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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Garni Yarikh

Stuffed aubergines in a tomato sauce

Garni Yarikh comes from the Azerbaijani province of Iran (northwestern Iran bordering Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan). The region is mostly populated by Azerbaijanis also known as Iranian Azeris, who tend to speak Azerbaijani (a Turkic language) as their first language.

Garni Yarikh translated is ‘torn belly’ with the Persian equivalent being ‘Shekam Pareh’. Traditionally the aubergine is stuffed with a mixture of mince meat and then simmered in a rich and tangy tomato-based sauce. The Turkish version, and where it originates from, is called ‘Karnıyarık.’

The recipe below is a vegan version as Iranian food can be quite heavy on the meat, so, where an opportunity presents itself, I like to adapt a recipe to be plant-based. To make the recipe vegan, I have replaced the mince meat with lentils and added vegetables to the stuffing mixture. You can use any lentils you want. I buy pre-cooked lentils as it reduces the preparation and cooking time. My go-to lentils for this dish are Merchant Gourmet Beluga Lentils. They absorb the sauce brilliantly and have a lovely texture.

If you have time, I recommend salting and leaving the aubergines for 30 minutes to draw out some of the water. Aubergines can afford to lose a little water pre-cooking but it isn’t an issue if you just want to launch into the recipe as per the steps below.

In my little family, we eat Garni Yarikh with a tabbouleh salad and hummus on the side but this dish can also be served with rice or bread as an accompaniment. 


Garni Yarikh

Stuffed aubergines in a tomato sauce
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr 20 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Iranian
Keyword: tomatoes, vegetarian, vegan, aubergines
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large aubergines
  • 1 onion (finely diced)
  • 1 carrot (grated)
  • 1 celery stick (finely sliced)
  • 4 garlic cloves (crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 pack Merchant Gourmet Beluga Lentils (250 grams cooked weight)
  • 250 ml water
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 150 g cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • 400 g tin of chopped tomatoes or passata
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron bloomed in 2 tbsp of water (optional)
  • A few sprigs of fresh coriander (for garnish)
  • Salt and pepper to season

Instructions

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan) / 200°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 6.
  • Slice the aubergines lengthways. Then take a knife and criss-cross the flesh. Brush the aubergines with olive oil and some of the crushed garlic and season well. Place on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 30 mins or until the aubergine flesh is soft and cooked through.
  • In the interim, take a frying pan, add 2 tbsp of olive oil and place on medium / high heat.
  • Add the onions and fry until they start to turn golden. Then add the carrot, celery and garlic (reserve a little garlic for the tomato sauce) and cook until the vegetables have softened.
  • Add the turmeric, smoked paprika and chilli flakes. Follow with the tomato purée and stir until evenly distributed in the mixture for a few minutes.
  • Add the lentils, cherry tomatoes, water and maple syrup. Reduce the heat to low and let it cook for about 5 to 10 minutes until the water has been absorbed and the cherry tomatoes have softened.
  • Remove the aubergines from the oven. Scoop out some of the flesh, gently taking care not to tear the aubergine cases. Add the flesh to the lentil mixture, stir and season to taste. Let the flavours of the mixture combine by gently cooking for a few minutes, stirring now and again.
  • Take a shallow casserole pan with a lid, place it on a medium / low heat and add 1 tbsp of olive oil and the remaining garlic. Let it infuse with the oil, being careful not to let it burn. Add the chopped tomatoes / passata, the bloomed saffron and season. Let it simmer gently for 10 mins.
  • Take one aubergine half and gently place it on the tomato sauce. Fill it with half the lentil mixture and then place the other half of the aubergine on top. Repeat with the other 2 halves of aubergine. Don't worry if some of the lentil mixture falls into the sauce - it will add to the overall flavour. Leave to simmer with the lid on the pan for approximately 20 mins.
  • Serve the aubergine garnished with fresh coriander accompanied by rice or bread and a salad with a citrus dressing. If you feel confident serve the aubergine with the split facing upwards like I have in my picture so it looks like they have been stuffed.

