
Total Time3 hrs 45 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: khoresh bademjoon
Servings: 4 (to 6 people)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 100 ml vegetable oil (the majority of this is used to fry the aubergines)
  • 3 medium aubergines (halved and salted to draw out water)
  • 600 g to 1kg of lamb leg on the bone (ask the butcher to cut into 3 cm cubes)
  • 1 large brown onion (finely chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 tbsp tomato purée
  • 600 ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Salt and Pepper (to season)
  • 500 g small to medium sized tomatoes on the vine (I use Sainsbury's Majestic tomatoes on the vine as they are the perfect size - bigger than cherry tomatoes but smaller than medium sized tomatoes)

Instructions

Prepare Aubergines (this stage can be done in advance and the aubergine will keep in fridge for up to 3 days or you can freeze them, defrost and use at a later date)

  • Slice aubergines in half, salt and leave then in a colander to draw out the water (about 30 mins).
  • Pour 75 ml of the vegetable oil into a non-stick frying pan / skillet and place on high / medium heat. Pat the aubergines dry and then gently lower flesh side down into the oil and cook until golden / brown and soft on both sides. Cook in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Then place aubergine slices on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.

Prepare the Khoresh

  • Pre-heat oven to 140°C (fan oven) / 160°C (conventional) / gas mark 3.
  • Take a shallow casserole pan (with a lid) and place on a medium / high heat. Add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil and heat for about 1 min. Season and then seal the lamb chunks in the pan. Remove the meat from the pan and leave on a plate to rest.
  • Add 2 tbsp of oil to the casserole dish and heat for about 1 min / until the oil glistens. Add the chopped onions and cook until they turn golden / start to caramelise.
  • Add 3 crushed garlic cloves and stir into the onions. Then add 1 tsp of turmeric and stir in. Once evenly distributed and you can smell the aroma, add 3 tbsp of tomato purée and stir in.
  • Add the sealed lamb, followed by the stock, bloomed saffron, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Add some water if you need to ensure the meat is covered by the sauce. Stir and then add lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Let the mixture simmer for about 10 mins. Then turn the stove off. Nestle the aubergine halves into the stew so that they are submerged into the liquid. Place the tomatoes on top. Put the lid on the pan and place in the oven to cook for approx 3 hrs.
  • Half way through, remove from oven and spoon the juices over the aubergine and meat and adjust meat and/or aubergines gently to ensure they are in the sauce. The oil will rise to the top of the stew gravy - feel free to spoon off any excess oil which may have formed on the top. I sometimes gently lay a kitchen paper towel on the surface to soak up any excess oil. Others just mix it back in.
  • Once cooked (lamb should be falling off the bone after the slow cook), serve with rice, salad and yoghurt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Potato & Leek Bolani with Coriander Chutney

Afghan flatbread filled with sweet potato & leek, served with a coriander chutney

Bolani (also called Periki) is a stuffed flatbread from Afghanistan. It is commonly cooked by frying and it has a thin crust, which can be filled with a variety of ingredients, such as potatoes, lentils, leeks or minced meat. It is usually served with a yoghurt and / or a coriander chutney. Bolani is made for special occasions but is also a popular street food available in Afghanistan.

It can be eaten as an appetiser, accompany a main meal or eaten as a snack. If you have ever eaten a stuffed Indian paratha or a Mexican quesadilla, then you will be familiar with the presentation of this dish. The main differences being that the Bolani is not flaky and layered like a paratha and not cheesy like a quesadilla, however the premise of of a stuffed type of flatbread is the same.

This recipe is one of a series of recipes posted which forms an element of a larger family meal for my lot.  The others are Qorma-e-Lubia (Afghan red kidney bean curry) which I serve with rice, and  Maast O’Khiar (a yoghurt dip made with cucumber, mint and garlic). Whilst Maast O’Khiar is the Persian name for this dip, you may be familiar with the Mediterranean versions such as Tzatziki (Greek version), Cacik (Turkish version), Talattouri (Cypriot version). The Afghan version is called Jaan-e-ama and often eaten with Bolani. 

The recipe below is vegan and, despite having to make the dough yourself, is relatively quick and easy. I have developed my Bolani recipe to include sweet potato, leek and coriander for the filling (see picture below). It is flavoured with dried red chillies, garlic, turmeric, ground coriander, cinnamon and fresh lime juice. Although not the traditional filling, the combination of the ingredients for the mixture is delicious and one that I am sure you will love. I have also made Bolani in the past with the more traditional fillings such as (1) leeks, spring onion, chilli and coriander; and (2) potato, spring onions, coriander and chili and you should feel free to experiment with yours.


 

Sweet Potato & Leek Bolani with Coriander Chutney

Afghan flatbread filled with sweet potato & leek, served with a coriander chutney
Prep Time45 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Resting time for dough30 mins
Total Time2 hrs
Course: Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish, lunch, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Middle-Eastern, Afghan
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan
Servings: 4 (to 6)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Coriander Chutney

  • 1 bunch fresh coriander (about 100 grams)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • The green ends of 4 spring onions
  • 1 to 2 green chilli peppers
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Bolani Filling

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (peeled and chopped into medium sized chunks)
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 medium leeks (quartered and sliced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Bolani Dough

  • 200 g plain flour
  • 100 g atta (chapati flour) (you can use wholemeal flour instead)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil (plus extra to fry the Bolani)
  • 180 ml water

Instructions

Coriander Chutney

  • Make the chutney ahead (minimum 2 hrs before eating) to let the flavours settle.
  • Add coriander, garlic, walnuts, chillies and scallion ends to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
  • Add the vinegar and pulse a few more times - the chutney should have a coarsely chopped appearance. Add olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper and taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Pour chutney into a sterilised jar with a lid. Place in the fridge until you are ready to use. Any left over chutney keeps for 2 months in the fridge and can be used for other dishes including grilled meats, roast vegetables or curries.

Bolani Filling

  • Steam or boil the sweet potatoes until cooked / soft.
  • Add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil to a large frying pan / skillet and place over a medium / high heat. Add leeks and cook until softened. Add garlic and turmeric and stir into the leeks until evenly distributed and aroma released.
  • Add ground coriander, dried red chilli flakes and cinnamon and stir.
  • Add sweet potato and mash into the mixture until the leek mixture is fully integrated into the mashed sweet potato.
  • Add fresh lime juice and the finely chopped fresh coriander leaves. Add salt and pepper and taste, adjust seasoning if required. Take off the heat and set aside to cool until you are ready to stuff the Bolani dough.

Bolani Dough

  • Stir flours and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the vegetable oil and water. Form a shaggy dough with your hands, then turn out onto a clean work surface. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until you have a smooth dough. Place the dough in the mixing bowl and cover. Set aside to rest for 30 mins,
  • Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll one piece of dough on a clean surface until the dough is 15cm in diameter.
  • Divide the sweet potato filling into six and fill half of the round of dough by spreading into a thin layer, leaving a 1cm empty space around the edge. Fold the empty top half of the dough over the filling and press down to seal, stretching parts of the dough to create an even crescent shape. Place on baking paper until ready to cook.
  • Heat a large non-stick frying pan or skillet over medium-low heat. Add 1 tsp of vegetable to the pan. When the oil is hot, add 1 Bolani and fry for about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Then place on a paper towel to soak up oil while the others fry. Feel free to keep the cooked Bolani in a low / medium heat oven to keep warm while you fry the others.
  • Serve the Bolanis warm / hot with the coriander chutney and / or yoghurt based (or non-dairy yoghurt) dip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Qorma-e-Lubia

Afghan Kidney Bean Stew

This vegan stew heralding from Afghanistan is a gorgeous dish full of goodness and one that I am sure will become a firm favourite in your household, as it has in mine. With simple ingredients (kidney beans, onions, tomatoes and some herbs and spices), this dish is easy to prepare (especially if you use canned kidney beans as opposed to dried ones).

Afghan cuisine includes dishes and cooking techniques also seen in Persian, Central Asian and Indian cuisines due to Afghanistan’s close proximity and historical cultural connections. As neighboring countries with cultural ties, there has been a long history of population movements between Iran and Afghanistan, indeed parts of Afghanistan formed part of the Persian Empire, which lasted from approximately 559 B.C.E. to 331 B.C.E. Sadly modern day Iran has not treated Afghan immigrants well, with widespread reports of Iranian mistreatment of Afghan migrants and their human rights – the community is very marginalized in Iran. 

The two official languages spoken in Afghanistan are Dari and Pashto. Dari is the official name of the variety of Persian language spoken in Afghanistan. It is often referred to as Afghan Persian. Although still widely known as Farsi (the official language of Iran) to its native speakers, the name was officially changed to Dari in 1964 by the Afghan government. Pashto is an Eastern Iranian language of the Indo-European family. It is also the second-largest provincial language of Pakistan, spoken mainly in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the northern districts of the Balochistan province.

I remember the first time I heard someone speaking Dari (1980 something). I asked my mother why I could understand a language which seemed familiar but unfamiliar at the same time. The words made sense to me but the rhythm the language was being spoken in was different to the Farsi I had grown up with. And that is when I learnt about Afghanistan, their languages and the relationship with Iran. My journey into Afghan cuisine came later in my life but as with learning about our connections in language, their cuisine has brought me great joy and continues to do so. There are many Afghan dishes that feel familiar to me due to my Persian background, but there are also a huge amount of dishes new to me which I have loved learning to cook! And the first I am introducing to you is my version of Qorma-e-Lubia. For those of you familiar with Indian cuisine, you will note this recipe is very similar to the North Indian dish Rajma Masala. Pakistan and Nepal also have a version of this dish. 

So what is Qorma? Qorma is the Afghan name given to an onion and tomato-based stew or casserole, usually served with rice (challow, Persians call their rice chelow). First, onion is caramelized, for a richly colored stew. Then tomato is added, along with a variety of meat, lentils, spices, and vegetables, depending on the recipe. The main ingredient, which can be meat, beans or vegetables, is usually added last. There are many different qormas including:

  • Qorma e gosht  – a meat stew usually served at gatherings;
  • Qorma e nadroo – lamb or veal, yogurt, lotus roots and coriander;
  • Qorma e alou-bokhara wa dalnakhod – veal or chicken, sour plums, lentils and cardamom;
  • Qorma e sabzi – lamb, sautéed spinach and other greens;
  • Qorma e lawand – chicken, lamb, or beef, plus yogurt, turmeric and coriander;
  • Qorma e shalgham – a sweet and sour qorma made with lamb, turnips and sugar.

Qorma-e-Lubia is simply made with red kidney beans as the protein element and cooked with an onion and tomato base flavored with garlic, turmeric, coriander, cumin and dried mint. I also add a little garam masala to mine. Serve it with flatbread, rice (kateh or chelow), a nice crunchy salad with a citrus dressing and / or a yoghurt or non-dairy dip (I have served mine with Maast O’Khiar, the Persian yoghurt and cucumber dip, as pictured below). 

The flavour of this qorma (as with many stew style dishes) gets better if eaten the day after cooking. Therefore, I recommend making it a day before you want to serve it and then heating it up. The flavours really fuse together brilliantly with a little more time to get to know each other.

Just as a side note, if you are using dried kidney beans you will need approximately 250 grams. Remember to wash, soak, drain and then cook the beans before adding them at step 7 below. Kidney beans are toxic if not prepared properly when starting with the dried form and can cause tummy upsets, so make sure you follow the instructions on the packet or google it.

The flatbread pictured below is Bolani, an Afghan stuffed flatbread and the recipe will be posted soon – so watch out for it!


Qorma-e-Lubia

Afghan Kidney Bean Curry
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 35 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Afghan
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 3 medium tomatoes (roughly chopped)
  • 3 tbsp tomato purée
  • 600 ml vegetable stock
  • 2 x 400 g cans of kidney beans (or 250 grams of dried kidney beans cooked in accordance with package instructions)
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • Juice of 1 lime or half a lemon
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Chopped fresh coriander leaves and sliced sping onions (to stir through / garnish before serving)

Instructions

  • Place a medium to large saucepan (which has a lid) on a medium / high heat and add the oil.
  • Bash the coriander and cumin seeds in a pestle and mortar and then add to the saucepan. Cook for about a minute. Keep a close eye on them so they don't burn. Lower the heat to medium, if necessary.
  • Then add chopped onions and cook until they brown / caramelise.
  • Add the garlic and turmeric and stir to distribute evenly into the onions. Then add dried mint and dried chilli flakes (feel free to exclude chilli or revise chilli levels down if half a teaspoon feels a bit too much for you).
  • Add the chopped tomatoes and stir now and again until they break down (roughly 5 to 10 minutes).
  • Add the tomato purée and stir until evenly distributed and follow with the vegetable stock. Give the mixture a good stir and let it come to a boil and then reduce the heat to low / medium to allow to simmer. Place the lid on the saucepan and let the sauce simmer for a minimum of 30 min or longer - ideally when you start to see the oil form a little round the edges of the sauce.
  • Then add your cooked kidney beans, garam masala, the lime (or lemon) juice, salt and pepper and stir. Leave to simmer with the lid on for a further 15 to 30 mins.
  • Taste and adjust seasoing if required. Before serving, stir through some fresh chopped coriander. Spoon the Qorma into your serving dish and sprinkle with the sliced spring onions. Serve with flatbread and / or rice, yoghurt-style dip and / or salad and pickles (torshi).

 

Maast O’Khiar

Persian yoghurt & cucumber dip

Most of you will be familiar with this dip or similar-style dips eaten across the Levantine / Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean parts of the world. 

Maast O’Khiar is the Persian name for this dip, but you may know it as Tzatziki (Greek version), Cacik (Turkish version), Talattouri (Cypriot version), Jaan-e-ama (the Afghan version).

It is made with salted strained yoghurt or diluted yoghurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, sometimes with vinegar or lemon juice, and herbs such as dill, mint, parsley and thyme. It is commonly served as a cold appetiser or as a side dish at Persian gatherings or restaurants. It is a creamy and fresh tasting dip, perfectly balancing Persian dishes ranging from the stews to the kebabs.  

Yoghurt was introduced to me as an accompaniment to a savoury ensemble of dishes so I have never fully engaged with it as a sweet breakfast option or a dessert.  Although I do eat sweetened yoghurt occasionally (I love Greek yoghurt drizzled with honey), it’s fair to say that 99% of my yoghurt consumption is related to dips like this one or Maast O’Moosir (Persian Shallot & yoghurt dip); Borani Laboo (Persian beetroot and yoghurt dip); and Borani Esfenaj (Persian Spinach and yoghurt dip) – all deliciously garlicky!

There are various ways of preparing this dip when it comes to the cucumber element. Some peel, de-seed and dice the cucumber or grate it. Others use the whole cucumber, including the skin. I prefer the latter method (the whole cucumber, as I hate the waste). Using thick strained Greek Yoghurt compliments the use of the full cucumber as it creates extra liquid for the dip. This helps to loosen the yoghurt to the perfect consistency. I also use a combination of dried and fresh mint, garlic and lime juice to flavour my Maast O’Khiar. If you are using a more watery yoghurt, then I recommend squeezing the liquid out of the grated cucumber. Keep the cucumber liquid and add it to a juice or smoothie. Otherwise just hold your grater over the bowl of yoghurt and grate it straight in.

Persians also vary their Maast O’Khiar by mixing in sultanas and walnuts and / or sprinkling with dried rose petals as a garnish, so feel free to mix it up if you fancy!

This is a super easy dip to make but, in order for the flavours to intensify and settle properly into the dip, I would recommend making it a day before you want to tuck into it. At the very least a 1 hour resting time.

This dip can be eaten with a variety of crudites and crisps, but ultimately if you are making a Persian spread of food, a bowl of this dip will compliment all the dishes as pictured below. 


Maast O'Khiar

Persian yoghurt & cucumber dip
Prep Time15 mins
Resting time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 15 mins
Course: Appetiser, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian, Middle-Eastern
Keyword: mast o khiar, Tzatziki, Cacik, Talattouri, Jaan-e-ama
Servings: 6
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 500 g strained Greek Yoghurt (I use Total 5%)
  • 1/2 large cucumber (grated with skin and seeds)
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp fresh mint (chopped)
  • 1 large clove garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (and extra to drizzle on top)
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Fresh mint and chopped cucumber (to garnish)

Instructions

  • Take a bowl, add the yoghurt, grated cucumber, dried mint, fresh mint, crushed garlic, 1 tbsp of olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning or other flavours as desired.
  • Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for the flavours to intensify and mix well through the yoghurt (no less than 1 hour). When you are ready to serve the Maast O'Khiar, drizzle some olive oil on top and decorate with fresh mint and / or cucumber and / or dried rose petals and / or dried mint.
  • Serve alongside a Persian spread, as part of a mezze-style spread of dishes, or as an appetiser. Or like some Iranians, sit in front of the telly with a bowl of Maast O'Khiar and a massive bag of crisps and dip away!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simit

Turkish Bagels

Simit is a circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds, which is common to the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and the Middle-East. It is widely known as a Turkish bagel in the USA and Koulouri in Greece. They are commonly eaten at breakfast and are a much loved street food available on many corners in Istanbul. They have a crispy exterior and a soft doughy interior, which can be created using a standard bread dough mixture.

