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.
- 500 g strong white bread flour (plus extra for sprinkling on your surface when shaping the Simit)
- 2 tsp fast-action yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 300 ml tepid water
- A little olive oil (to oil the bowl the dough proves in)
- 100 ml grape molasses (üzüm pekmezi)
- 50 ml water
- 2 tsp flour
- 300 g toasted sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 220°C / fan 200°C / gas 7 / 425°F. Place a baking tray in the oven.
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.
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.
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.
Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes
Servings: 4 (to 6 people)
- 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)
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.
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
- 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)
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 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.
Persian flatbread with nigella and sesame seeds
Servings: 2 medium-sized flatbreads
- 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)
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.
Chickpea Curry served with Parathas & Fried Eggs
My journey to discover more about the cuisine of Iran has led me to the Sistan and Baluchestan Province in the South-East of Iran. It is the second largest province of the 31 provinces of Iran, after Kerman Province.
I knew next to nothing about this part of Iran and on investigation realised that my family and many Iranian friends also knew little about this area. During my research, I learned that the province borders Pakistan and Afghanistan and has a population of 2.5 million of which the majority are Baloch. Furthermore, they mainly inhabit mountainous terrains which has allowed them to maintain a distinct cultural identity and resist domination by neighbouring rulers. Approximately 20-25% of the worldwide Baloch population live in Iran. The majority of the Baloch population reside in Pakistan, and a significant number (estimated at 600,000) reside in southern Afghanistan. Baluchestan of Iran has been regarded as the most underdeveloped, desolate, and poorest region of the country. The government of Iran has been trying to reverse this situation by implementing new plans such as the creation of the Chabahar Free Trade Zone.
This area was bought to my attention by the popular food blogger Mark Wiens who filmed a whole series on the food of Iran while accompanied by the Iranian food blogger, Mr Taster (Hamid Sepidnam). The series is currently available on Amazon Prime and YouTube and I recommend having a dip into this charming series if you can. One of the episodes focusses on the food eaten in Chabahar, a county in the Sistan and Baluchestan Province. I had heard that in the Southern Provinces of Iran food tended to be spicier, but little more information had been provided to me other than that. In this case our handy search engines did not reveal a great deal about the secrets of the cuisine from these parts. So, I was delighted to get a little insight into this region and see foods similar to those eaten in Pakistan and India being offered by the street food vendors and restaurants, from chickpea curry served with fried eggs and parathas for breakfast, to kebabs rubbed with spices referred to as ‘Baluchi Masala’ being eaten for dinner. Restaurants in the area also served karahi curries and biryanis, whilst also offering an array of traditional Persian dishes.
The recipe below seeks to re-create the breakfast dish of chickpea curry with parathas and fried eggs which featured on Mark Wiens’s programme – see it as an aromatic version of baked beans and fried eggs on toast! If you don’t want to make the paratha, by all means pop into your local Asian supermarket and purchase some or any other flatbread such as chapatis or roti. I am not a seasoned paratha maker but if you follow the recipe and steps below the resulting breads are soft, flaky and perfect for dipping into the yolk of your fried egg and scooping up the chickpea curry. As with all aromatic food, the longer you cook/leave it the more intense the flavours, so I often prepare the chickpea curry the night before and let it simmer for over an hour to intensify the flavours. I also make the parathas the night before and just heat them up in a dry frying pan or skillet the next morning so all I am cooking is the eggs on the day we want to eat this meal. If you are going to cook all the dishes in one go then see the notes at the end of the recipe below to assist you with planning.
The recipe below feeds 6 as my husband can eat anything up to 3 eggs in one sitting and then the rest of the family get through the remaining or eat it as leftovers on subsequent days. But do feel free to revise the amounts down or up for the numbers required.
My family and I often eat this breakfast/brunch dish washed down with a homemade mango smoothie.
A Baluchi-Style Breakfast
- 3 cups plain flour (UK standard measuring cup plus extra to sprinkle on parathas)
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 large free-range egg
- Water (as required to form a sticky dough)
- Oil or ghee to brush and cook the parathas
For the chickpea curry
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 onion (finely sliced)
- 4 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
- Thumb-size of fresh ginger (grated)
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp garam masala
- 400 g tin of chopped tomatoes
- 2 x 400 g tins of chickpeas (drained)
- 200 mls water
- Fresh lime juice (half a lime)
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- Chopped fresh coriander (to garnish)
For the eggs
- 6 large free-range eggs
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
For the parathas
Add the flour, oil, salt, baking powder and egg to a large mixing bowl and mix until the egg is incorporated.
Initially add about 1 cup of water and mix with the flour mixture and then add more water in small increments to form a dough (I usually require 1.5 to 2 cups of water in total to make a dough).
Knead the dough for about 5 mins and then leave to rest for 30 mins.
After the dough has rested, the texture should be soft and the dough lighter in weight. Take the dough and split into 6 equal amounts and roll into a ball.