Khoresh Kadoo-e-Tond

Spicy courgette & red lentil stew

This is my own take on a stew which is usually made with lamb or chicken. I wanted to have a meat-free dish for my family but one that still had Persian flavours. This stew felt like one that would respond well to being meat-free and my experiment turned out to be a total treat.

Khoresh Kadoo (courgette stew in Farsi) is a dish that tends to be reserved for family meals as opposed to our parties (mehmoonis). The reason, I suspect, is that Khoresh Bademjan (aubergine stew) is very similar but is considered to be the superior dish and worthy of guests – the poor humble courgette!

Well no longer sidelined, this recipe allows this stew to be centre stage as it cannot be compared to the regal aubergine stew. The main differences are, I have added chillies and substituted the meat for red lentils. The resulting dish still has the comforting savoury flavours of the traditional dish but with a glow of plant-based goodness and a burst of spice from the chillies.

In order to really enhance the flavours of this dish, I recommend frying the courgette before adding them to the stew (this can be done the day before to save time). For the health conscious, you can roast the courgette with a drizzle of oil in the oven on 180°C (fan) / 200°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 6 for about 20 minutes. Either way, the courgette can be prepared up to a few days in advance and refrigerated until you are ready to cook the stew.

This dish is best served with kateh (Persian easy cook sticky rice), chelow or, if you want to fully commit to the wholesome side of life, brown rice is also an excellent accompaniment.


Khoresh Kadoo-e-Tond

Spicy courgette and red lentil stew
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time1 hr 40 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan, lentils, courgettes, chillies
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil (sounds punchy but most of it is used to fry the courgettes - see notes above re: oven roasting courgettes as an alternative)
  • 3 courgettes
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 500 ml passata
  • 150 g red lentils
  • 500 ml water
  • 1/8 tsp saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 10 cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • Salt and pepper (to season)
  • Chopped fresh mint (to garnish)

Instructions

  • Take a large frying pan and pour 4 tbsps of oil into the pan. Place on a medium to high heat.
  • Halve the courgettes and then slice them about 2cm thick.
  • Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the slices and fry the courgettes on each side until golden, and soft.
  • Remove the courgettes and put on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.
  • Take a large casserole dish or saucepan with a lid (about 3.5 litres capacity) and place on a medium to high heat. Add 2 tbsp of oil, add the onion and fry until golden, stirring now and again.
  • Add the garlic, turmeric and chilli and stir. Add the tomato purée and stir in. Once it glistens add the red lentils and stir until evenly distributed.
  • Add the passata, 250 ml of the water, the bloomed saffron and fresh lemon juice. Stir and season to taste.
  • Once the the stew starts to boil add the remaining 250 ml of water and stir, lower the heat to allow the stew to slowly simmer. Let it simmer for 10 minutes. Add more water if the stew looks too thick.
  • Add your courgettes and gently submerge in the stew.
  • Scatter your halved tomatoes evenly across the stew, place the lid on the pan and simmer for no less than 45 mins. Once cooking time has finished and you are ready to serve, turn off the heat and garnish with chopped fresh mint and coriander.
  • Serve with rice and / or flatbreads.

 

Chelow and Tahdig

Persian Rice – The expert way

Chelow is the name given to the white fluffy grains of rice either served with our kababs or khoresh (stews). We also have Kateh, which refers to our version of easy cook sticky rice, and polo, which refers to our rice cooked with vegetables,  herbs and/or meat (similar to the Asian biryani).

Polo follows the same cooking procedure as chelow but has the added stage of preparing and cooking the ingredients to be mixed in to the rice. Kateh is simple as you boil and steam the rice without draining the water by letting it evaporate in the saucepan. Kateh tends to be reserved for family meals and due to the sticky texture you wouldn’t generally see it served at a dinner party or restaurant.

Chelow has a 6 step process to follow, summarised below:

  1. Washing the rice;
  2. Soaking the rice – not all consider this stage is necessary anymore in light of the quality of long grain basmati rice available, however it is of note that some famous brands recommend soaking their rice for 30 minutes pre cooking. Soaking the rice promotes more thorough cooking by allowing moisture to reach the center of the rice grain, it further improves its final texture, makes the grain less brittle and assists the rice to become more digestible;
  3. Par boiling the rice until al dente;
  4. Draining the rice;
  5. Preparing the tahdig layer and then layering the remaining rice on top; and finally
  6. Steaming the rice.