The distinctive taste of Simit comes from a combination of toasted sesame seeds and a grape molasses glaze. Grape molasses can be found online or at Middle-Eastern supermarkets. Sesame seeds are widely available in their raw form, so you will need to toast them in a dry frying pan before coating the Simit rings.

I was first introduced to Simit during one of our holidays in Turkey. Many of us Iranians love holidaying in Turkey as it feels familiar but with the freedoms we cannot enjoy in our own motherland. In fact, I have travelled to Turkey more than I have to Iran. The hospitality, the food and the weather make for the perfect destination for my family and it feels like home. 

The variety of baked goods available in Turkey is incredible and Simit is no exception. My local artisan bakery has Simit sandwiches available to be toasted and eaten with a strong Turkish coffee to follow, which has become a favourite weekend brunch option for my husband and I. 

When I bake them at home, we either eat them with feta and halva (as pictured above) or with jam. We also love having them as an accompaniment to egg dishes (pictured below). The recipe foe Nargessi (Persian spinach Eggs as pictured) can be found here.


Simit

Turkish Bagels
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Proving Time x 21 hr 30 mins
Total Time2 hrs 15 mins
Course: Breakfast, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Turkish
Keyword: Simit, Turkish Bagel, Gevrek, Koulouri
Servings: 6
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Simit Dough

  • 500 g strong white bread flour (plus extra for sprinkling on your surface when shaping the Simit)
  • 7 g fast-action yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 300 ml tepid water
  • A little olive oil (to oil the bowl the dough proves in)

Simit Topping

  • 100 ml grape molasses (üzüm pekmezi)
  • 50 ml water
  • 2 tsp flour
  • 300 g toasted sesame seeds

Instructions

  • Mix strong white flour, salt and fast-action yeast in a large bowl making sure the salt and yeast are kept apart at this initial stage. Make a well in the centre, then add 300ml water, and mix well. If the dough seems a little stiff, add another 1-2 tbsp water and mix well.
  • Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for around 10 mins. Once the dough is smooth, place it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  • Mix the grape molasses, water and flour in a large bowl.
  • Prepare the toasted sesame seeds. Take the raw sesame seeds, toast in a dry pan until golden, shaking and stirring the pan regularly. Take care not to burn the seeds. It should only take a few minutes to toast the sesame seeds.
  • Preheat the oven to 220°C / fan 200°C / gas 7 / 425°F. Place a baking tray in the oven.
  • Once the dough has proved, cut the dough into 12 equal sized pieces. Sprinkle some flour on the surface and roll each piece into a long sausage about 25cm long. Take two of the rolled dough pieces and place them alongside each other. Squeeze the ends together and roll the ends in opposite directions, causing them to braid. Squeeze the two ends together to form a ring. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  • Dip the simits into the grape molasses mixture until covered. Cover completely with sesame seeds. Stretch the dough a little as you do this to ensure the Simit is even but don't worry if it is not perfect - rustic is a great look! Place the ready Simits on a piece of baking paper, cover with a tea towel and let prove for a further 30 mins.
  • Bake in two batches until cooked through and golden brown on the outside, 20 - 25 minutes. Check the Simit occasionally to make sure it doesn't burn and turn the heat down if necessary.
  • Leave to cool on a cooling rack. Simit is best eaten while still warm so if you don't eat them straight away, reheat in the oven before consuming.

 

 

Kooie Kaka

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes

Halloween is nearly upon us and pumpkins are in season and readily available in supermarkets. So why not try these delicious pancakes inspired by those commonly eaten in and originating from Gilan in the North of Iran. In the Gilaki language these pancakes are called Kooie Kaka which means Pumpkin (Kooie) Pancake (Kaka). Despite our love for poetry and romanticising everything that is Persian, we Iranians cut straight to the chase with our food descriptions.

These pancakes are a also great way to make sure there is no waste from the pumpkins you carve for Halloween. All you need to do is to roast a chopped pumpkin with or without the skin (if you are using the remains of your carved pumpkin) in a medium / hot oven (180°C fan oven) for about 30 minutes or until soft. When cooked and cooled down, take the cooked pumpkin flesh and place into a bowl mash into a purée. The pumpkin purée can be used for the Kooie Kaka pancakes as per the recipe below and any leftovers can be frozen to be used at a later date. Alternatively, I am sure most of you will have a favourite soup or risotto recipe to use the remaining pumpkin for. A small / medium sized pumpkin usually yields about 400 grams of purée. 

The pancake batter is a standard American fluffy pancake batter with the addition of the pumpkin and spices (cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg). Traditionally the amount of pumpkin used in Kooie Kaka is more than I use in my recipe below – mine is kid friendly and mostly about ensuring there is no waste from the Halloween pumpkin decoration season. Also the pancake is firmer and keeps better if there are any leftovers. If you do want the pancakes to be more about the pumpkin, then reduce the flour measurement to 200 grams in the recipe below.

Please also feel free to substitute and experiment with your favourite panache batter particularly if you prefer gluten free or are vegan.

We serve ours with either maple syrup, honey or cherry syrup drizzled over and sprinkle with pomegranate arils, crushed pistachios and a dusting of icing sugar as pictured below.


Kooie Kaka

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Breakfast, Brunch
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, fluffy pancakes
Servings: 4 (to 6 people)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 250 g pumpkin purée (see notes above)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 nutmeg (grated)
  • 1 cardamom pod (seeds removed and crushed)
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 300 g self-raising flour
  • 300 ml milk
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 medium free range eggs
  • Vegetable Oil and butter (for cooking the pancakes)
  • Crushed pistachios, icing sugar, maple syrup / honey / cherry syrup (to serve)

Instructions

  • Place the flour, baking powder, spices, sugar and salt into a large bowl. Crack in the eggs and whisk until smooth. Add the milk while whisking.
  • Then add the pumpkin purée and whisk further.
  • Heat a splash of oil and a small knob of butter in a non-stick frying pan until sizzling. Add spoonfuls of batter to make pancakes the size you prefer (I make mini ones - approx 5 cm diameter). Cook until bubbles start to form on the surface, then flip and cook the other side. Eat straight away or keep warm in a low oven while you cook further batches.
  • Serve pancakes with pomegranate arils, drizzled with honey or syrup of your choice and garnish with a dusting of icing sugar and crushed pistachios.

Mirza Ghasemi

Smoked aubergine dip

After a little hiatus from writing recipes, I am back and ready to pick up where I left off with a gem of a recipe.

Mirza Ghasemi is a probably one of my favorite Iranian dishes. I remember the first time I ate this delightful dish. I had never tasted anything like it.  The smoky aubergine, extraordinary amount of garlic, tomatoes and eggs were comforting and moreish. I found I couldn’t stop eating it, scooping up this warm dip-style appetiser with Persian flat-bread (Sangak or Barbari – as pictured). And I still do the same when people serve it at their homes or when we go to our favourite Iranian restaurants.

As a family, we were quite late to the party with Mirza Ghasemi being one of our go-to dishes. The dish is from the Northern and Caspian Sea region of Iran (specifically Gilan), where there tends to be more vegetarian dishes such as Kal Kabab and Baghali Gatogh. My mother and father had left Iran to travel west in the 60’s and 70’s and had brought with them their family favourite recipes, which tended to be meat orientated. So it didn’t feature in our lives until I was a teenager. As our Iranian community diversified in the 90’s with friends and extended family being from different regions such as Gilan, Shiraz, Tabriz and Esfehan, so did our dishes. 

Mirza Ghasemi is not just eaten as an appetiser with bread but also as a main dish served with rice, therefore feel free to upgrade it to a regular main meal in your household. The recipe below would provide two generous portions or four humble portions to be eaten with rice. To make it heartier, make four holes in the Mirza Ghasemi, while it is simmering, and crack four eggs into the holes. Then place a lid on top to cook the eggs to your liking. Otherwise serve it, as I love it, with a platter of fresh herbs, feta and flat-bread (as pictured above).

If you are vegan then leave out the eggs and replace with scrambled style silken tofu. Equally delicious!


Mirza Ghasemi

Persian smoked aubergine dip
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time2 hrs
Course: Main Course, Dip, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan option, smoked aubergine, Middle-Eastern Food
Servings: 4 (as an appetiser or 2 as a main)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 3 large aubergines (or 5 medium aubergines)
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium brown onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 medium whole garlic (peeled and cloves crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 medium plum tomatoes (chopped)
  • 3 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tsp Maple Syrup or Sugar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 2 large free-range eggs (beaten) - plus more if eating as a main course
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Chopped fresh chives and/or crushed walnuts (to garnish)

Instructions

  • Smoke the aubergines whole over an open flame (gas hob or BBQ) until blackened and the flesh has softened.  The idea is to get the smoky flavour into the final dish.  Alternatively, grill the aubergines to get the same effect - charred skin and soft flesh. Place the cooked aubergine in a large dish and cover with clingfilm for about 10 to 20 minutes. This will help when peeling the charred skin off.
  • Peel the skin / scoop the aubergine flesh out of the skins and leave to one side.
  • Put a frying pan on a low / medium heat and add your olive oil and your chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Cook the onion until it has turned translucent / caramelised. Then add the garlic, gently stirring into the onion mixture making sure the garlic cooks slowly and does not burn. Then add and stir in the turmeric.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook until tomatoes have softened and broken down.
  • Stir in the aubergine flesh and mash the mixture gently. Add the tomato purée, water, maple syrup and seasoning and cook for approximately 10 mins, stirring gently now and then.
  • Make a few holes in mixture and add the beaten eggs. Once eggs start to gain a little colour and firm a little, stir them in until evenly distributed through aubergine mixture. Let the mixture simmer gently on a low heat and with a lid on the pan for a further 10 mins.
  • [If you are serving as a main dish, feel free to bulk up with extra eggs, cracked and poached in the Mirza Ghasemi while gently simmering - cover with a lid to cook the egg through. See notes above].
  • Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of chopped fresh chives and / or crushed walnuts as a garnish alongside fresh herbs, feta and flat bread like Barbari / Kateh or Chelow.  Ideally served warm and not piping hot.  

Advieh Kabab

Grilled Beef Kebabs with Persian Spices

This is a recipe inspired by Persian flavours and one I developed by throwing various things together as a marinade for some cubed rump steak. With echoes of the Levantine shawarma, by using the Persian mixed spice advieh (a mix of nutmeg, rose petals, cardamom, cumin, black pepper, coriander, cinnamon), this kabab will not disappoint. You can use lamb or chicken as an alternative and you can cook it under your grill as opposed to on a BBQ.

The marinade combines yoghurt, garlic, olive oil, onion, lime juice, advieh, saffron, turmeric, sumac and chilli sauce. The meat is marinated for a minimum of 12 hrs to let the flavours fully intensify and be absorbed into the meat. You can get your hands on saffron from most supermarkets and advieh can be bought from most Middle-Eastern food shops – I buy mine online from Freshly Spiced on  Etsy. 

I serve this kabab as pictured with flatbreads filled with the meat; lettuce; chopped tomatoes with Thai basil; chopped onion and parsley; pickled chillies; bbq/grilled peppers; and a dollop of Greek yoghurt mixed with dried mint, Aleppo pepper, garlic, a squeeze of lime and a little sea salt. On the side we have home-made fried chips and bbq corn-on-the-cob with a butter, chilli and chive drizzle.

 


Advieh Kabab

Grilled Beef Kebabs with Persian Spices
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time20 mins
(Marinating Time)12 hrs
Total Time12 hrs 35 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian, Middle-Eastern
Keyword: kebabs, advieh, bbq
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 - 1.2 kg cubed lamb or beef (I've used beef rump steak)

Marinade

  • 1 large brown onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 50 ml of water)
  • 2 tbsp advieh
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp chilli sauce ( I use habanero)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

To baste while cooking

  • 2 tbsp butter (melted)

Instructions

  • Place the beef (or any other cubed meat you fancy) into a large bowl or tupperware box.
  • Place all the ingredients for the marinade in a blender and blitz until all the onion and garlic is blended. Pour over the meat and rub in until evenly coated. Cover and place in the fridge to marinate for a minimum of 12 hrs.
  • Remove the meat from the fridge about 30 mins before cooking to bring to room temperature.
  • Divide the meat on to about 4 skewers and cook on your BBQ or under your grill (on the highest setting). Baste with the melted butter, turning the skewers until the meat is a little charred. It takes roughly 15 to 25 minutes on a bbq (depending on how hot your bbq is).
  • For serving inspiration either serve alongside rice and grilled tomatoes or with flatbreads; lettuce; chopped tomatoes with Thai basil; chopped onion and parsley; pickled chillies; bbq/grilled peppers; Greek yoghurt mixed with dried mint, Aleppo pepper, garlic and a little sea salt; chips; and bbq corn with a butter, chilli and chive drizzle.

Summer Kuku served with a Pea, Mint and Feta Dip

Kale and red pepper kuku with a pea, mint & feta dip

This recipe is pure summer on a plate! A light and easy meal – I often cook it the night before we want to eat it and store it in the fridge. It can be eaten warm or cold and it is a great way to get a hit of goodness into you.

Kuku (also spelled ‘kookoo’) is an egg-based, vegetarian dish from Iran made with beaten eggs, folding in various ingredients. It is similar to the Italian frittata, the French quiche or an open-faced omelette, but it typically has more vegetables than its Western counterparts. It is served either hot or cold as a starter, side dish or a main course, and is accompanied with bread and either yogurt, salad and / or rice. The two most well known kuku recipes are Kuku Sabzi (made with herbs and barberries and / or walnuts); and Kuku Sibzamini (made with potatoes). Ultimately, you can make kuku with any vegetables you like.

This kuku recipe materialised after an Oddbox delivery. Oddbox is a wonderful company that rescues surplus or imperfect vegetables and fruit, which would otherwise not make it to the shopper, and offers it by way of a home delivery subscription services. My medium-sized box of delights is delivered fortnightly. It’s a fantastic initiative that helps me to eat more vegetables and fruit, while helping to save our planet. It is also been great for challenging my recipe ideas as sometimes I can fall into the routine of buying the same ingredients and cooking the same recipes. 

One of my Oddbox deliveries had some kale and red peppers, which lead me down the path of experimenting with the medium of kuku. Kale has become very popular in the UK due to the health benefits. Our supermarkets are always well-stocked with kale and red peppers, potatoes and red onions – the vegetables used to cook this dish. I use garlic, smoked paprika and chillies for the aromatic notes, which results in a smoky and gently warming feel to eating this even when eaten cold.

Traditionally kuku is fried and flipped over to brown on the other side, but I prefer to oven bake mine so the recipe below is geared towards baking but feel free to fry it if you prefer, either omelette-style or like fritters.

The beauty of kuku is that you can make a batch one evening and have it as a quick lunch on your working days. It is also a well-loved addition to a mezze-style meal or served with bowls filled with lots of antipasti (as pictured) in my family.

I have paired this kuku recipe with a pea, mint and feta dip, making the overall experience fresh, light and summery.


Summer Kuku served with a Pea and Mint Dip

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 20 mins
Course: Main Course, lunch
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian, Fusion
Keyword: light lunch, mezze, frittata, kookoo
Servings: 2 (to 4 people)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Kuku

  • 2 tbsp olive oil (and a little to grease your tin)
  • 200 g potatoes (diced into 1 cm cubes)
  • 1 medium / large red onion (finely diced)
  • 1 red pepper (medium diced)
  • 75 g kale (removed from stalks, washed and roughly chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tbsp tomatoe purée (dissolved in 100ml of water)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 small red chilli (minced)
  • 6 large free range eggs (cracked and beaten in a bowl)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Pea and mint dip

  • 2 cups peas (frozen is fine - blanch them in boiling water before blending into the dip)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 40 g feta
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (plus extra to drizzle on top)
  • 10 leaves fresh mint (plus extra to chop and garnish the dip with)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 4.
  • Take a cake tin (20 cm diameter) (preferably one without a loose base as the egg is likely to seep out unless you properly cover the gaps with baking paper). Grease and line the tin with baking paper. Place the tin in the oven to heat up.
  • Take a frying pan, place on a medium / high heat and add 2 tbsp of oil.
  • Add the potatoes and cook until the potatoes start to turn golden and little crispy.
  • Add the peppers and onions and cook until they soften.
  • Add the garlic, smoked paprika, chilli and stir until evenly distributed.
  • Add the tomato purée and water to the mixture.
  • Then add the kale and cook until wilted and the mixture has little or no liquid. then turn off the heat and let cool for 10 mins.
  • Take the beaten egg mixture and add the vegetable mixture and stir. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Remove the tin from the oven and pour the mixture in. Then place in the oven to cook for about 30 to 40 mins (or until a knife poked into the middle of the kuku comes out clean)
  • To make the dip, blend all the dip ingredients in a food processor and pour into a serving bowl. Feel free to adjust seasoning and lemon juice to taste. Scatter a little finely chopped mint on top and drizzle with a little olive oil.
  • Serve the kuku warm or cold with the dip, flatbreads and other antipasti type dishes or as part of a mezze-style meal.