Sprinkle some flour onto your work surface. Take one ball of dough and roll to approximately 10cm in diameter with a rolling pin. Brush with a little oil / ghee, sprinkle with a little flour and then fold the dough like a fan. Take one end and roll it along the edge of the dough until it forms back into a ball (like a Catherine wheel). Leave to rest in the fridge while you repeat the process with the other balls of dough. This will create the layered, flaky texture for the final cooked parathas.
After preparing the ‘Catherine wheel’ dough balls, take a frying pan or skillet and place it on a high heat. Drizzle some oil / ghee into the pan.
Take the dough balls out of the fridge. Take the first dough ball and roll it until it is approximately 1/2cm thick. Then cook it in the hot pan for 3 minutes on each side, or until nicely charred. While cooking, brush with a little bit more oil / ghee on each side. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.
Once the parathas are cooked, turn off the heat and leave the cooked parathas to one side until you are ready to serve.
For the chickpea curry
Take a saucepan and place it on a medium / high heat. Add 2 tbsp of oil.
Add the onion and cook until it softens and turns golden. Then add the garlic and ginger and stir.
Once the aroma of the garlic and ginger starts to permeate, add the ground coriander, turmeric and garam masala and mix until evenly distributed. Allow the mixture to cook with the spices for about 2 mins.
Add the chopped tomatoes and once bubbling lower the heat to low / medium to allow the mixture to simmer. Simmer for 20 mins.
Then add the chickpeas, water, lime juice, salt and pepper and stir. Leave to simmer for 20 mins minimum until you are ready to serve. Garnish with fresh chopped coriander before serving.
For the eggs
Add oil to a frying pan / skillet and place on a medium to high heat.
Crack the eggs into the pan, cover with a tight lid and cook for 3 mins or until white is set.
Season with salt and pepper and serve alongside with the chickpea curry and parathas.
Notes on timing
If you are going to prepare this dish in one go, then start off with the parathas first. While the dough is resting (paratha’s method - step 3), undertake steps 1 to 4 of the chickpea curry method.
While the tomato mixture simmers for 20 mins, undertake steps 4 to 6 of the paratha’s method. Then, before moving on to cook the parathas, add your chickpeas to the simmer tomato mixture (chickpea curry method 5).
While your chickpea curry is simmering, move to step 7 of the parathas method and cook the parathas.
Fry your eggs in the same pan used to cook the parathas after you have finished cooking the parathas.
Persian tomato omelette
Usually eaten at breakfast or as a brunch option, this dish is less omelette and more scrambled eggs despite its name. It is incredibly simple to cook and can be eaten as a lunch or dinner option. It is probably the most well-known of all the breakfast-style egg dishes with many cafes and restaurants serving it in Iran. I guess you can call it the Iranian version of shahshuka.
I love tomatoes, from slicing them up and putting them in a sandwich to slow roasting them for hours. They are quite perfect and reveal layer upon layer of flavour the more you cook them. This dish satisfies my fondness for the perfect red berry as it uses a lot of fresh tomatoes and a healthy dollop or two of tomato purée cooked down to a sweet base for the omelette. The tomato to egg ratio is quite high so the resulting texture is creamy and, like so many recipes from this part of the world, comforting.
Serve this dish with some kind of flatbread, a sprinkle of fresh herbs (coriander, basil or parsley or all of them – whatever takes your fancy) and dill pickles for an authentic experience. When we have ours as a dinner option we serve it with side of fries or chunky chips which is equally satisfying.
Persian tomato omelette
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion (finely diced)
- 4 cloves garlic (crushed / minced)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 10 g fresh coriander (leaves and stalks chopped finely)
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 500 g cherry tomatoes (halved)
- 125 ml water
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- 8 free range eggs
- Chopped fresh coriander leaves to sprinkle as a garnish
Take a large frying pan, add the olive oil and place it on a medium / high heat.
Add the onions and cook until they turn golden.
Add the garlic, all the spices and herbs and stir until their aromas are released.
Then add the tomato purée and stir into the mixture and cook for a few more minutes.
Add the halved cherry tomatoes and 125 ml of water and stir. Once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low / medium to allow the mixture to simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the cherry tomatoes have broken down and the mixture is looking like a sauce, add the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Take 4 of the eggs and crack them into a bowl and beat them. Then pour into the tomato mixture in the pan and stir in gently to distribute evenly. You want the beaten eggs to be mixed into the tomatoes but not completely scrambled or cooked through.
Make 4 holes evenly distributed in the tomato mixture. Crack the remaining eggs into the holes.
Cover the pan and cook on a medium / low heat for about 5 to 7 minutes depending on how runny or cooked you prefer the eggs. Once the eggs are cooked to your liking, turn the heat off.
Season the eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper and sprinkle some chopped fresh coriander leaves on the dish prior to serving with flatbreads, dill pickles and / or fresh herbs.