The common feature in the various Persian rice options is that they all yield the crispy rice which forms at the bottom of the cooking pot called ‘Tahdig’. Tahdig literally translated means ‘bottom of the pot’ and is the most cherished part of our meals, kind of like roast potatoes or chips to the British. I don’t think I have ever met someone who dislikes tahdig. In fact, I think I would have serious trust issues with someone who was dubious about tahdig! Although kateh is the easiest way of cooking Persian style rice it does not yield a tahdig as superior as chelow or polo. Therefore you are rewarded for going the extra mile with the slightly more complicated way of cooking rice.

To achieve the perfect fluffy rice and golden tahdig is a commitment. Despite this, even the veteran chelow and tahdig cooker sometimes has an off day with rice coming out a bit mushy and the tahdig burnt. So don’t be hard on yourself if you commit to this journey and it takes a while to master it. I have been doing this for a fair while and I can honestly say I still get a teeny bit of anxiety when I check my rice texture at the end of cooking and then flip the pot to reveal my tahdig! In fact you can see variations in the tahdig pictures on this post and no doubt in future posts – just as long as it isn’t burnt to a cinder, we Iranians love our tahdig golden all the way through to well-done!

Now while chelow has a standard set of preparation and cooking steps, tahdig has a number of different options available. The most common are rice; potato or flatbread options. See the collage above for examples.

As with the evolution of many cuisines, experiments have been undertaken to explore new ways of reinventing a classic. In the case of tahdig people have experimented with ingredients to see if they can create a new type of tahdig as good as the originals. I’ve seen tahdigs made with lettuce, fish and chicken. Also there are people presenting elaborately designed tahdig with intricate patterns cut into their potatoes or their flatbread, creating a work of art. I am a traditionalist with my tahdig (this is mostly down to the time I have) so my recipe below is to assist you to cook tahdig like the best of the Persian Mamans (mums) or Babas (dads) out there, but if you do get the chance go and check out ‘#tahdig’ on social media platforms and enter the world of beautiful tahdig designs.

As advised in previous posts, you will need to get your hands on white long grain basmati rice if you want to cook authentic Persian style rice. You can buy this from your local supermarket or, as I do, from my local Middle-Eastern or Asian food shops. A little saffron is recommended, a good quality non-stick saucepan with a glass lid and a small-hole colander or sieve. A clean tea towel is also an absolute must as it aids the steaming of the rice by absorbing the water droplets, which would otherwise form on the lid of your saucepan and fall back on to the rice making it mushy.

Try not to balk at the amount of salt used. Rice needs a lot of salt as it can be quite bland and the boiling stage washes a lot away. Taste a grain or two of your rice at step 6 of the recipe below. If it tastes too salty just pour a little cold water over your parboiled rice to wash some away. Also, while I have you engaged with the concept of pushing salt boundaries, let me talk to you about drizzling your rice pre-steaming stage with butter, ghee or vegan equivalent. It sounds punchy and it is, but the resulting chelow is so delicious it would be a shame to omit this stage. Some literally layer their rice with knobs of butter, I melt a few tablespoons and drizzle it over my rice as set out below (see step 12).

As with chips and roast potatoes, the more oil you use for your tahdig at the bottom of your pot the better the tahdig as you are effectively deep frying the base of the rice (potatoes or flatbread) and it avoids burning. However, I don’t always use lots of oil in family meals as it is more about the taste of the dish and the overall healthiness rather than presentation so I reduce the oil content. The tahdig is still delicious but as you can see from the some of the pictures the colour of the tahdig can be patchy. The amount of oil stated in the recipe below is the minimum I would recommend. As you fine tune your chelow and tahdig skills, feel free to increase the oil incrementally (say a tablespoon at a time) to conclude the best oil ratio for you, your family and your trusted saucepan.