Jujeh Kabab

Persian Chicken Kebabs with Saffron & Lemon

It’s fair to say that kebabs are probably my favourite dish in any cuisine. Whether it is the array of grilled meats from my own culture, ordering the mixed grill from a favourite Indian, Turkish or Lebanese restaurant; eating souvlaki in Greece; or asking for a doner after a few beverages while my friends ask for a pitta bread with hummus and chips. Basically, I love grilled meat!

My particular favourite is a chicken kebab and we Persians do an excellent job with our offering – Jujeh Kabab.  Our version consists of grilled chunks of chicken, with or without bone, commonly marinated in onion, lemon juice and saffron. Often served on chelo rice or wrapped in lavash bread (a paper thin flatbread). Other optional components include grilled tomatoes, green chilli peppers, fresh lemons or limes, yoghurt and fresh herbs (as pictured in my spread below).

I love this part of Iranian cuisine for many reasons over and beyond the satisfaction it gives me when I eat them. Kababs signal the Summer with family parties (‘mehmoonis’) moving outside into gardens with us all soaking up the sun (or sheltering from the rain) and eating delicious appetisers while the meat cooks on our bbqs.

They represent my father’s favourite dish, particularly koobideh (the minced lamb kofte kababs cooked on long metal skewers). My father is no longer with us but when I think of him a lot of my memories are of him fanning the flames of the bbq getting it to the perfect heat for the kababs my mother had prepared for our guests, drinking shots of vodka and laughing with all the other men huddled round the epicentre of meat grilling – the mangal.

They represent the Iranian weddings I have been to and also all the wonderful Persian restaurants in or around London I have been lucky enough to have eaten at.

And of course they represent Iran. My travels around Iran with my maman over 20 years ago saw me eat a lot of grilled meat – dare I say it, but I nearly contemplated going vegetarian (for about 2 seconds) because of the amount of meat I consumed in a month!

I set out below my trusted recipe for Jujeh Kabab. Mine differs to my my mother’s by using yoghurt, a little turmeric and tomato purée.  My mother is a pure saffron, lemon and onion lady but my view is that the yoghurt creates a buttermilk effect when mixed with all the ingredients allowing for a tender yet juicer kabab. This recipe does not need to only appear in the summer, when I have a jujeh craving I just cook mine under a grill or on a griddle pan.

Serve with Chelo or lavash bread, Salad Shirazi (or any other salad you fancy), fresh herbs (Persian-style), Maast o Moosir, grilled tomatoes and green chilli peppers and / or  Torshi.

 


Jujeh Kabab

Persian Chicken Kebabs with Saffron and Lemon
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Marinating Time - 12 hrs plus12 hrs
Total Time40 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: kebabs, kabab, joojeh
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 4 to 5 large skinless chicken breasts (or approximately 1.2 kg)
  • 1 large brown onion (finely sliced)
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 5 tbsp  Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron  (bloomed in 50ml water)
  • Juice from a whole large lemon
  • Salt and Pepper (to season)
  • 1 large garlic clove (crushed or minced)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp butter (Melted - to baste the chicken while cooking)

Instructions

  • Chop your chicken into chunks (fairly large as they will shrink when cooking).
  • Put the chicken pieces into a bowl and then add all the ingredients except the butter and massage into the chicken until all the marinade is mixed in and evenly distributed amongst the chicken pieces. It will be a yellow/orange colour. Cover and leave in the fridge for the flavours to develop for a minimum of 12 hrs. Take the chicken out of the fridge about 30 mins before you want to cook to bring up to room temperature.
  • When you are ready to cook the chicken (either on your bbq or under the grill on the highest setting), divide the chicken on to about 4 skewers and cook, basting with the butter and turning the skewers until the chicken is a little charred. It takes roughly 15 to 25 minutes on a bbq (depending on how hot your bbq is).
  • Serve alongside Chelo or lavash bread, Salad Shirazi (or any other salad you fancy), fresh herbs (Persian-style), Maast o Moosir, grilled tomatoes and / or  Torshi.

 

Spicy Halloumi Pasties served with Borani Esfenaj

Spicy halloumi handmade pies served with a spinach and yoghurt dip

Borani Esfenaj is a delicious Persian dip made simply with yoghurt and spinach and flavoured with garlic, a little lemon or lime juice and some salt and pepper.

I have fond memories of this dip as my khaleh (maternal aunt) would make it regularly when I was a child. This dish and Nargessi (a Persian breakfast / brunch dish made with garlicky spinach and eggs) are the reasons I love spinach so much. Spinach cooked with lots of garlic is a perfect combination and, with the addition of thick creamy yoghurt, makes this dip a lovely addition to a table full of appetisers for your guests to dip in and out of or a mezze-style offering. 

Borani Esfenaj can either be made with frozen or fresh spinach. If you are making it with frozen spinach use 500g for the recipe below. Using frozen spinach creates a creamier dip and is perfect if you are serving it alongside crisps or other crudites for people to dip in and out of.  If you are serving it as part of a meal, as in this recipe, then the chunkier dip with fresh spinach works well both in texture and aesthetics.

For the purposes of my recipe offering to you, I have paired the borani with some spicy halloumi pasties. The use of pre-made shortcrust pastry makes this a really simple meal to knock up but with maximum taste. The feel of this meal is very much Mediterranean-inspired and we happily eat this in the warmer seasons for either lunch or dinner. The pasties fare well eaten cold and we often eat the leftovers for our packed lunches on ensuing work days.

The recipe below yields about 8 pasties which, depending on your appetite, could feed between 4 and 8 people with 2 to 4 tablespoons of the borani each. I love serving these two dishes with pickles, olives or salad-type ingredients to pick at too. I have separated the two recipes below in case you want to prepare one of the dishes only and for ease of reference.  If you want some extra carbs with this dish, then roasted sweet potato wedges work really well and can be dipped into the borani as well.

I like to make the borani the day before so the flavours can intensify. The pasties can also be made in advance and reheated in the oven. 


Spicy Halloumi Pasties

Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Cooling time for pasty filling1 hr
Total Time2 hrs 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Cross-cultural
Keyword: vegetarian, pasties, halloumi
Servings: 8 medium sized pasties
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Spicy Halloumi Pasties

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium potatoes (about 250 g - peeled and medium diced)
  • 2 large cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 medium red onion (finely diced)
  • 1 green pepper (medium diced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp dried orgeano
  • 2 tbsp biber salçası (Turkish tomato and red pepper paste)
  • 200 ml water
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 40 g fresh coriander (chopped finely including stalks)
  • 250 g halloumi (chopped into 1 cm chunks)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • 2 packs pre-rolled shortcrust pastry (2 x 320g sheets)
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • A mix of nigella and sesame seeds to sprinkle on top of the pasties

Instructions

  • Take a large frying pan, add the olive oil and place on a medium heat. Add the chopped potatoes and cook until they start to crisp, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the garlic and stir until the aroma is released. Then add the onions and green pepper and cook until softened. Stir in the turmeric and oregano.
  • Then add the biber salçası, water and balsamic vinegar and stir. Then add the chopped coriander and stir until the water has been absorbed into the mixture. Turn off the heat and leave to cool. Once cooled, add the chopped halloumi and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • While your pasty mixture is cooling, take your pre-rolled pastry out of the fridge and leave (as per packet instructions) at room temperature for approximately 45 mins.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C in a fan oven)/ Gas mark 6. Unroll your pastry and using a small side plate or pastry cutter 5 inches in diameter cut 8 discs. You may need to take remaining pastry and roll to make further discs.
  • Place 1/8th of the filling on one side of one of the circles. Brush the edge of half the circle with beaten egg, then fold over the other half to make a D shape. Crimp the edge using a fork or the back of a knife. Then gently push the tips towards each other to create more of a crescent shape. Make a hole in the top to allow some air to escape and place on a lined baking tray. Repeat with the other 7 circles. Brush with the beaten egg, sprinkle with nigella and sesame seeds and bake on a baking tray for 30 to 40 minutes or until they are golden.
  • Leave to stand for 10 minutes before eating. Serve with the Borani Esfenaj and other mezze-style dishes.


Borani Esfenaj

Persian spinach and yoghurt dip
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: dip
Servings: 4 (to 8)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 large cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 400 g baby spinach (roughly chopped)
  • 500 g Greek Yoghurt
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Drizzle of olive oil and nigella seeds for topping / garnish

Instructions

  • Take a large frying pan, add the olive oil and place on a medium heat. After a minute add the garlic and stir untill the aromas are released. Then add the spinach and stir until wilted and it is coated in the garlic infused olive oil. Remove from the heat and place the spinach in a colander over a bowl to drain excess liquid and to cool. Allow all the excess water to run out, pressing it with the back of a spoon or underside of a ladle will help force excess water out of the spinach through the colander.
  • Place the spinach in a serving bowl, add the Greek yoghurt and mix. Add the juice of half a lime and season with salt and pepper.
  • Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the borani and sprinkle some nigella seeds as a garnish. Serve with the spicy halloumi pasties or as an appetiser or as part of a mezze-style spread with flat-breads (or anything else you want to dip into it).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Persian Homage to the Victoria Sandwich

 

I love cake. My cake love came later in life as I was a real savoury food seeker until my thirties. Then the delightful past-time of cake and coffee on a lazy sunday afternoon developed and it is a ritual I like to keep up. Most of the time I like to venture into my local coffee shop and bakery but once in a while I channel Mary Berry and produce a home-baked goody.

One of my Mary Berry moments resulted in this delight. I really fancied a Victoria Sandwich, mostly because it brings so much joy with very little baking effort! The only problem was I only had Persian sour cherry jam in my cupboard as opposed to strawberry or raspberry. I briefly contemplated heading out to the nearest shop for jam but it was a Sunday, my pyjamas felt snug and frankly I couldn’t be bothered. I rummaged around my kitchen cupboards for flavour inspiration to match with the sour cherry jam. I landed on lime and vanilla for the sponge, rose water flavoured whipped cream and ground pistachios for the decoration. The experiment was a success and my Persian version of the British classic Victoria Sandwich is a firm favourite in my household.

The cake batter is the standard ‘225 grams of  butter, sugar and self-raising flour plus 4 eggs’ mixture. It’s a great cake batter and one where even the novice baker will yield the perfect crumb. I also use this for cupcakes.

You can get your hands on sour cherry jam, rose water and pistachios from most Middle-Eastern food shops or online. The brand of sour cherry jam I use is ‘1&1’ but ‘Anjoman’ is also an excellent alternative. If all else fails just use a good quality cherry jam from your local supermarket which will also have rose water and pistachios.


A Persian Homage to the Victoria Sandwich

A lime and vanilla sponge layered with rose flavoured whipped cream and sour cherry jam
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time55 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Persian, British, Cross-cultural
Keyword: cake, victoria sandwich
Servings: 12
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 225 g golden caster sugar
  • 225 g unsalted butter (plus a little extra to grease tins - at room temperature)
  • 4 free range eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 225 g self-raising flour
  • 1 jar sour cherry jam (290g)
  • 300 ml whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp rose water
  • 1 to 2 tbsp icing sugar (to dust)
  • 2 tbsp ground pistachios

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C conventional / 160°C Fan / Gas mark 4. Grease and line the bottom of two 20cm/8in sandwich tins with a circle of baking paper.
  • In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light in colour and fluffy. Crack the eggs one by one and beat each one in before adding the next.
  • Add the vanilla extract and lime zest. Then sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and gently fold into the mixture.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the tins, using a spatula to remove all of the mixture from the bowl. Gently smooth the surface of the cakes. Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Don’t open the door while they’re cooking.
  • While the cakes are cooking, add the whipping cream and rose water to a mixing bowl and whip until it forms stiff peaks.
  • The cakes are done when they’re golden brown and coming away from the edge of the tins. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool in the tins for 5 minutes. You can use a thin skewer or the tip of a sharp knife to check the cakes by gently poking the centre to the bottom. It should come out clean of cake batter. Run a palette knife around the inside edge of the tin and carefully turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack. Set aside to cool completely.
  • To assemble, choose the sponge with the best top, then put the other cake top-down on to a serving plate. Spread with the sour cherry jam (I use the whole jar - reserve some of the jam liquid to drizzle on top of the whipped cream), then spread the whipped cream on top of the jam and drizzle the remaining jam liquid over the cream. Place the other sponge on top and dust with icing sugar and the ground pistachios.

Kotlet

Persian lamb patties

Kotlet is a Persian dish made with ground lamb or beef, potato, onion, mixed with turmeric and eggs and fried in a pan. It originates from the word “cutlet” meaning a flat-shaped patty made with ground meat. I have many wonderful memories about this perfect little Persian meat patty and it is probably in my Top 10 of favourite dishes. 

My maman is considered to be the best kotlet maker in our family (I mean the world). From as far back as I can remember, I have memories of her shaping the kotlet in her little hands and frying them on her stove. From the 80’s to present day, those memories are twinned with flash-backs of her various hair-styles. My favourite being the classic 80’s perm in the picture below.

The aroma of the kotlet cooking permeated through the house and bent my sister, father and me to its will. We had to get our hands on at least one of those patties even though my maman was cooking them for a family party (‘mehmooni’) with every single one potentially accounted for. It was a good day (for us) if she was having a clumsy day and a few of the kotlet broke into pieces while she was cooking them. This meant we were legitimately allowed to eat them before the guests arrived, as they had not met the mehmooni standard. But for those times the kotlet Gods were on her side and every patty was perfect, we had to get into stealth mode to try and snaffle one away from the tray they were cooling on.

‘Operation Kotlet’ would begin with each of us waiting for her to be distracted so we could get our prize. Throughout the day she would see her slowly depleting pile of kotlet and would demand which of us had eaten them. I, being the youngest, was the least adept at lying and mostly got the blame. My dad was such a smooth operator that even I believed I had probably eaten his share.

It is now my turn to take the baton and continue the skill of making kotlet but, as with every recipe that is handed down the generations, with the addition of a few personal touches to make this recipe my own. The core ingredients are simple: lamb mince, potato, onion, egg and turmeric. My recipe tweaks include a little garlic and smoked paprika. The resulting kotlet are equally delicious but with a little smokiness to them.

The key to cooking the kotlet is to fry them slowly on a medium / low heat in enough oil for them to be submerged to the edge of the kotlet but not completely under the oil. Also the width of the kotlet is important, too thick –  they end up undercooked. The perfect thickness for your kotlet is about 1 cm, oval in shape, approximately 5 cm in width and 10 cm in length (about the length of a palm). While shaping them, ensure you wet your hands which helps to prevent the kotlet from sticking to your hands.

Traditionally, we serve the kotlet warm and usually as an appetiser or part of main meal. We eat our kotlet as sandwich fillers with warm pitta bread or a crusty baguette, Maast O’Khiar (Persian yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip), fresh crisp lettuce, pickled dill gherkins and fresh tomatoes. My sister and I are also partial to ketchup with our kotlet stuffed in some bread with fresh herbs like tarragon, mint and / or coriander.


Kotlet

Persian lamb patties
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: potatoes, lamb, cutlet
Servings: 20 kotlet
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable oil (for frying the kotlet - you can fry with less oil and then finish off cooking in the oven if you would prefer)
  • 500 g potatoes (Maris Piper is the best) (peeled, boiled and mashed / grated with the fine side of a box grater)
  • 500 g minced lamb (minced leg of lamb no more than 20% fat is the best for kotlet)
  • 1 onion (grated)
  • 1 medium free range egg
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Take a saucepan and boil the peeled potatoes until fully cooked. Then mash or grate with the fine side of a box grater or equivalent.
  • Grate the onion. Squeeze as much liquid out of the grated onion as you can, otherwise it will make the kotlet fall apart while it is cooking.
  • Mix the grated onion and potato with the minced lamb. Add the egg, spices and seasoning and using your hand, mix everything until well combined. The mixture will be sticky.
  • Take a large frying pan and pour enough oil in so that it comes to the edge of the kotlet when frying them. Place the pan over a medium / low heat. The frying pan will need to gently heat up for approximately 10 minutes. Cook the kotlet in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and undercooking the patties.
  • Wet your hands and take about a golf ball amount of the kotlet mixture, form into an oval and fry it in the oil on each side until it turns a dark brown colour. During the frying process prick some small holes into the middle of the kotlet using a fork to allow the hot oil to penetrate through and cook the kotlet properly.
  • Serve warm or cold with bread, yoghurt (or ketchup), salad and / or fresh herbs.

