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.  

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.

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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.