There are two ways of presenting your chelow and tahdig. If you have a small quantity of rice (as in the recipe below) you should be able to flip your pot after cooking and the rice and tahdig should come out like a cake as seen in the first set of pictures above.

For larger quantities, once the rice has cooked, I recommend spooning the rice out and serving it on one plate and then serving your tahdig separately on another dish. The latter is usually garnished with saffron coloured rice sprinkled on top (see picture). In my family we use a little rose water when blooming the saffron for the rice garnish as it adds a delicate floral note to the chelow, so if you want to present your rice this way then it is worth getting your hands on some rose water from your local Middle-Eastern food shop.

As a final note, the primary recipe below is to make chelow with rice tahdig. Refer to the ‘Alternative Step’ sections below for guidance on how to make potato or flatbread tahdig. 


Chelow and Tahdig

Persian Rice - the expert way
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 10 mins
Course: Rice Dish, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: basmati rice, tahdig
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white long grain Basmati rice (standard UK measuring cup capacity 250 ml - approx 400 grams of rice)
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • Water (as directed below)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron bloomed in 2 tbsp of water for the tahgdig
  • A further small pinch of ground saffron if serving your rice with a saffron garnish bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of hot water (optional)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil plus extra if you are making potato or flatbread tahdig as per 'Alternative Step' sections below
  • 2 to 3 tbsp ghee / butter / vegan equivalent

Instructions

  • Wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Be gentle with the rice, otherwise you will damage and break the grains.
  • 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 (I leave mine overnight and cook the rice during the afternoon of the day after).
  • 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.
  • Stay with the saucepan and do not leave it at this stage. It is crucial that you remove the rice and drain it at the right time. 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 your stove.
  • Add 2 tbsp of oil and 1 tbsp of butter / ghee / vegan equivalent to the pan and place on a low heat to melt. Then turn the heat off.
  • Add your bloomed saffron to the saucepan and mix with the oil to distribute evenly (this will give a lovely golden colour to your tahdig).
  • 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.
  • To make a cake style rice and tahdig, layer your rice and gently pat down to the shape of the saucepan. Once you have layered the rice, take the end of a tablespoon and gently poke about 5 small holes in the rice to allow steam to escape while cooking. Pour 2 tbsp of cold water evenly over the rice.
  • Drizzle 1 to 2 tbsp of melted ghee / butter / vegan equivalent over the rice. 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. When the cooking time is over turn off the heat and remove the lid from the saucepan. Take a serving dish that covers the opening of the saucepan and place it on top. Flip the rice out onto the dish and serve with either a khoresh, kabab, curry or any other dish.
  • If you want to serve the rice with a sprinkle of saffron garnish and the tahdig separately then at step 11, instead of layering your rice and patting it down, layer the rice into a gentle sloping pyramid shape and poke a few holes in the rice. Then follow steps 12 and 13. When cooking has finished, instead of flipping the rice, spoon it out on to your dish and plate up your tahdig separately. For the saffron garnish, take a small pinch of saffron and place in a small bowl then add the rose water and hot water and let it bloom for a few minutes. Mix 4 tbsp of the cooked rice with the bloomed saffron and gently stir so it takes on a golden colour. Then sprinkle as a garnish on top of your rice.

Alternative Step 10 - Potato Tahdig

  • If you are making potato tahdig, you will need 1 medium-sized potato peeled and sliced into 1.5 cm thick discs. Place the sliced potatoes into a bowl of water to wash off excess starch - this will help during the crisping process while the rice steams. It will also stop the potatoes turning brown as you get the rice ready to steam.
  • Follow steps 1 to 9 above. At step 10, add an extra tablespoon of vegetable oil to the bottom of your pot then layer your potatoes at the bottom of the pan on top of the saffron oil (try not to overlap them so they all cook through evenly and crisp up) and then layer your rice on top and pat down to fill any gaps between the potatoes. Then follow subsequent steps of the recipe.