Soupe Jo

Persian cream of barley soup with shredded chicken

This soup is my medicine. When I am feeling under the weather or need a hug in food form, this is what I cook. Many Iranians are more familiar with our turnip soup for illnesses (Ash-e Shalgham) but for me it will always be our version of the classic concept of chicken soup that I turn to when in need. Creamy, hearty and comforting which is the prerequisite for a medicinal chicken soup – am I right? 

I was introduced to this soup during a visit to a ‘Khaleh’ (Persian name for aunt on your mother’s side – ‘Ammeh’ for your dad’s side), who lived in Bognor Regis, a town and seaside resort in West Sussex, on the south coast of England. I loved visiting her for two main reasons: the first being that she lived beside the seaside (where the brass bands play ‘Tiddely-om-pom-pom!‘); and the second being this soup, which she would cook for me as she knew I loved it. In Farsi ‘Jo’ (pronounced ‘joh’) means barley – we like to keep our dish names simple.

This soup is super easy to cook. Unlike most our recipes, it does not include turmeric or saffron. The ingredients, as you can see below, can be easily sourced from most local supermarkets. If you are not a fan of coriander, then replace with parsley, which is the herb more commonly used in this recipe.

You can convert this into a vegetarian recipe by using vegetable stock and using mushrooms as an alternative to the chicken. I recommend frying the mushrooms in a little butter and garlic and then adding them to the soup for the last 10 mins of simmering and before serving. 

Traditionally this soup is thickened with a bechamel, which I feel is unnecessary and makes the soup too thick and gloopy. With the availability of the handy stick-blender you don’t need to use a bechamel and can thicken the soup by blending a little bit of it. Also cream makes for a luxurious addition to the soup so my variations to the traditional recipe actually results in a velvety and lighter soup. It is such a  hearty soup you don’t need to have bread with it but do feel free to have a buttered crusty roll or whatever you fancy to dip into the soup.


Soupe Jo

Persian cream of barley soup with shredded chicken
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 20 mins
Course: Soup, Main Course, lunch
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: chicken soup
Servings: 6
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion or medium leek (finely diced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 2 celery sticks (finely diced)
  • 1 large carrot (or 2 medium carrots grated)
  • 200 g pearl barley (washed and then soaked in cold water for a minimum of 1 hr)
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1.8 litres chicken stock
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp single cream
  • Small bunch of fresh coriander (finely chopped)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Take a large stock pot or saucepan and place on a medium / high heat. Add the olive oil and follow with the onion and cook until it turns golden.
  • Add garlic, the celery and 1/2 the grated carrot to the pan and stir. Cook for 5 mins, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn't stick to the pan.
  • Drain the pearl barley and add to the pan with the bay leaves and the stock. Bring to the boil and then lower the heat to allow the soup to simmer.
  • Add the chicken breast to the soup and place a lid on the pan. Poach for approximately 15 mins, or until the juices run clear in the thickest part of the breast. Remove the chicken breasts from the soup and set aside to cool. Once cooled, shred the chicken and put to one side.
  • Add the juice of a lemon to the soup and leave to simmer for a further 30 mins or until the pearl barley has cooked with the lid of the pan partially off. Check and stir the soup on occasion.
  • Take a stick-blender and blend a little of the soup on one side of the pan to thicken. Then add the cream, the shredded chicken breast, the remaining grated carrot, the chopped fresh coriander and season to taste. Simmer the soup for a few minutes to ensure the shredded chicken is warmed through.
  • Ladle into bowls and drizzle with a little more cream, chopped fresh coriander and olive oil to serve.

Rose Harissa Aubergines & Hummus

This is one of my ‘inspired by…’ recipes. In other words it is dish I have developed but one that has been inspired by all that I have learnt from the rich tapestry of living in a time where we can tap into many different cultures across the world by the people we meet, the restaurants we have eaten at, the ever expanding offerings from supermarkets, and / or the information and education we can access. 

It is a really easy dish to prepare and one that can easily be cooked up after work. It is vegan so a great option for a ‘Meat Free Monday’ meal. Served with other mezze-style offerings such as bread, olives or, as pictured, a fresh herb and feta cheese platter, this dish can generously feed 4 people and more if offered up as a dip. It keeps well, if there are any leftovers, for a few days so we often make wraps or sandwiches with it too.

The aubergine mixture is simply aubergines and onion cooked in vegetable oil with the addition of rose harissa, garlic, tomato purée, balsamic vinegar and fresh coriander to create an aromatic dish with a little heat. The aubergine mixture, which you can either have cold or warm, is then layered on hummus and served with some bread to dip into it. You can buy your favourite brand of hummus as opposed to making it from scratch but the recipe for hummus below is so easy, resulting in a beautifully creamy and smooth hummus, I can’t recommend it enough.

For those of you who may not know, harissa originates from North Africa, while every region has its own variation and take on the paste, it’s particularly associated with Tunisia. It is a hot chilli pepper paste, the main ingredients of which are roasted red peppers, Baklouti peppers, spices and herbs such as garlic paste, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, cumin and olive oil. Rose harissa contains dried rose petals, and, usually, rosewater too. This softens the heat and adds a subtle floral note to the dishes it is added to.

Hummus is a savoury Middle-Eastern dip made from cooked, chickpeas blended with olive oil, tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice, and garlic. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of hummus as multiple different theories and claims of origins exist in various parts of the Middle-East but apparently the earliest known written recipes for a dish resembling hummus bi tahina are recorded in cookbooks written in Cairo, Egypt in the 13th century.

This dish is becoming one of our family favourites and I hope you find it as delicious as we do! Please do tag me in your Instagram pictures of this or any of my other recipes you cook. 


Rose-Harissa Aubergines & Hummus

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Main Course, Appetiser
Cuisine: Middle-Eastern, Cross-cultural
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan
Servings: 4 (as part of a mezze-style meal or appetiser)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the Rose Harissa Aubergines

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 large aubergines (chopped into 2 inch chunks. If you have time salt them and leave them for 30 mins to extract water - this will reduce the amount of oil needed to cook them)
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 2 tbsp rose harissa paste
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 250 ml water
  • 20 g fresh coriander (finely chopped including stems)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Olive oil (to drizzle on top before serving)
  • Finely chopped fresh herbs (to garnish - you can use any herb you like including coriander or parsley)

For the Hummus

  • 720 g large chick peas in a jar (drained weight approx. 400g)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 tbsp tahini
  • 40 ml olive oil
  • 40 ml ice cold water
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Instructions

For the Rose Harissa Aubergines

  • Place a large frying pan on a medium / high heat and add 2 tbsp of oil. Add the aubergines and cook until soft all the way through. After 5 minutes of cooking the aubergine, add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil. Stir occasionally to ensure all sides of the aubergine cook through.
  • Add the onions to the pan. The pan may be dry as aubergine has a tendency to absorb oil. Do not be tempted to add more oil as the rose harissa paste contains oil. Stir and cook the mixture until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and stir until evenly distributed.
  • Add the rose harissa and stir into the mixture. Then add the tomato purée and stir in. Follow with the water, then the fresh coriander and finally the balsamic vinegar. Cook and stir until the liquid reduces and you have a lovely sticky mixture - some of the aubergine chunks will be mashed into the mixture and that is absolutely fine. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and season to taste. You can turn the heat off and leave in the pan until ready to serve the dish. Alternatively you can leave it on a low flame but make sure the mixture does not dry out / burn - add more water if necessary.

For the Hummus

  • Add all the hummus ingredients, except the water, salt and pepper to a food processor / nutribullet. Blend until it is smooth. Then add the water and blend further until you have creamy texture. Season to taste.
  • Spoon the hummus onto a serving dish and top with the rose harissa aubergine mixture. Drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh herbs. Serve as part of a mezze-platter with bread.

Loobia Polo

Rice with green beans and beef

Loobia polo is an Iranian dish made with rice, green beans, and beef or lamb. Loobia means beans in Farsi and ‘polo’ indicates it is a rice-dish layered with meat and / or vegetables. Loobia polo can also be made by using chicken, turkey or without meat if you are vegetarian / vegan.

Think of that dish that represents the ultimate comfort food for you, Loobia Polo is the equivalent to that to most (if not all) Iranians. Even the fussiest of kids will love this dish and that stays with them through to adulthood. Everyone squeals with delight when Loobia Polo is served with its warming cinnamon notes, tomato flavour, chunks of meat and green beans. In light of the love for this dish, I felt it was apt to make tahdig (the crunchy bit at the bottom of the pot) with a tortilla wrap cut into the shape of hearts! 

The rice I use for Loobia Polo is Kamran Basmati Sella Rice as opposed to Tilda Basmati rice. Kamran rice is very forgiving as it is a thicker kernel and holds its integrity against the bean and tomato mixture, which releases liquid into the rice. For this reason, if you are using the more delicate Tilda grain you have to remove it from the parboiling stage a little earlier than you would with the normal Chelow recipe. Alternatively buy yourself a packet of Kamran rice and be less exact and turn out a perfect Loobia Polo each time you cook it.

The recipe below includes the steps to make flatbread tahdig (using a tortilla wrap) but you can make tahdig with rice or potato should you prefer. Just prepare a layer of saffron rice at the bottom of the pan at step 3 under the heading ‘For the rice’  below for rice tahdig; or layer your potato slices for potato tahdig.


Loobia Polo

Rice with green beans and beef
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time1 hr 50 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: basmati rice, tahdig, Lubia Polo, Green beans, rice, comfort food
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the loobia mixture

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 500 g stewing steak (diced into 1 inch chunks)
  • 1 large onion (diced finely)
  • 1 large clove garlic (minced or crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée (heaped tablespoons)
  • 500 g frozen runner beans (defrosted and sliced into 1 inch pieces)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 200 ml of water)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

For the rice

  • 500 g white basmati rice (rinsed until the water runs clear and soaked overnight in water plus 2 tbsp of salt - ensure the water covers the rice by a minimum of 2 inches)
  • 1 white tortilla wraps cut into heart shapes using a cookie-cutter or any other shape you prefer
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • Water (as directed below)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (plus extra if you are making flatbread tahdig as pictured)
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 2 tbsp melted butter or ghee

Instructions

For the loobia mixture

  • Place a large frying pan or equivalent on a medium / high heat and add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil. Seal the beef and them remove from the pan and set aside for now.
  • Add the remaining 2 tbsp of vegetable oil to the pan and add the onions. Cook until they turn golden. Then add the garlic, turmeric and cinnamon and stir until evenly distributed.
  • Add the beef back into the pan and the tomato purée and stir in. Add the green beans and bloomed saffron water and stir until everything is evenly distributed. Lower the heat and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture has a stickier texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste and then turn the heat off and leave the mixture for when you are ready to mix with your rice.

For the rice

  • Fill a large non-stick saucepan with water and 1 tbsp of salt. Bring the water to a boil.
  • Drain the rice and then add to the saucepan. Gently stir the rice to make sure it does not stick to the pan. Every minute give the rice a gentle stir and take a grain of rice and check the texture – either between your fingers or using your teeth. What you want is the rice to be soft on the outer layer but still firm in the centre. It can take any time from 3 to 7 minutes with the quantity of rice in this recipe. Once the parboiled rice reaches the correct texture, turn your heat off and drain the rice in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle a little cold water on the rice to halt the cooking process. Taste the rice – if it is very salty then rinse the rice further with a little water.
  • Place the empty saucepan on the stove. Add 2 tbsp of oil and your bloomed saffron to the pan and give it a mix. Then arrange your oiled tortilla wrap shapes on the bottom of the pan making sure they do not overlap. Spoon about a 1-inch layer of rice into the saucepan.
  • Then layer your rice and loobia mixture and mix gently. Build up the layers into a pyramid shape away from the sides of the pot. Make 5 holes in the rice with the bottom of a spoon. Pour 2 tbsp of water and the melted butter / ghee over the rice. Cover the pot with a lid and cook on a high heat until the rice starts steaming. Then lower the heat to the minimum flame, wrap the lid of the pan with a tea towel and place on the pan and steam for another 45 minutes.
  • Once the rice is cooked, turn the heat off. Gently fluff the rice a bit to combine the loobia mixture and rice and spoon out onto a serving dish. Place the heart-shaped tahdig and and rice tahdig around the rice or on a separate dish. Pairs well with Salad Shirazi, fresh herbs and / or yoghurt or Torshi.

Khoresh Karafs (Ghermez)

Chicken stew with celery & tomatoes

This stew is the lesser-known of the Persian celery stews. The famous one being Khoresh Karafs made with lamb, mint, parsley and celery. This version can be made with chicken, lamb or beef with the stew being tomato-based.

In my family, we distinguish between the two by referring to the colour: ‘Sabz,’ which translated means green in Farsi, for the herby version; and ‘Ghermez,’ which means red, for the tomato-based version. In fact, this version is probably the most popular among my mother’s side of the family, who primarily come from Mashhad in the Khorasan Province of Iran. I have recently asked other Iranians about this version and the majority were unaware of this alternative recipe, with all of them being connected to or from other provinces in Iran. I don’t know if this version originates from the Khorasan Province but currently the evidence seems to indicate that may be the case, but if anyone reading this knows about the origins then please get in contact with me. With tomatoes apparently only being introduced to Iran in the late 19th century, this stew is inevitably fairly young in the longstanding history of Iran and the Persian Empire.

I cannot recommend this recipe enough with it being so easy to prepare and cook, using only a handful of ingredients but maximising on flavour. It is a comforting yet light stew so I love eating this in the earlier part of Spring as we make the gentle transition away from eating the heartier dishes and move towards salads, BBQ’s and a Mediterranean feel to our dishes.

I usually serve this stew with Kateh (Persian rice cooked the easy way) which I flavour with a little saffron to get a golden rice and tahdig (as pictured). A simple salad with a citrus dressing, or fresh herbs, or pickle / olives also make complementary side dishes. See my Torshi recipes for Persian pickles, which complements this and many other recipes on this site.


Khoresh-Karafs (Ghermez)

Chicken stew with celery and tomatoes
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time1 hr 40 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: easy recipe, stew, slow cooked, comfort food
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8 skinless chicken thighs on the bone
  • 1 medium onion (finely diced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 red chilli (minced - optional)
  • 1 medium leek (medium sliced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 tbsp tomato purée
  • 650 ml water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Juice of 1 lemon or lime
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 1 head celery (chopped in 2 inch chunks)
  • 5 small / medium tomatoes (halved)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Chopped fresh parsley (to garnish)

Instructions

  • Place a shallow casserole pan or equivalent on a medium / high heat and add 1 tbsp of oil. Seal the chicken thighs on both sides, remove from the pan and leave to one side until ready to add to the stew.
  • Add 2 tbsp of oil to the pan and add the onions. Cook until the onion turns golden. Then add the garlic and chilli and stir in until evenly distributed.
  • Add the leek to the pan and stir and cook until softened. Then add the turmeric and stir in until evenly distributed.
  • Add the tomato purée and stir in until evenly distributed.
  • Add the water, bay leaf, lemon juice, saffron water and stir.
  • Evenly arrange the chicken thighs in the pan so that they are just submerged in the liquid of the stew. Then add the chopped celery making sure they are in the liquid too so they can cook evenly. Place the tomato halves evenly in the stew.
  • Bring the stew to a boil and then lower the heat to allow the stew to simmer with a lid on the pan for about an hour or until the chicken is practically falling off the bone. If the stew is too watery, allow to simmer further without the lid on to thicken the sauce.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley before serving. Serve with saffron Kateh (just add a 1/8 tsp of ground saffron to the rice while cooking in accordance with the recipe link). This dish also pairs well with Torshi or a salad with a citrus dressing.

Sholeh Zard Overnight Oats

Overnight oats flavoured with saffron & rose water

Sholeh Zard is a Persian rice pudding dessert flavoured with saffron, rose water, sugar and decorated with almonds, pistachio and cinnamon. I love the flavour but, more often than not, it follows a Persian feast, which has had rice served as one of the accompaniments or main dishes. So the last thing I want is a dessert with rice in it.

After a light bulb moment, I decided to experiment with the flavours of Sholeh Zard with the concept of overnight oats. Overnight oats have become very popular over the last decade – a quick, healthy and delicious way of preparing rolled oats. With no cooking required, it is prepared by mixing rolled oats, liquids and other ingredients and leaving them in the fridge overnight.