Alternative Step 10 - Flatbread Tahdig

  • If you are making flatbread tahdig, you will need 1 medium Middle-Eastern style flatbread like lavash or 1 medium white tortilla. 
  • Follow steps 1 to 9 above. At step 10, you can use the flatbread to cover the bottom of the pan  or you can cut shapes into it and layer the bottom surface of the saucepan only. Either way, before layering your flatbread, take a pastry brush and coat your flatbread generously with vegetable oil and then lay it on the saffron oil. Then layer your rice on top and follow the subsequent steps of the recipe. If you are using the whole flatbread to cover the bottom of the saucepan, without cutting shapes, be a little cautious with the timing on lowering the heat to steam the rice at step 13 as the flatbread can burn quite quickly. As soon as you see steam creeping round the edges of the bread, then turn down the heat and place the lid wrapped with a tea towel on the saucepan. Follow the subsequent steps of the recipe.

Salad Shirazi

Cucumber, tomato & onion salad

It may be very telling that we Iranians really only have one salad recipe and that it claims to be the national salad of Iran!  

As the name gives away, the salad originates from Shiraz in Southern Iran. The core ingredients list is simple – cucumber, tomatoes, onion, dried mint, salt, pepper, oil and fresh lime juice. The resulting salad is juicy and citrusy and it complements the catalogue of Persian dishes. The core salad ingredients are finely diced into small chunks, however on occasion I deviate from tradition and make mine a little chunkier for aesthetic reasons!

If you can get your hands on them, I recommend using organic for the salad ingredients as it really does make a difference to the intensity of the flavour of the salad. As a further tip, after halving and before dicing the tomatoes, scrape or squeeze some of the the seeds out. There is a fine line between a juicy Salad Shirazi and a water-logged one, but don’t be too obsessive about seed removal. The salad is meant to be juicy and to have some delicious dressing to spoon over the other elements on your plate.

This dish features regularly at Persian BBQ’s as it has a summery feel to it and works well with the lamb and chicken kababs, but that’s not to say it isn’t greeted with joy and gusto when served during the winter, accompanying a stew and rice dish. This salad can be eaten with any cuisine so don’t feel you can only knock this up for Persian dishes. 

 


Salad Shirazi

Persian cucumber, tomato and onion salad - the National Salad of Iran
Prep Time15 mins
Total Time15 mins
Course: Salad, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 3 tbsp olive oil or toasted argan oil
  • 2 limes (zest of one lime, juice squeezed from both for the dressing)
  • 2 tsp dried mint (fresh mint can also be used as an alternative or in addition to the dried mint)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Finely dice the onion, tomatoes and cucumber into small chunks. The idea is to have an even amount of each in the dish so revise amounts up or down, if necessary. One onion is the perfect amount for the 4-6 servings so start with the onion, then the tomatoes as it is easier to increase or decrease the amount of cucumber.
  • Make a dressing out of the oil, lime juice and zest, salt, pepper and mint and drizzle over the salad.
  • Toss the salad and taste - adjust the seasoning if required and then serve.

Kateh

Persian Rice – The easy way

Kateh was a regular feature in my early childhood. My mum would cook it for any ailment I had and serve it with yoghurt (maast). Not sure how it was meant to help. However, given its low maintenance method of cooking and the comforting nature, I can see why my mother would whip it up for me.

Before I launch into the finer details of cooking Kateh, the type of rice you require for Persian dishes is very important. It must be long grain basmati white rice, which you can buy from most local supermarkets and Middle-Eastern or Asian food shops ranging from 500 gram to 10 kilogram bags.

Kateh is a great introduction to mastering the art of cooking rice like Iranians. Once you have this skill under your belt, learning the more complicated technique (Chelow) will be less daunting. The difference between the two ways of cooking rice is essentially that, for Kateh, you boil and steam it in your saucepan by letting the water evaporate, whereas Chelow requires you to parboil the rice, drain the water and then steam. Also, timing of the draining of the rice prior to steaming is key for Chelow.   

The more forgiving timing and low maintenance method for Kateh results in a stickier rice compared to the delicate separated fluffy grains Chelow produces. The bonus of the simple way of cooking Persian rice is that you can still get the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot – ‘Tahdig’ which is cherished by Iranians. If you have clicked onto this site searching for tahdig then you already know about this delightful creation unique to Iranians. If you are new to the concept then let me explain.