The process is simple, soak some oats and chia seeds in milk, Greek yogurt, saffron, rose water and honey and leave in the fridge overnight. Add flaked almonds and some strawberries the next day and give it a good stir. Serve it in a bowl topped with more strawberries, crushed pistachios and a sprinkle of cinnamon. The resulting breakfast dish is fresh, light and delicious. My family love it and it is one of our regular breakfast options. It’s so low maintenance to knock up and washing up is easier than the mess cooked porridge creates!

I have included chia seeds in the recipe due to the nutritional benefits including adding fibre and protein. Feel free to leave them out if you are not a fan. You can also make this with non-dairy milk and yogurt and replace the honey with maple syrup if you are vegan. If you would prefer to substitute the honey / maple syrup with a wholesome way to sweeten the oats, then grate pear or apple into the oat mixture prior to leaving in the fridge overnight.


Sholeh Zard Overnight Oats

Overnight oats flavoured with saffron and rose water
Prep Time10 mins
Total Time10 mins
Course: Breakfast
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian, Cross-cultural
Servings: 1
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 50 g rolled oats
  • 1 tsp chia seeds
  • 200 ml milk or non-dairy alternative
  • 1 tbsp Greek yoghurt or non-dairy alternative
  • 2 tbsp rose water (use only 1 tbsp if you want it less floral)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron
  • 2 tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tsp flaked almonds
  • Strawberries (to mix through and garnish when ready to serve)
  • Small pinch of cinnamon (to garnish)
  • 1 tsp ground pistachios (to garnish)

Instructions

  • Mix the oats, chia seeds, milk, yoghurt, rose water, saffron and honey in a bowl. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight to soak.
  • Prior to serving, add and stir through flaked almonds and some chopped strawberries.
  • Spoon into your bowl and top with more chopped strawberries, a sprinkle of cinnamon and ground pistachios.

Persian-Style Dal

Dal with limoo amani & advieh

I discovered a love for lentils over the last ten years. As a child I avoided the Persian dishes that contained them, disliking their texture or the flavour of the dish they were mixed in. But as many of us grow older we find our tastes change and lentils are now having their day in my cooking. My husband introduced to me the world of dal during one of our early dates. He is a big fan of Indian cuisine and always orders a dal dish to accompany his meal. I was reluctant at first but, after a spoonful, I fell in love with the creamy texture and the aromatics of the dish.

I wanted to make a dal dish with a Persian twist so I started experimenting with the holy trinity of Persian cooking – onion, turmeric and saffron. I also added other familiar flavours from our cuisine during the recipe development including limoo amani (dried lime), advieh (Persian mixed spice) and nigella seeds. The resulting dish is deliciously savoury, packing an umami punch and satisfying even the die-hard carnivore.

Limoo amani can be bought online or from most Middle-Eastern food shops. It adds a musky and citrusy flavour to the dish. Be careful when piercing a hole into the dried lime as you do not want the seeds to fall out while it is cooking as it can make the dish bitter – just a gentle shallow poke into the lime with the end of a sharp knife.

Advieh can also be bought from most Middle-Eastern food shops – I buy mine online from Freshly Spiced on  Etsy. I like a little heat in my food so I add red chilli to my dal, but feel free to leave it out. Serve it with roti or naan, rice if you want a hearty meal with fresh herbs, torshi or yoghurt on the side. 


Persian-Style Dal

Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 15 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian, Fusion
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan option, dhal, dahl, daal
Servings: 2 (if served as a main; 4 when served a with other dishes)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the dhal

  • 250 g chana dal (split yellow lentils) (rinsed with water until it runs clear and left in a bowl of water to soak overnight)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 whole red chilli (finely chopped - please feel free leave out / reduce amount or deseed if you would prefer it less spicy)
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 900 mls vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 to 2 limoo amani (dried lime)
  • 200 g fresh tomatoes (chopped)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • Juice from half a fresh lime
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

For the temper and garnish

  • 2 tbsp ghee (non dairy alternative, if vegan)
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp advieh (Persian mixed spice)
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds (to garnish)

Instructions

  • Blend the onion and garlic into a paste in a food processor or equivalent.
  • Take a large saucepan and add the 2 tbsp of oil and place on a medium / high heat. Add the chilli and coriander seeds and and toast lightly for 30 seconds to release the flavours. Be careful not to burn otherwise it will be bitter.
  • Add the onion and garlic paste to the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Add the turmeric and cook for a couple of minutes.
  • Drain the lentils and rinse. Then add them to the pan with the stock, chopped tomatoes, bay leaf and bloomed saffron.
  • Pierce the limoo amani 3 to 4 times around the lime gently with the tip of a sharp knife and add to the pan - only a shallow piercing is required. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down, add a lid and let it simmer for 45 minutes.
  • When the lentils have cooked, remove from the heat and remove the bay leaf and limoo amani. Stir to break the lentils down. Squeeze some fresh lime juice and season to taste. Leave the mixture to thicken.
  • To make the temper, place a small frying pan on a high heat. Add the ghee and fry the mustard seeds for 30 seconds. Turn the heat off, add the advieh and mix and then pour into the dal mixture and stir. Sprinkle nigella seeds to garnish.
  • Serve with chapatis or roti and/or rice with yoghurt or torshi.

Maast O’Moosir

Yoghurt & Persian shallot dip

Maast O’Moosir (or musir) is a yoghurt dip commonly served as an appetizer or accompaniment in Persian cuisine. You may have eaten this dip at a Persian restaurant as it is usually offered as part of our mezze-style appetiser platters.

Moosir is described in English as a Persian shallot and similar to a Solo or Elephant garlic and, like the Solo and Elephant varieties, has a flavour profile similar to garlic but slightly sweeter and softer in its spiciness. They grow wild in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, and have to be found and dug out of the earth – a similar process to truffles. It adds an amazingly distinctive flavour to dishes. You can buy moosir from most Middle-Eastern food shops or online. It is available in its dried form and needs to be rehydrated by soaking in water overnight.

You can serve this dip alongside main meals, it goes particularly well with kababs (Persian or other cuisines). Alternatively serve it as a dip with crudités, or crisps, or flatbread. I have served the one in the picture above with pitta chips (cooked by drizzling olive oil and toasting in a hot oven). We Iranians often just sit with a bowl of this dip and crisps, happily dunking away and it is loved by the young and the wise in our families.

If you are going to make this dip, remember that you will need to soak the moosir over night and also to leave the dip, once made, for no less than an hour for the flavours to fully infuse and intensify.


Maast O'Moosir

Yoghurt dip with Persian shallot
Prep Time10 mins
Resting time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 10 mins
Course: Appetiser, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: dip, musir
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 8 heaped tbsp Greek yoghurt (preferably 5% fat)
  • 8 discs dried moosir (rehydrated in water overnight)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste) (pepper is optional)
  • Drizzle of olive oil, dried rose petals and dried mint (to garnish - optional)

Instructions

  • Drain the rehydrated moosir discs and rinse. Mince finely with a sharp knife, discarding any tough parts.
  • Take a bowl, add the yoghurt and the moosir. Stir and add salt and pepper (pepper is optional) to taste. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for the flavour of the moosir to permeate through the yoghurt (no less than 1 hour).
  • When you are ready to serve the Maast O'Moosir, decorate with dried rose petals, a sprinkle of dried mint and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pitta chips as pictured, crisps, vegetables or part of a mezze-style spread.

Sabzi Polo ba Mahi

Herbed rice served with grilled salmon

This dish is synonymous with Norooz – Persian New Year. Rice is steamed with saffron, garlic and chopped herbs, usually served with fish and Kuku Sabzi (a herb and egg frittata). In Persian, Sabzirefers to herbs or vegetables; ‘Polorefers to the fact that the rice is cooked with another element mixed in, in this case the fresh herbs. The herbs used in Sabzi Polo vary, but typically include dill, coriander, parsley, Persian chives or the green ends of spring onions and in some cases fenugreek.

Iranians traditionally eat Sabzi Polo with a fried or smoked ‘mahi sefid’ (‘white fish’, the Caspian kutum or Caspian white fish which, as the name suggests, inhabits the Caspian Sea). It’s usually served with pickled garlic, other traditional pickles (‘Torshi’), Salad Shirazi and ‘Naranj’ – a tart and slightly bitter orange, which we squeeze over the fish and rice like a lemon adding a citrus note to the dish. You can buy Naranj from your local Middle-Eastern supermarket. Sainsbury’s has also recently been stocking Naranj (bitter Seville marmalade oranges). Kuku Sabzi is also served alongside the rice on the day, a great alternative should fish not be your thing.

The recipe I have put together is my family recipe for Sabzi Polo and we tend to use a greater amount of fresh herbs compared to others. We also add our chopped herbs to the rice while it is cooking and mix it through before draining. Others add the herbs when layering the rice into their pan pre-steaming.

The accompanying fish is grilled salmon marinated in a simple saffron, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil infusion and smoke sea salt. It is a low key and simple version of cooking the fish accompaniment for the star of this meal, which is the herbed rice. You can make the Sabzi Polo with any fish you want, including smoked fish like many in Iran will eat on the day. You can pan fry, grill, oven bake, poach or steam your fish if you prefer. Ultimately the aromatics of this dish comes from the herbs in the rice so if you want to eat this rice with a simple breaded fish from your local supermarket’s frozen aisle then go for it – no judgment at all! I would recommend some fresh lemon or lime to squeeze over any fish you do serve with the polo, if you cannot get your hands on Naranj.

Due to the herbs, the tahdig (crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot) will come out a dark green-brown as you can see in the picture above so do not panic when you flip the crispy stuff out – it’s meant to be that dark! 

You can make this a vegan dish by serving it with roasted vegetables or smoked tofu fried in a turmeric batter with a saffron, maple syrup, lemon juice and olive oil drizzle (I will write a recipe up for the tofu alternative one of these days – maybe next Norooz – watch this space). During recipe testing I had a fair bit of the Sabzi Polo leftover, so I roasted some purple sprouting broccoli spears with a drizzle of olive oil and smoked sea salt and it was a delicious yet simple and easy accompaniment for the rice which I also served with a Salad Shirazi.

Norooz – Persian New Year and the First Day of Spring (Northern Hemisphere)

Norooz is the day of the vernal equinox and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month of the Iranian calendar (Farvardin). The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year, and families gather together to observe the rituals. Due to this calculation, the day Persian New Year falls upon can vary but generally it is either on the 20th or 21st March. The Persian name translated means ‘New Day.’

Other than eating food centred around fresh herbs (Ash Reshteh, Sabzi Polo ba Mahi, Kuku Sabzi), the festivities and rituals we observe are focussed on letting go of the winter and all the negativity that may be associated with it and looking forwards to new life, prosperity and the general optimism brought by the spring and then the summer months.

In the lead up to the the New Year celebrations, many Iranians will undertake a ritual familiar to many – the ‘Spring Clean.’ I always do a major spring clean and this year was no exception. By day 3 into my efforts my house was messier than when I started, but by the end of the process I felt physically and mentally lighter from the purge of the clutter and the deep clean of the house.

The evening of the last Tuesday before Norooz is the night we celebrate Chaharshanbeh Soori – a festival of fire where we gather together and jump over bonfires. The tradition of jumping over the bonfire originates from people believing that the fire would take their problems, sickness and winter pallor and be replaced by energy and warmth, contributing towards their success for the upcoming year. As we jump, we chant the following words: ‘Zardiye man az toh (my pallor to you); Sorkhiye toh az man (your redness to me).’

Haft-Seen

 
  1. Sabzeh (wheat, barley, mung bean, or lentil sprouts grown in a dish) – symbolising rebirth and growth.
  2. Samanu (sweet pudding made from wheat germ) – symbolising strength and power.
  3. Senjed (Persian Olive / oleaster) symbolising love.
  4. Serkeh (vinegar) symbolising patience.
  5. Sib (apple) – symbolising beauty.
  6. Seer (garlic) – symbolising health and medicine.
  7. Somagh (sumac) – symbolising sunrise.

The Haft-Seen may also include a mirror (self-reflection), candles (enlightenment), eggs (fertility),  goldfish (progress), coins (wealth), hyacinth (spring’s arrival), and traditional confectioneries. A “book of wisdom” such as the Quran (religious text of Islam), or the Book of Kings – the Shanameh of Ferdowsi (an epic and long poem on the Persian Empire), or the Divān of Hafez (an anthology of the famous Iranian poet Hafez’s poems) may also be included.

Music will play and we will eat Sabzi Polo ba Mahi and Kuku Sabzi. Many of us continue the celebrations by having a separate organised event for the wider family and friends at a hotel or restaurant where we dress up and dance the night away.

During the Norooz holidays, we make short visits to the homes of family and friends. Typically, young people will visit their elders first. Visitors are offered tea and pastries, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and mixed nuts or other snacks. Gifts are given from the elders to the younger members of the family (predominantly any person of non-working age i.e. up to 21 years gets a gift and it is usually money).

On the 13th day of the Norooz celebrations we celebrate Sizdah Bedar. Iranians spend the day outdoors. Many will go out for a family picnic in a local park. Come rain or shine we will gather outdoors and celebrate this day – throwing our sabzeh into a nearby river or stream marking the end the Persian New Year celebrations.


Sabzi Polo ba Mahi

Herbed rice served with grilled salmon
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Course: Main Course, Rice Dish, Fish Dish
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: coriander, parsley, dill, salmon
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the Sabzi Polo (herbed rice)

  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 100mls of water)
  • 400 g white long grain basmati rice
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 80 g fresh coriander
  • 80 g fresh dill
  • 80 g fresh parsley
  • The green ends of 5 spring onions
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp melted butter mixed with 3 crushed or minced cloves of garlic

For the mahi (salmon)

  • 4 salmon fillets
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Small pinch of ground saffron (bloomed in 1 tbsp of water)
  • 1 clove garlic (minced or crushed)
  • Smoked Sea Salt and Pepper (to taste - you can use normal salt)

Instructions

  • Marinade the salmon by mixing the olive oil, lemon juice, bloomed saffron, smoked sea salt, pepper and garlic and pouring it over the fish. Massage the marinade into the fillets. Cover and place in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hr. I find the best results are to marinade the salmon for 2 nights.
  • The night before, wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Then place the rice with 1 tbsp of salt in a bowl and pour in cold water to cover up to 2 inches above the rice. Leave to soak overnight.
  • Wash all the herbs and spring onions. Remove all the tough woody stems from the herbs and cut the spring onions to remove the green ends for the polo. In batches, pulse the herbs and spring onion ends in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Place the greens in a bowl until you are ready to add to the rice.
  • Fill a large non-stick saucepan with approximately 1.5 litres of water and 1 tbsp of salt. Bring the water to a boil. Drain the rice and then add to the saucepan. Gently stir the rice to make sure it does not stick to the pan. Every minute give the rice a gentle stir and take a grain of rice and check the texture - either between your fingers or using your teeth. What you want is the rice to be soft on the outer layer but still firm in the centre. It can take any time from 3 to 7 minutes with the quantity of rice in this recipe.
  • Once the parboiled rice reaches the correct texture, stir in the chopped greens, turn the heat off and immediately drain the rice in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle a little cold water on the rice to halt the cooking process. Taste the rice - if it is very salty then rinse the rice further with a little water.
  • Place the empty saucepan on your stove. Add 2 tbsp of oil. Add 1 tbsp of the bloomed saffron to the saucepan and mix with the oil to distribute evenly. To make your rice tahdig spoon about a 1-inch layer of rice into the saucepan and gently stir to mix with the saffron oil to ensure colour is distributed evenly. Be careful not to break the grains. Then pat the rice down flat with the spoon.
  • Reserve about 5 tbsp of rice and layer the rest into a gentle sloping pyramid shape in the saucepan, drizzling the garlic butter on each layer of rice spooned in. Mix the reserved rice with the remaining saffron water and then spread on top of the rice in the saucepan. Pour any remaining saffron water over the rice. Poke 5 holes, evenly distributed, into the rice to the bottom of the pan with the end of a spoon.
  • Place your glass lid on the sauce pan and turn the heat to the highest setting. Once you start to see steam rise from the rice (your glass lid will start to get clear from the steam and droplets of water will start to form on the lid - it is perfectly fine to have a little look under the lid now and again to check the steam situation) lower the heat to the minimum flame or equivalent on your cooker. Cover the lid with a tea towel (making sure it is not a fire risk) and replace the lid on the saucepan. Allow to steam for a minimum of 45 mins to get a crunchy and thick layer of tahdig.
  • Take the salmon out of the fridge to come up to room temperature prior to cooking.
  • Heat grill to high. Place the fish in a shallow baking dish, then grill for 5 to 7 mins until cooked through, but still a little pink in the centre, cover and set aside.
  • When the rice is cooked, spoon the saffron coloured rice separately in a bowl and reserve for the garnish. Spoon the rest of the Sabzi Polo on to your chosen dish and plate up your tahdig separately. Garnish with the saffron-coloured rice and serve with the grilled salmon, fresh naranj (or lemons or limes) to squeeze over the fish and rice, Salad Shirazi and Torshi.

Ash Reshteh

Persian noodle soup with herbs & beans

Although we have translated this dish to be described as a soup, Persian ash (pronounced ‘aash’) recipes tend to be a hearty bowl of goodness and are more of a main meal unless eaten in small portions, as many Persians do when offered as a precursor to the main event.

Ash Reshteh is no exception to the rule. A wholesome bowl packed full of Persian noodles (‘reshteh’), kidney beans, chickpeas, green lentils, cooked with fresh herbs and greens and flavoured with kashk (a fermented / preserved food made with the whey left over from cheese-making). The texture of this ash is less soup and more like a chilli and it is not a soup that we eat bread with.

My version of this recipe differs to my maman’s recipe – I don’t use flour to thicken my ash and also I use slightly more herbs than her. The resulting ash feels fresher and lighter than the traditional recipe / method. If you cannot get your hands on Persian noodles, the closest alternative are udon noodles. You can also use spaghetti or linguine. If you are vegan, leave the kashk out and add some freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice to taste. You can also use a dairy-free yoghurt  in addition to the fresh citrus. 

This dish is served during the winter time and at special Iranian events like Chaharshanbeh Soori (the eve of the last Wednesday before Norooz – Persian New Year); and Sizdah Bedar (a festival held marking the end of the Norooz holidays in Iran). The noodles in the ash are supposed to symbolize good fortune for the new year. My next post will cover more details about Norooz and the dish Sabzi Polo ba Mahi (rice layered with herbs and served with fish) which we Persians eat on the day. This post focusses on Chaharshanbeh Soori and Sizdah Bedar, when my family come together to celebrate and eat Ash Reshteh.

Chaharshanbeh Soori

The first event in our Norooz festivities takes place on the evening of the last Tuesday before Persian New Year. It is a Festival of Fire. People in all parts of Iran and those of us who live outside of Iran celebrate this festival by setting up bonfires in almost all the public places in Iran – in our gardens or at organised events for the diaspora community.

We eat Ash Reshteh and other Persian delights cooked by our host and jump over the bonfires. The tradition of jumping over the bonfire originates from people believing that the fire would take their problems, sickness and winter pallor and be replaced by energy and warmth, contributing towards their success for the upcoming year. Therefore, jumping over fire on Chaharshanbeh Soori night is like a purification rite or a phrase familiar to the West  ‘out with old, in with the new.’

As we jump, we chant the following words: ‘Zardiye man az toh (my pallor to you); Sorkhiye toh az man (your redness to me).’

Another tradition is to bang on pots and pans with spoons that are named as ‘Ghashogh Zani,’ with the objective of beating out the last Wednesday of the year.

It is a celebration of good health and light – the end of winter and the beginning of Spring. It is believed that the ritual guarantees the dissipation of the misfortunes and evils and the materialization of hopes and desires for the next year.

Sizdah Bedar

Sizdah Bedar is considered the final day of the Persian new year celebration. It is celebrated on the thirteenth day of Norooz. The festival’s name translated means ‘getting rid of the thirteenth.’ As with many cultures, the number 13 was considered bad luck by Iranians and so they believed that by being outside with nature the bad luck would dissipate. Therefore, on Sizdah Bedar, Iranians spend the day outdoors. Many will go out for a family picnic in a local park where one family member will be entrusted with bringing a pot of Ash Reshteh and the rest of us the sandwiches and other Persian treats!

Come rain or shine we will gather outdoors and celebrate this day – throwing our sabzeh (sprouted lentils or wheat and one of the symbols of Norooz representing rejuvenation and new life) into a nearby river or stream. Other than eating, another ritual for the day is knotting greens. Usually, the young unmarried people knot the green of the sabzeh to find their soulmate prior to throwing it into the water.

See my how to Instagram Reel below:
 


Ash Reshteh

Persian noodle soup
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time2 hrs 50 mins
Course: Soup, Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: ashe reshteh, legumes, spinach, coriander, parsley, dill
Servings: 6 (to 8)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the ash

  • 125 g chickpeas (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 125 g red kidney beans (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 125 g green lentils (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 1 large bunch fresh coriander (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 large bunch fresh parsley (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 large bunch fresh dill (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 bunch spring onions (green ends only)
  • 200 g fresh spinach
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 litres vegetable stock (you can use water which is traditionally used but I like the extra depth of flavour stock brings to the dish)
  • 150 g Persian noodles - reshteh (you can use udon noodles, spaghetti or linguine as an alternative)
  • 3 tbsp kashk (mine are heaped tablespoons - add 1 tbsp at a time and mix and taste each time to see what amount suits your tastes)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

For the garnish

  • 100 ml vegetable oil
  • 1 to 2 large onions (finely sliced)
  • 2 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp kashk (diluted with some water to make it runny for drizzling on the ash)

Instructions

For the Ash

  • Soak your beans, lentils and chickpeas in a bowl of salted water overnight. The morning after, cook the beans and lentils in water by bringing to the boil and then simmering for 30 mins (this aids with making them digestible). Drain and leave to one side until you are ready to cook the Ash Reshteh.
  • Wash all the herbs, spinach and spring onions. Remove all the tough woody stems from the herbs and spinach. Cut the spring onions to remove the green ends for the Ash.
  • In batches, pulse the herbs, spinach and spring onion ends in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Place the greens in a bowl until you are ready to add to the Ash.
  • Take a large stockpot or equivalent and place on a medium / high heat. Add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil. After a minute or so add the finely diced onion and fry until it is tender and turning golden brown.
  • Add the garlic and turmeric and stir until evenly distributed and you can smell the aroma.
  • Drain the bean and lentil mixture and add to the stockpot. Cook for about a minute, stirring gently to coat with the onions, oil and spice.
  • Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to allow the beans to simmer. Place the lid on the pot and cook for approximately 30 mins to 1 hr. Skim off any foam which may rise to the top and stir now and again. To check if the bean mixture is cooked test a chickpea, as they take the longest to cook. The chickpea should be tender with no grainy or chalky texture to it.
  • Once the bean mixture is cooked, add the chopped greens and allow the Ash to simmer for about 30 mins for the greens to wilt. If the Ash is too thick after the greens have wilted, add some water. The texture of the Ash should be thicker than soup like a chilli but not so thick it feels like there is no liquid in it.
  • Then add the noodles - you can snap these to the length you desire. I like mine fairly long so I snap mine in half, if at all. Allow the Ash to cook with the noodles for about 20 to 30 mins. Test a noodle to see if cooked to you preferred texture - we tend to have ours very soft.
  • Then add the kashk 1 spoonful at a time and mix it fully into the Ash. Taste as you go along. Some put less kashk into their Ash and add more to their liking by way of a garnish.
  • As kashk is salty, add any extra salt to your taste and a generous amount of pepper. Then give the Ash a gentle stir and simmer on a low heat until it is evenly heated through.

For the Garnish

  • You can prepare the mint oil and fried onions in advance of / or during the cooking of the Ash.
  • For the mint oil - place a frying pan on a low heat and add 2 tbsp of oil and 2 tsp of dried mint and let the mixture heat through for only 1 minute. Then pour it out into a bowl and set aside for when you are ready to garnish the Ash.
  • For the fried onions - wipe the frying pan used to make the mint oil and place it on a medium heat. Add the remaining oil and let it heat through for about 1 minute. Then add the finely sliced onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring regularly until it turns golden brown and caramelized - about 20 mins. Place the onions on a paper towel to absorb the oil and set aside for when you are ready to garnish the Ash.
  • When you are ready to serve, ladle into bowls, drizzle with some of the diluted kashk, the mint oil and a sprinkling of onions.

Notes

*You can use pre cooked tinned beans and lentils. Use 1 x 400 gram tin of each.

Zeytoon Parvardeh

Olives marinated in a herb, walnut & pomegranate paste

This delightful appetiser heralds from Gilan Province in the North of Iran, a region I visited in my mid twenties and one my family has become more familiar with over the last 20 years. Gilan Province lies along the Caspian Sea bordering Russia. The Province is lush and green with many delicious dishes, particularly vegetarian, originating from the Province, including Mirza Ghasemi (smoked aubergines and eggs) and Baghali Ghatogh (eggs with broad beans and dill). 

The North of Iran loves walnuts and pomegranates and a number of their dishes use this combination including Zeytoon Parvardeh. The ingredients are olives; pomegranate juice, molasses and arils; walnuts; garlic; and a herb called chuchagh. Chuchagh is a rare herb and is found in certain areas In Iran. In order to emulate its flavour for this dish we replace it with mint in the UK. I have also added a bit of coriander and parsley to my recipe. I use large pitted green olives like gordal olives. By using pitted olives, it allows for the marinade to seep into the olives and also makes it easier to eat them. The flavour profile of this dish is sweet and sour and incredibly moreish.

It is an easy and quick dish to prepare and ideally made the night before so that the flavours blend and intensify. I often make a small bowl of this appetiser and slowly work my way through it with cheese and crackers – I hasten to add that eating it as an accompaniment with cheese is not authentically Iranian but it works!

Zeytoon Parvardeh can be eaten with pre-dinner drinks (wine, cocktails or hard liquor – whatever you fancy), as part of a mezze-style platter or array of dishes, or with cheese and crackers which is my favourite way to eat it.


Zeytoon Parvardeh

Prep Time15 mins
Course: Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 7 whole walnuts (or 14 halves)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 10 g fresh mint
  • 10 g fresh coriander
  • 10 g fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin preferably)
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate juice (squeeze this out of the pomegranate or use 2 tbsp of the arils)
  • 350 g large pitted green olives (drained weight approx 160g)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp pomegranate arils (to stir through and garnish)
  • Ground walnuts (to sprinkle as a garnish)

Instructions

  • Add the walnuts and garlic to a food processor and blitz until the walnuts are finely ground.
  • Remove the mint leaves from the stems. Remove the tougher parts of the stems from the coriander and parsley. Then add the herbs to the walnut and garlic and pulse in the food processor until finely chopped.
  • Add the pomegranate molasses, olive oil and the pomegranate juice. Pulse in the food processor until it is a coarse paste.
  • Mix the paste with the olives in a bowl. Stir through some pomegranate arils, reserving some for a garnish. Cover and leave in the fridge to marinate (preferably overnight).
  • Serve with ground walnuts and pomegranate arils sprinkled on top.

Kashke Bademjan

Aubergine dip with kashk

This dish literally translates as ‘kashk and aubergine.’ Although it is described as a dip, as with many dip-style dishes from the Middle-East, it is substantial and can be eaten as either an appetiser or a main dish. In our family we tend to serve it as a starter with flatbread before the main event at our larger family gatherings. At home, as a family of 3, we eat it as a main course with a hearty salad like tabbouleh, Noon-e Barbari and some fruit for afters as pictured.

We have other delicious aubergine dip-style dishes like Mirza Ghasemi (tomato based with beaten eggs folded through) and Kal Kabob (made with walnuts and pomegranate molasses) both from the North of Iran. But my heart belongs to Kashke Bademjan as it is the one I grew up eating regularly and the depth of flavour that comes from the ingredients coming together is incredible.

There are various iterations of this recipe but the one I have shared with you is the one I have developed and includes aubergines, garlic, turmeric, caramelised onions, dried mint and kashk.

So what is kashk, I hear you ask. Kashk is a range of fermented dairy products used in Iranian, Turkish, Balkan and Arab cuisines. Kashk has been a staple in the Iranian diet for thousands of years.

Persian “kashk” is a fermented / preserved food that comes in liquid or dried form and is traditionally made with the whey left over from cheese-making. It is used in dishes like Ash-e Reshteh (a herb, lentil, bean and noodle soup), Kashke Badamjan (recipe below) and Kaleh Joosh (a soup made with walnuts, onions and mint). In its dried form it needs to be soaked and softened before it can be used in cooking.

The taste of kashk is distinctive and almost indescribable. It is well worth purchasing and not substituting with an alternative, such as yoghurt. Kashk provides a sour, salty, creamy and slightly cheesy flavour to the dishes it is added to. I may not be selling this to you but I promise if you make this dish you will not be disappointed.

When I was growing up, my maman used to have the dried balls of kashk which she would soak in a bowl in preparation for using them in one of dishes above. Apparently before she knew she was pregnant with my sister, a relative surmised she was as she saw her sucking on kashk like they were sweets! Nowadays, you can buy kashk in liquid form in jars from Middle-Eastern food shops or online. I use Kambiz Kashk and buy it online here or by popping into a local Middle-Eastern supermarket.

I fry the aubergines, as do most Iranians when they cook this dish. But if you would prefer not to, instead of following step 2 to 5, you can oven roast the aubergine, after brushing them with a little oil, for about 30 – 40 minutes or until they are cooked through and soft (oven temp – 180°C (fan) / 200°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 6). Also, if you roast your aubergine, you will need to add a little oil to your frying pan at step 6 to cook the garlic.

We garnish the dish with fried onions, a mint-infused oil, diluted kashk mixed with saffron and ground walnuts.


Kashke Bademjan

Aubergine dip with kashk
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: kashk-e bademjoon, kashke bademjan
Servings: 2 (generous portions as a main or 4 as an appetiser)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Vegetable oil (plus more if required)
  • 3 large aubergines
  • 2 large onions (sliced very finely)
  • 5 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 250 ml water
  • 2 tbsp kashk (plus a little more diluted in a little water for the garnish / topping design)
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp ground walnuts
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tsp of water - for decorating the dish - optional)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Peel the aubergines and cut them lengthwise (approximately 1 inch thick slices). Salt them and leave them in a colander for 30 minutes to remove some of the water content. This will help to reduce the amount of oil that is absorbed and to reduce the cooking time required. When you are ready to cook them, dab them with a paper towel to remove the moisture.
  • In the meantime, take 2 tsp of vegetable oil and heat in a small pan on a low heat with 1/2 tsp of dried mint. Let it infuse on the low heat for 10 seconds and then remove and leave until you are ready to garnish the dish. Be careful not to burn the mint.
  • Place a large frying pan on a medium / low heat. Add 2 to 3 tbsp of oil and add the onions with a pinch of salt. Fry them gently until they caramelise and start to turn a little crispy (they will get crispier once removed from the oil). Be careful not to burn them otherwise they will be bitter. Once cooked, remove them and place them on an absorbent paper towel on a plate / bowl for use later.
  • Add half of the remaining oil to the frying pan and fry your aubergines in batches until they are golden brown. Top up the oil in the pan, if required, after frying each batch. You want to make sure the aubergines do not have a green tinge to them and are fully cooked through. Using the back of a fork press down on the aubergine while it is frying to aid the process.
  • When cooked, remove the aubergines from the pan and place them on an absorbent paper towel on a plate / bowl for use later.
  • You can re-use the pan you fried the aubergines in for cooking the next stages but if you do, make sure you give it a wash. Place the pan on a medium / low heat. Some oil will have formed on the top of your aubergine, drip this into the pan - just enough to sauté the garlic.
  • Add the garlic and let it sauté for only 10 seconds. Then add your aubergines and stir until it has mixed with all the garlic.
  • Add the turmeric and 125 ml of water and stir. Then mash the aubergines using a fork or potato masher. Add the rest of the water (125ml) and mash and stir further until it has a stringy texture.
  • Add 1/2 tsp of dried mint, half of your onions (reserve some of the fried onions for the topping / garnish) and 2 tbsp of kashk. Mix until everything is fully incorporated. Taste the mixture and then season further with salt (if required - as kashk is quite salty you may not require any) and pepper. Let the mixture gently heat through and stir occasionally. The dish only needs to be warm for serving.
  • Turn the heat off and spoon the aubergine mixture into a serving dish of your choice. Spoon off any extra oil which may have formed on top before garnishing.
  • Garnish with the fried onions, diluted kashk, saffron water (you can mix some of the kashk with the saffron water to make a yellow kashk as I have in the picture above), mint oil and ground walnuts in any design you like. Serve with flatbreads and salad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noon-e Barbari

Persian flatbread with nigella & sesame seeds

Barbari is a yeast-leavened Iranian flatbread. It is one of the thickest flatbreads we have and is commonly topped with sesame and nigella seeds. The top layer of the bread is similar to a pretzel due to a glaze made of baking powder, flour and water, brushed on before baking. It is widely known as Persian flatbread.

Barbari is an obsolete Persian term (meaning Easterners) for the Hazara people living in the Khorasan province, Iran. They are the third-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and are also a significant minority group in neighbouring Pakistan. The Hazara people speak Dari, a form of Farsi (the main language of Iran). Farsi and Dari are mutually intelligible, with differences found primarily in the vocabulary and phonology.