Tahdig translated into English means ‘bottom of the pot.’ Iranians cook their rice for longer than most cultures in order to create a crispy layer of rice, which is everyone’s favourite part of the meal. A bit like the potatoes in your Sunday Roast. It’s always the first dish to disappear at our dinner parties with the crispy texture perfectly complementing the softer textures of many of our dishes (the rice, stews and kababs). There is a disclaimer to Kateh tahdig and that is it is not as superior as the tahdig created by the Chelow method. It comes out paler but it is still crunchy. If you are in this for the long game, then eventually you will be cooking rice and creating tahdig like a Persian Maman (or Baba) with golden tahdig made with potatoes, bread or anything else you fancy experimenting with. For now, my advice is to get Kateh under your belt. 

The best way to master cooking rice the Persian way is to have a trusted cup measurement and understand the portions it yields. I use the measuring cup pictured below (standard UK measuring cup – 250 ml), which holds approximately 200 grams of rice.

Each cup holds a generous 2 portions of rice. I use 2 cups (400 grams of rice) which feeds 4 of us comfortably with leftovers on occasion. I cook this in a standard UK saucepan with a glass lid 20 cm diameter, with a 2.5 litre capacity. The reason I refer to mastering cup measurements is because of the corresponding water measurement. For every cup of rice, you add 1 cup of water plus 1/2 cup for every cup of rice.

To unscramble the brain I set out a table below with the rice to water ratio and the amount of salt and oil you will also require.

ServesCups of RiceCups of WaterOil/ButterSalt
211.51 Tbsp0.5 - 1 tsp
4232 Tbsp1 - 2 tsp
8464 Tbsp2 - 4 tsp

As a further note, in order to master the art of Persian rice you have to learn how your stove works, whether it is a ceramic, induction or gas hob. 

The lowest setting on ceramic, induction and other solid plate type cookers tend to produce a lower temperature than the equivalent on a gas hob, therefore to go to the lowest heat may result in your rice not being cooked within the specified time below. Don’t worry – just leave it on for longer and the next time go up a gauge and a further one if needed until you master the right temp and time for your Kateh.

Kateh isn’t a dish you would traditionally serve at an Iranian party (mehmooni) and is more of a mid week or chilled family weekend rice accompaniment dish. For serving suggestions, I recommend having it with Kabab Tabei, Asian style dishes or just fried eggs, something green (for good measure) and Torshi.


Kateh

Persian rice cooked the easy way
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 5 mins
Course: Side Dish, Rice Dish, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan option
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white long grain basmati rice (approximately 400g of rice)
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 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).
  • Drain and then put the rice in a saucepan. Add water and salt (for the amount of rice set out above, 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 in the rice as the water is evaporating, take the temperature down to the lowest setting. 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 no less than 30 mins. The longer you leave it, the better the tahdig.
  • Once you have come to the end of the cooking time (30 mins or more with the lid on), turn off the heat and take a plate, which is bigger than your saucepan, and place it over the top of the saucepan. Flip the saucepan, while holding the plate, and your rice should come out as a nice looking rice cake in the shape of your pan with crispy tahdig encasing it.
  • Serve with your choice of stew, curry or kababs.
  • Don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work the first time you do it.  It took me a few attempts before I got it!  Good luck.

Torshi

Persian Pickles

Torshi is derived from the word ‘Torsh’ in Farsi, which means sour. Torshi is used to describe vegetables pickled in vinegar, and they are often eaten as accompaniments to dishes and / or aperitifs. On a Persian sofreh (spread) you will always find some Torshi!

The sour taste of the pickles perfectly complements many of our dishes, particularly those containing lamb, as it brings a balance to the richness of the flavours.

Each Iranian household has their own variation of herbs and spices and below are mine. The beauty of Persian pickles is that we don’t boil the vinegar so in the realm of pickling, it is a low maintenance method. All you need is a suitable size pickling jar, vegetables of your choice, vinegar, spices, herbs and salt.