Barbari bread was first baked by Hazaras and taken to Tehran over 200 years ago. Hazaras are no longer called barbari, but the bread is still referred to as noon-e barbari in Iran while Hazaras refer to it as nan-e tanoori (tandoor oven bread). The Turkish have a similar bread, with theirs being slightly thicker. The bread is usually 70 to 80 cm long, and 25 to 30 cm wide. It is the most common style bread baked in Iran. It is usually eaten at breakfast with Lighvan cheese (a ewe’s milk cheese similar to feta cheese) and preserves such as sour cherry jam and carrot jam as pictured above.

My version of Barbari has been a 6 month process of experimenting with various baking styles in order to replicate this wonderful bread in my oven. Ultimately it has similar measurements to most bread recipes but it is a wetter dough, which I have found is the key to achieving a version close to the traditional Barbari. Also the glaze takes the standard bread recipe and transforms it into an extraordinary tasting bake. My version is smaller than the traditional Barbari, as most of us cannot fit an 80 cm long flatbread in our oven but it loses none of its deliciousness. I knead my dough by hand, as I find the process therapeutic, but please feel free to use any electrical mixer with a dough hook that you may have to help you with this stage. 

There are no rules as to how you should eat your Barbari. Although it is commonly eaten at breakfast, we also eat ours with various Persian dips and appetisers, as a sandwich bread or with soup. 


Noon-e Barbari

Persian flatbread with nigella and sesame seeds
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Proving2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time3 hrs 20 mins
Course: Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: noon, nan, barbari, nigella seeds, sesame seeds
Servings: 2 medium-sized flatbreads
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Barbari Dough

  • 7 g sachet of instant yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 350 ml luke warm water
  • 500 g strong white bread flour (plus extra for kneading)
  • 1 tsp salt (heaped teaspoon)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Glaze and Topping

  • 1 tsp strong bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 100 ml water
  • Nigella and sesame seeds (to sprinkle on top of the bread)

Instructions

  • For the Barbari dough - Use 150 ml of the water and pour into a bowl. Add the sugar and yeast, stir and leave to work for approximately 15 mins (bubbles will form on the surface).
  • Place the flour in a large bowl, add the oil and then add the salt to one side of the bowl.
  • Add the yeast mixture to the bowl and begin mixing the ingredients together. Gradually add the remaining water (200 ml) until all the flour leaves the side of the bowl and you have a soft, rough sticky dough.
  • Sprinkle a bit of flour onto a clean surface and sit the dough on the flour and begin to knead. Do this for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and silky - it will be a little stickier than your standard loaf dough. Once the correct consistency is achieved, place the dough into a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for 2 hrs or until it has tripled in size.
  • To make the glaze - place a small saucepan on a medium / high heat and add 100 ml of water, 1 tsp of flour, 1/2 tsp of baking powder and stir until it forms a shiny white paste. Remove from the heat and set aside until you are ready to glaze prior to baking.
  • Once risen, place the dough onto a floured surface. Knock back the dough a few times to remove the air but no need to knead again.
  • Halve the dough and take one half and begin to shape it. I use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough into an oblong shape and then hand-stretch it until it gets to approximately 40 cm in length, 20 cm in width and 1 cm in depth. Place it on a grease-proof paper lined baking tray. Then take a knife and lightly score along the length of the dough about a finger-width apart.
  • Repeat the step above with the remaining half of the dough.
  • Cover the baking trays with tea-towels and leave in a warm place for 30 mins.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (fan) / 220°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 7.
  • Take a baking tray containing one of the Barbari breads and brush with the glaze. Use your fingers to push the dough between the scored lines down so you end up with small ridges. Then top with sesame and nigella seeds. Repeat with the other Barbari bread.
  • Place the bread in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes until golden and cooked. I slice mine into squares so they can be easily toasted for breakfast.

Kateh-e Estamboli

Persian easy cook tomato rice

This recipe is an adaptation of the dish ‘Estamboli Polo.’ In my family this dish is vegetarian and is cooked by steaming rice layered with a tomato, onion and potato mixture with saffron and turmeric as the aromatics.

Every Iranian household is likely to have their own variation, with some layering their versions with lamb, beef or chicken. In fact other Iranians may call my family’s version ‘Dami-e-Gojeh Farangi’ but that is the beauty of food – there are no hard and fast rules and it is the recipes we grew up with that are often the dearest.

I wanted a quick version of this dish for my family, one that I could cook up during the week with the last pathetic looking onions, potatoes and tomatoes in my vegetable drawer before my weekly trip to the supermarket. So instead of using the traditional method of cooking Estamboli Polo by draining the rice after par-boiling, I used the kateh method by boiling and steaming the rice without draining the water. The resulting rice is not as elegant as our traditional polo recipes but it is delicious, quick and involves less washing up. Also it still creates tahdig – the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot, which I guess is what most people want to hear!

I have, as always, added a few tweaks to my version including some garlic to the vegetable mix and some chopped parsley and coriander (because they were also the last pathetic looking items at the bottom of my vegetable drawer). The resulting dish from my hodgepodge experiment is delicious. You can, of course, leave out the garlic and fresh herbs which is the traditional version of this recipe.

Perfect when accompanied with a salad like Salad Shirazi, or Maast O’Khiar (Persian yoghurt, mint and cucumber dip), or Torshi and/or fried eggs.


Kateh-e Estamboli

An easy-cook vegetarian rice with potatoes, tomatoes, onions
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Side Dish, Rice Dish, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan option
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 200 g potatoes (peeled and diced into small cubes)
  • 1 medium onion (finely diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed) (optional)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 350 g fresh tomatoes (chopped)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 15 g each of fresh chopped parsley and coriander (optional)
  • Salt and pepper (to season potato and tomato mixture)
  • 2 cups white long grain basmati rice (approximately 400g of rice)
  • 650 ml vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp salt (for the rice)
  • 1 tbsp butter / ghee / vegetable oil

Instructions

  • Gently wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Place in a bowl and fill with cold water to 2 inches above the rice. Let the rice soak for a minimum of 30 mins (preferably overnight).
  • Take a saucepan and add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil and place on a medium / high heat,
  • Add the diced potatoes and fry until they turn golden and a little crispy. Then add the onions and fry until they soften and turn translucent.
  • Then add the garlic, turmeric and tomato purée and stir until evenly distributed in the mixture.
  • Add the chopped fresh tomatoes, the bloomed saffron, fresh herbs and seasoning. Stir and cook for a few minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the mixture until you are ready to add to the rice.
  • Drain and put the rice in a saucepan and add the vegetable stock and 1 tsp of salt (I use a standard UK 20 cm saucepan with a glass lid, 2.5 litre capacity).
  • Put the saucepan on a high heat until the water starts to boil. Once the water comes up to the boil, turn the heat to medium and add the butter /ghee / oil and stir gently to mix. 
  • Once you start to see holes forming in the rice (as the water is evaporating), take the temperature down to the lowest setting. Take the potato and tomato mixture and pour into the rice. Gently stir into the rice mix whilst trying to avoid breaking the rice grains.
  • Then take a clean tea towel and wrap the lid of the saucepan, making sure it is not a fire hazard. Place the lid on the saucepan. The tea towel will help the steaming process and soak up the water, preventing it from falling back into the rice and making it mushy. Leave the rice cooking for 45 mins or more. The longer you leave it, the better the crispy layer that forms at the bottom of the pot (tahdig).
  • Once you have come to the end of the cooking time (45 mins or more with the lid on), turn off the heat and dish up the rice on to your plates or serving dish. Plate up your tahdig as well.
  • Serve with salad or yoghurt, and / or eggs.

Cherry and Pistachio Brownies

We Iranians love our tea (chai).  As far back as I can remember my maman has always had a samovar in her kitchen. Samovars are traditionally used to make tea. Originating in Russia, the samovar has spread through Russian culture to other parts of Europe and the Middle-East, including Iran. 

Samovars were typically crafted out of plain iron, copper, polished brass, bronze, silver, gold, tin, or nickel. A samovar usually consists of a body, base and chimney, cover and steam vent, handles, tap and key, crown and ring, chimney extension and cap, drip-bowl, and teapot. The body shape is usually like a barrel and the water is boiled in this section.

Many samovars have a ring-shaped attachment around the chimney to hold and heat a teapot filled with tea concentrate (tea leaves with water). The tea pot is placed on the chimney and is steamed by the boiling water in the body of the samovar. The tea is then poured into a glass (so you can see the colour of the tea) and then hot water is poured in to dilute the tea to your liking i.e. the right colour. No milk is added to our tea, although at times my Iranian family can be partial to a good old ‘builders’. Modern samovars now look like giant kettles and are made using plastic. When my maman replaced her metal ornate samovar I was deeply disappointed but I appreciate the new models are safer and easier to clean!

Most Iranian households will have a special blend of tea leaves that they mix themselves from varieties such as Early Grey, Darjeeling and Assam. I remember my maman pouring all her chosen tea leaves into a large bowl and mixing them by hand with the aroma of the leaves filling the kitchen. That aroma is amplified into another level of joy while it steams in the little tea pot on the samovar, and then when the fragrance hits your nose before you take your first sip.

Part of tea drinking ritual is having sugar cubes or sweet nibbles served alongside our tea. The veteran tea drinker will place a sugar cube in their mouth and sip their tea, with the cube breaking down and sweetening each intake of the beverage. Some of us like our tea with the well-known Middle-Eastern sweet treat, Baklava. With a table full of Persian treats ranging from biscuits to nougat, we are often spoiled for choice. Despite the array of these Persian delights my heart always belongs to chocolate! Being born and brought up in the UK, chocolate was introduced to me at a young age and if it is on offer I always choose it first over other sweet treats. Whether it is the posh stuff that a Swiss-based relative has brought over as soghati (a gift from their travels) or the cheap stuff we gorged on as kids – I am not picky!

This brownie recipe is one I created to add to the selection of tea-accompanying sweet treats for the chocolate lovers in my family. I have adapted a standard brownie recipe and added Luxardo Cherries and fresh pistachios to add a little Persian touch to a familiar friend. For those of you who have not come across Luxardo Cherries, these are candied cherries soaked in Luxardo marasca cherry syrup. Often used by mixologists for their cocktails, replacing those bright red cocktail cherries, with a deep purple, slightly sour cherry. They are incredible in cocktails but also an amazing addition to baking recipes or just being poured  (with the syrup) over a vanilla ice cream. Using them in a brownie recipe adds to the gooey texture and balances the sweetness with a subtle sour note.

These brownies can be eaten as a dessert with cream or custard, should you fancy. I break mine down into little bites and enjoy them with a glass of hot Persian tea.


Cherry and Pistachio Brownies

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Dessert, Sweet Treats
Cuisine: Cross-cultural
Servings: 12 portions
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 175 g unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
  • 200 g dark chocolate (good quality - 70%+ cocoa)
  • 325 g caster sugar
  • 130 g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 125 g Luxardo Cherries (chopped) (plus 2 tbsp of the syrup)
  • 2 tbsp ground fresh pistachios (the pistachios do not need to be finely ground as you want some texture in the brownie mix) (plus extra to decorate)
  • 1 tsp icing sugar (to decorate)

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas mark 4. 
  • Line a baking tray (33cm x 23cm x 5cm) with baking paper / grease-proof paper.
  • Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Leve the mixture to melt. Stir to ensure there are no lumps and the butter and chocolate are full incorporated.
  • Remove from the heat. Add the sugar and stir until incorporated.
  • Add the flour and salt and stir until well incorporated.
  • Stir in the eggs and mix until smooth. The mixture will have a thick consistency.
  • Add the chopped cherries, the cherry syrup, ground pistachios and mix in. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking tray.
  • Place the tray in the oven for about 30 to 35 mins. The brownies are done when they are flaky on top but still gooey in the middle. Be careful not to over-cook as the edges will become crunchy and hard.
  • Once baked, leave to cool before dusting with the icing sugar and sprinkling with ground pistachios.

Borani Laboo

Beetroot Borani

 

Borani is an Iranian appetiser, which is basically a dip made with yoghurt. The most well-know of these dips are Borani Esfenaj (spinach borani) and Borani Laboo (beetroot borani). But you can make borani with any vegetable you want including roasted aubergines and courgettes.

The recipe for Borani Laboo below is an add-on recipe to my Kuku Sabzi post (seen pictured around the borani dip bowl). You can, of course, make and eat this dip without Kuku Sabzi. It is delicious with crisps or flatbread and makes a great addition to a mezze-style meal. The colour of the borani is stunning and has an eye-catching presence on your table of appetisers and other Persian delights.

Beetroot is of exceptional nutritional value with it being an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of fibre, manganese and potassium. But it can taste too earthy to some or as my husband puts it – ‘It’s like eating soil.’ In fact, beetroot isn’t the most loved vegetable in my family unless I make it into this dip and then it gets devoured at a rate of knots with me barely getting a look in! This dip uses Greek yoghurt, garlic, nigella seeds, dried mint, feta, toasted argan oil and red wine vinegar to complement the beetroot and bring out its sweetness.

I recommend buying raw beetroot and boiling them yourself. But if you do want to use pre-boiled ones then avoid the ones cooked in vinegar, otherwise your borani will be too tart. You can make a vegan version by substituting the yoghurt and feta below with a plant-based alternative.


Borani Laboo

Betroot Borani
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Dip, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, beetroot, yoghurt, vegan option
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 4 small raw beetroot
  • 5 tbsp Greek yoghurt (heaped tablespoon)
  • 1 clove garlic (crushed)
  • 50 g feta crumbled
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp toasted argan oil or olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
  • 1 tbsp nigella seeds (plus extra for sprinkling on top)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Wash the beetroot, put in a pan (unpeeled), cover with water and bring to the boil. Cook until tender (approx. 40 mins), topping up the water, if necessary. The beetroot is ready when a sharp knife goes through easily.
  • Drain and leave to cool. Peel the beetroot and grate using the coarse side of a grater.
  • Transfer to a bowl, add the yoghurt, garlic, oil, mint, vinegar, feta, nigella seeds, salt and pepper and mix well.
  • Top with a sprinkling of nigella seeds and a drizzle of oil. Serve with Flatbread.

Kuku Sabzi

Persian herb frittata 

Kuku Sabzi is a frittata-style dish traditionally made with eggs, turmeric, coriander, parsley, dill, chives, barberries and crushed walnuts. It is usually fried on one side and then flipped over and cooked on the other-side and then sliced into triangles. It is served either hot or cold as a starter, side dish or a main course, and is accompanied with bread or rice and either yogurt or salad. 

The key difference between a kuku and a frittata is the egg to vegetable ratio, with the kuku favouring the latter. Besides being delicious, I am fond of this dish for two other reasons.

The first is that it reminds me of the preparation leading up to the parties (mehmoonis) my mum would host. My mum would place a large sheet on the floor of our living room and pile the fresh herbs on top of each other and call my sister and I over to sit with her on the floor and help her pluck the leaves off the bunches. Initially, I would be annoyed at my mum for asking me to help but after a few minutes the peacefulness of the process would absorb me into a sphere of mindfulness. Afterwards, my mum would wash and chop the herbs by hand with the kitchen being filled with the aroma of the herbs. My process, and one my daughter will witness as she grows up, is a lot less peaceful but much quicker with the use of a food-processor!

The second, and one I suspect resonates with most Iranians, is that it is a dish we eat at Persian New Year (‘Norooz’). Norooz is the day of the vernal equinox, and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, usually falling on 21 March each year. The herbs symbolise rebirth, and the eggs symbolise fertility. I will write a post focussing on Norooz including the symbols in more detail soon but for now let’s celebrate this delightful dish!

My version of Kuku Sabzi is baked as I find the fried version more and more difficult to digest as I get older. British chives are not as spicy as Iranian chives so we tend to replace these with the green ends of spring onions. I have also added some baby spinach leaves which results in a bright green kuku as opposed to the darker green colour usually associated with this dish. I use barberries by including them in the kuku mixture so when you bite into them, you get a tart burst of flavour from the berries. You can buy barberries from most Middle-Eastern food shops or, alternatively, buy them online. They are not essential but rather a nice touch. I also sprinkle ground walnuts as a garnish.

To prepare the herbs, wash them and remove the toughest parts of the stems. There is no need to remove all the leaves from all the stems if you have a food-processor to chop the herbs finely for you. Dill and parsley will require a bit more time removing the tough stems unlike coriander which you can usually chuck in and blitz.

I serve mine with a vibrant Beetroot Borani which really modernises the presentation of Kuku Sabzi and you can find the recipe for this delicious dip here.

 


Check out my how to Instagram Reel via link below:


Kuku Sabzi

Persian herb frittata
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course: Main Course, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, egg recipes, coriander, parsley, dill, barberries, walnuts
Servings: 12 (mini kuku)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 100 g fresh parsley (washed and tough stems removed)
  • 100 g fresh coriander (washed and tough stems removed)
  • 100 g fresh dill (washed and tough stems removed)
  • 5 spring onions (green ends only)
  • 1 handful baby spinach
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (1 tbsp for greasing your muffin tin, 2 tbsp for the kuku mixture)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 6 large free range eggs
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp self-raising flour (heaped tbsp)
  • 1 tbsp dried barberries (optional)
  • 1 tbsp ground walnuts (to garnish - optional)

Instructions

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 4.
  • Take a 12-hole muffin tin, grease (using 1 tbsp of olive oil) and line the holes with baking paper. Brush a little olive oil into each recess after lining and leave to one side until you are ready to use.
  • Put the herbs, spring onion ends, spinach, eggs, turmeric, garlic, lime zest, olive oil, self-raising flour, salt and pepper into a food processor and blitz until the herbs are finely chopped.
  • Add the barberries (if using) to the mixture and stir.
  • Take the muffin tin and spoon the mixture evenly between the 12 holes.
  • Place in the oven for 25 mins. To check if  the kuku are done, use a thin skewer / tip of a knife to check one by gently poking to the bottom. It should come out clean.
  • Serve warm or cold sprinkled with ground walnuts alongside a salad, dips and bread as part of a mezze-style meal.

Kuku Sibzamini ba Laboo

Potato and beetroot kuku

Kuku (also spelled kookoo) is a Persian frittata-style dish. It is often vegetarian and is made with beaten eggs and various herbs and / or vegetables folded in. The main difference between kuku and its western counterparts is the ratio of egg to vegetables, with kuku favouring the latter.

It is served either hot or cold as a starter, side dish or a main course, and is accompanied with bread or rice and either yogurt or salad.

The two most well known kuku recipes are Kuku Sabzi (made with herbs and barberries and / or walnuts); and Kuku Sibzamini (made with potatoes). We also have Kuku Kadoo (made with courgettes). Ultimately there are no hard and fast rules about what you should put in your kuku – I have made ones with curried mushrooms; kale and red pepper; bacon, cheese and tomatoes and the list goes on… 

The traditional Kuku Sibzamini recipe is made using mashed potatoes, in some cases grated onion, turmeric, saffron, dried mint and egg. I have always loved Kuku Sibzamini but on a nutritional scale it is not the most nutrient dense dish you can cook for you and your family. To top it off, it is usually fried which can make it a little greasy.

The recipe below is my variation to of Kuku Sibzamini (potato kuku). To make this kuku a little more nutritionally balanced, I have added beetroot, garlic and feta to the recipe. The resulting kuku has a vibrant colour and delicious depth to the flavour. I have also varied the recipe by baking instead of frying the kuku.

The beauty of kuku is that you can make a batch one evening and have it as a quick lunch on your working days. It is a great addition to a mezze-style lunch or a sandwich filler. We eat our kuku sibzamini with a mint yoghurt, made by mixing a few teaspoons of mint sauce  with Greek yoghurt; fresh herbs, salad and bread. The picture below is one of our kuku platters.


Kuku Sibzamini ba Laboo

Potato and beetroot kuku
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Main Course, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, egg recipes
Servings: 12 (mini kuku)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp olive oil (1 tbsp for greasing the muffin tin and 2 tbsp for the kuku mixture)
  • 500 to 600 g potatoes (peeled, boiled and mashed - use potatoes suitable for mashing such as Desiree or Maris Piper)
  • 1 medium / large beetroot (boiled, peeled and grated with excess water squeezed out)
  • 80 g feta or equivalent (crumbled or cut into small chunks)
  • 1 small / medium onion (grated with excess liquid squeezed out)
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 to 2 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 4 large free-range eggs
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 4.
  • Take a 12-hole muffin tin, grease (using 1 tbsp of olive oil) and line the holes with baking paper. Brush a little olive oil into each recess after lining and leave to one side until you are ready to use it.
  • Mix all your ingredients for the kuku (mashed potato, grated beetroot, grated onion, crumbled feta, garlic, mint, turmeric, eggs, remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil, salt and pepper) in a mixing bowl.
  • Take the muffin tin and spoon the mixture evenly between the 12 holes.
  • Place in the oven for 25 mins. To check if  the kuku are done, use a thin skewer / tip of a knife to check one by gently poking to the bottom. It should come out clean.
  • Serve warm or cold with salad, dips and bread as part of a mezze-style meal.

Khoresh-e Beh ba Aloo

Chicken stew with quince, sour plums & apricots

This khoresh (stew) is not as well-known as other stews from Iran such as Ghormeh Sabzi (lamb stew with herbs and dried limes) or Fesenjoon (chicken stew with pomegranate molasses and walnuts). This is probably due to the hero ingredient of the stew – quince.

Quince is in season between October and January in the UK and during these months I suspect most Iranian households (like my family) will try to cook this dish a few times before the season ends.

Many of you may be familiar with quince being used to flavour gin, eaten as a paste with cheese or made into jam. For those of you new to quince, let me tell you about this lovely fruit. It is a member of the apple and pear family. It has a yellow, lumpy hard flesh with a bitter flavour when raw. Due to the unpalatable flavour when raw, quince is generally consumed after cooking. When cooked, quince becomes soft and dense and develops a sweet, slightly tart flavour with hints of apple, pear, and citrus. Quince can last up to several weeks if stored in a fridge.

The best quince is grown in Esfahan in Iran and unsurprisingly the dish originates from this beautiful city. There are a few variations of this khoresh  with some cooking it with lamb; using tomato purée; adding lentils. The recipe I have shared below results in a sweet and sour stunning golden stew, an unusual colour by comparison to the other stews we Iranians cook.

I use chicken in my version and cook the stew with dried apricots and dried bukhara sour plums, which add to the sweet and sour notes brought by the quince.

As with most of my recipes for khoresh using chicken, I recommend using skinless chicken thighs on the bone. Another option is to use a whole chicken by quartering it and removing the skin.

I fry the quince separately first to caramelise it which adds a little variation to the stew’s colour. Dried apricots are easily found in supermarkets but the dried sour plums will require a trip to your local Middle-Eastern / Asian food shop or can be bought online. Iranians cook the sour plums with the stones in and just pop them out while eating. Be careful with children to remove them before serving them their portion. You will also need turmeric and saffron which gives the khoresh it’s lovely golden colour.

I also add a little corn flour to thicken my stew, which is not a step we Iranians take for our stews. I wanted more of a gravy-type sauce for this stew and my experiment worked wonderfully. But do feel free to leave this step out.

This dish is delightfully easy to cook with minimal preparation. The final dish is comforting and loved by adults and children alike, so it is a great family recipe. Serve this khoresh with Chelow (Persian steamed rice) and Salad Shirazi. Alternatively serve it with a parsley mash and steamed green vegetables or just eat it with crusty bread.


Khoresh-e Beh ba Aloo

Chicken stew with quince, sour plums and apricots
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr 20 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: chicken, quince, apricots, sour plums
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp butter or ghee
  • 2 medium quince (halved, sliced 1.5 inch thick and with core taken out)
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8 chicken thighs or a whole large chicken (approx. 2 kg - quartered) (on the bone, skin removed)
  • 1 onion (finely diced)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 500 ml water
  • 1 heaped tsp corn flour (dissolved in 1 tsp of cold water)
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 15 small dried apricots (soaked in hot water overnight)
  • 20 dried bukhara sour plums (soaked in hot water overnight)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Take a frying pan, add the butter and place on a medium / high heat. Once the butter has melted, fry the quince until they caramelise on each side. Place them on a plate and put to one side.
  • Season the chicken. Add 2 tbsp of oil to the same frying pan and seal the chicken by frying for a few minutes on each side. Once sealed, place on a plate and put to one side.
  • Take a large casserole dish with a lid (minimum 3.5 litre capacity). Add 2 tbsp of oil and place on a medium / high heat. Then add the diced onions and fry until translucent.
  • Add the turmeric and stir until evenly distributed.
  • Add the water and the bloomed saffron. Then add the corn flour paste. Season the sauce to taste. Add the cinnamon stick.
  • Drain the apricots and sour plums from the water they have soaked in and add to the pan with the honey. Stir gently and distribute the fruit evenly across the pan.
  • Arrange the chicken and the quince in the saucepan. Quince cooks very quickly and can be quite mushy so arrange the quince so it partially rests on the thighs. Once the liquid starts to bubble, turn the heat down to low and place the lid on the pan. Let the stew simmer for 40 mins to an 1 hr. Prior to serving, taste the stew and season further if required.
  • Serve with chelow and Salad Shirazi; or mashed potatoes and some steamed green vegetables; or crusty bread.

 

Zereshk Polo ba Morgh

Barberry rice & saffron chicken

This dish is a real Persian classic and one that most Iranians cherish. It definitely tops my list of Persian comfort foods, reminding me of my childhood and the big family gatherings my mother would host.

Zereshk polo is Persian steamed rice, layered and/or topped with barberries. Some also scatter fresh pistachio slivers as a garnish on top of the rice. Where rice dishes are referred to as ‘polo’ (pronounced ‘pawlaw’) it usually indicates that the rice has been mixed with some other ingredient. Our plain white rice, served with our kebabs and khoresh (stews) is referred to as ‘chelow.’ In the case of this dish, barberries are the additional ingredient.

Barberries are edible red berries which grow in the wild in Europe and West Asia. They are rich in vitamin C and tart in flavour. They are called ‘zereshk’ in Farsi and are bought and used in their dried form. You can buy zereshk from most Middle-Eastern food shops or, as I often do, online.

Zereshk polo is a sweet and sour dish, where the barberries are gently sautéed on a low heat with sugar and bloomed saffron water before being added to the rice. It is commonly served with poached saffron chicken or chicken stewed in a saffron sauce and either layered through the rice or on the side. Some Persian restaurants serve it with jujeh kabab (grilled chunks of chicken, marinated in onion, lemon juice and saffron). Either way, you must be getting a sense that some kind of saffron flavoured chicken complements this sweet and sour rice dish. 

My mother and other members of our family would always poach the chicken and as a child I would search for the breast meat layered throughout my mother’s zereshk polo but I appreciate now that, when cooked for too long, this cut of meat can be quite dry. My recipe below uses chicken breast but with a few changes to preparation and cooking to ensure it remains juicy. I generally source chicken for all my cooking from a butcher (online or the old-fashioned method of dropping into a local establishment).

For this recipe I bought chicken breasts with the skin left on and a partial wing (the drumette) in tact. I marinate the chicken overnight and then I pan fry the chicken and finish it off in the oven as per the recipe instructions below. You can also eat this rice with saffron stewed chicken and I will post a recipe for this in due course, but for now the recipe below is a homage to the dish I grew up with and loved. The recipe below will also result in the delicious crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot called tahdig  which adds a lovely crunchy texture to the dish.

Out of all our polo dishes this is probably the easiest to knock-up (relative to other Persian dishes which tend to be more involved in preparation and cooking time).  The recipe below looks daunting with all the steps but after you have done it once, and created a ridiculous amount of washing up, I promise the second time will be easier. And this dish is so delicious you will want to make and eat it a second, third, fourth…time!

As with most Persian dishes, I cook this on a weekend for my family and serve it with a mix of fresh herbs (coriander, parsley, mint, chives, tarragon and Thai basil), torshi and/or Shirazi salad.


Zereshk Polo ba Morgh

Barberry Rice and Saffron Chicken
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course, Rice Dish
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: family recipes, chicken, saffron
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the Saffron Chicken

  • 4 Chicken Breasts (with skin and drumette - see note above about cut)
  • 1 medium Onion (finely sliced)
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (for the marinade)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 1/2 lemon (juice squeezed)
  • Salt and Pepper (to season)
  • 25 g butter (to cook the chicken)
  • 2 tbsp olive (to cook the chicken)

For the Rice

  • 2 cups white long grain Basmati rice (approx. 400g)
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water for the tahdig - crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot)
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of water for the saffron rice garnish)

For the Barberries

  • 5 tbsp barberries (washed)
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar (feel free to add more if you want it sweeter)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed saffron in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar

Instructions

Preparation

  • Chicken – take the chicken breasts and place in a large bowl and add onion, tomato purée, yoghurt, olive oil, turmeric, saffron and fresh lemon juice to the chicken and mix until evenly coated. Cover and leave in the fridge to marinate for a minimum of 8 hrs (preferably overnight).
  • Rice – gently wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Then place the rice with 1 tbsp of salt in a bowl and pour in cold water to cover the rice up to 2 inches above the rice. Leave the rice to soak for a minimum of 30 mins (preferably overnight).
  • Barberries – take a small saucepan, place it on a low heat and add 1 tbsp of butter. Once the butter has melted, add the barberries, the sugar and the bloomed saffron water and stir for 30 seconds. The barberries should only be cooked gently for 30 seconds. Turn the heat off and set them aside for later (I prepare the barberries the morning of the day I am cooking this dish as it one less thing to manage later and it allows for the sugary saffron syrup to infuse further).

Cooking the Rice

  • No less than 1 hour before you want to serve this dish, fill a large non-stick saucepan (minimum capacity 2.5 litres) with approximately 1.5 litres of water and 1 tbsp of salt. Bring the water to a boil.
  • Drain the rice and then add to the saucepan. Gently stir the rice to make sure it does not stick to the pan. Every minute give the rice a gentle stir and take a grain of rice and check the texture – either between your fingers or using your teeth. What you want is the rice to be soft on the outer layer but still firm in the centre. It can take any time from 3 to 7 minutes with the quantity of rice in this recipe.
  • Once the parboiled rice reaches the correct texture, turn your heat off and drain the rice in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle a little cold water on the rice to halt the cooking process. Taste the rice – if it is very salty then rinse the rice further with a little water.
  • Place the empty saucepan on the stove. Add 2 tbsp of oil to the pan. Add your bloomed saffron (1/8 tsp bloomed saffron in 2 tbsp of water) to the saucepan and mix with the oil to distribute evenly (this will give a lovely golden colour to your tahdig).
  • To make your tahdig spoon about a 1-inch layer of rice into the saucepan and gently stir to mix with the saffron oil to ensure colour is distributed evenly. Be careful not to break the grains. Then pat the rice down flat with the spoon.
  • Then layer the rest of the rice, reserving 5 tbsp of rice, into a gentle sloping pyramid shape and poke a few holes in the rice. Take the bloomed saffron (1/4 tsp of saffron bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of water) and add the 5 tbsp of rice to it and mix gently. Then spoon this rice on top of the rice in the saucepan to one side of the pot.  Do not mix this into the rest of the rice. This saffron coloured rice will be your garnish, but it is steamed with the rest of the rice to cook to the correct texture but also to add saffron and rose notes to the rest of the rice while cooking.
  • Pour 2 tbsp of cold water evenly over the rice and drizzle the 2 tbsp of melted ghee or butter over the rice. Place the glass lid on the saucepan and turn the heat to the highest setting. Once the steam starts to rise from the rice lower the heat to the minimum flame or equivalent. Cover the lid with a tea towel (making sure it is not a fire risk) and replace the lid on the saucepan.
  • Allow to steam for a minimum of 45 mins to get a crunchy layer of tahdig – the longer you steam your rice the thicker the tahdig.

Cooking the Chicken

  • Approximately an hour before you want to serve this dish and just before you launch into cooking your rice, remove the chicken from the fridge and bring up to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 180˚C (fan) / 200˚C (conventional) / Gas mark 6.
  • Approximately 30 mins before the rice has completed the cooking process, take the chicken breast and generously season both sides with salt and pepper. Discard the rest of the marinade including the onion.
  • Place a non-stick pan over a high heat, once smoking add a drizzle of olive oil and place the chicken breasts skin down in the pan. Cook on this side for about 5 minutes or until the chicken skin is golden and crisp.
  • Flip over and add the 25 grams of butter split into small knobs. Once melted, baste the chicken with the foaming butter for a minute. Then flip so they are skin side up again.
  • Place in the oven and cook for 15–20 minutes. The flesh should be firm and white (not pink) and the juices should run clear. A temperature probe should read 75˚C when it is safe to eat. Rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Serving the Dish

  • Once the rice has completed its cooking time, turn off the heat and remove the lid from the saucepan. Spoon the saffron-coloured rice out first into a separate bowl and reserve until you are ready to garnish. Spoon the rest of your rice onto a serving dish and plate up your tahdig separately. Then sprinkle the saffron rice over the white rice.
  • Reheat your barberries for 30 seconds on low heat, remove from and turn off the heat, and then spoon over the rice.
  • Serve the rice with the chicken, tahdig, a side of fresh herbs and / or salad shirazi and / or