I make three different types of pickles:

  1. Torshi Soorati, made with red cabbage and red onion. This recipe is something I threw together once and it’s been a staple in our house ever since. ‘Soorati’ means pink in Farsi and the pickle has been given this name as the resulting colour is a vibrant pink. A very versatile pickle suiting many cuisines, including Indian and Asian style dishes. It is ready to eat after 5 days;
  2. Torshi Makhloot, the traditional mix of vegetables seen in most Iranian households.  This Torshi is flavoured with turmeric, dried or fresh herbs, garlic and chillies. Serve with any Persian dishes you fancy trying it with or any other dish. It is ready to eat after 2 months; and
  3. Torshi Seer, pickled garlic cloves. Not for the garlic shy individual but for those of you who are partial to a little (a lot of) garlic, you will love this. Ideally, this Torshi needs a minimum of 1 year to pickle (ideally 2 years but who can wait that long)! I have heard some jars of Torshi Seer have been pickling for up to 20 years as the garlic cloves get sweeter and soften with time, with them eventually being able to be spread on a piece of bread like butter. If you have a little nosey at them while they are pickling, don’t panic if you see some cloves have turned blue. That is common and is down to the age of the garlic clove. It will disperse and pick up the lovely brown colour within a few weeks. Serve with any Persian dishes you fancy trying it with or any other dish.

For Torshi Makhloot, we have a spice by the name of Golpar (Persian Hogweed – I know, it sounds like something out of Harry Potter)!

It has a musty and slightly bitter flavour profile – its smell reminds me of mothballs. I’m really selling this to you aren’t I? If you want to make Torshi Makhloot, then I recommend getting your hands on this spice. You can buy it online or from an Iranian food shop. It really adds a unique aromatic flavour to your pickles.

The amount of vinegar per jar will vary depending on how much you can pack in to the jar. As a guide, I use a 1 litre jar for my pickles and I always have vinegar left over from a 500 ml bottle. So I would start with those measurements until you have the confidence to pickle 2 litre jars or more, like some of my family. 


Torshi Soorati

Red cabbage and red onion pickle
Prep Time20 mins
Pickling Time5 d
Total Time5 d 20 mins
Course: Appetiser, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: torshi, pickle
Servings: 1 litre jar of pickles
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 red onion
  • 1/2 small red cabbage
  • 500 ml white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 litre pickling jar (sterilised)

Instructions

  • Finely slice the red onion and red cabbage.
  • Place alternating layers of onion then cabbage (about half an inch for each layer) and a sprinkle of coriander seeds after each layer of cabbage, until you reach the top of the jar. Make sure you pack the vegetables in tightly in the jar by pressing each layer down.
  • Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar and pour in up to the neck of the jar. Push the vegetable mix down to pack and squeeze in more of the veg, if you can. Pour in more vinegar if required.
  • Close the lid tightly and leave the jar in a cool dark place like a pantry for 5 days. Once opened store in the fridge.


Torshi Mahkloot

Mixed vegetable pickle
Prep Time20 mins
Pickling Time60 d
Total Time60 d 20 mins
Course: Appetiser, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Servings: 1 litre jar of pickles
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • Mix of vegetables (in my mix, pictured above, I have used red and yellow carrots, red Romanov pepper, white cabbage, cauliflower and celery)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 3 green chillies (optional - I went for a very hot chilli as my family like it spicy)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp dried fenugreek
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp pink peppercorns
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp golpar seeds (Persian Hogweed - optional)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 500 ml red wine vinegar
  • 1 litre pickling jar (sterilised)

Instructions

  • Chop the vegetables into small chunks (about 2cm) and put in a mixing bowl.
  • Slice your garlic cloves and chillies and add to vegetable mixture.
  • Add your spices, herbs and salt and mix to distribute everything evenly in the mixture.
  • Fill the jar with the mixture, packing it down as tight as you can.Pour the vinegar up to the neck of the jar. Push the vegetable mix down to pack the jar. Add more of the vegetable mix if you have any left over and if there is space in the jar. Pour in more vinegar if required.
  • Close the lid tightly and leave the jar in a cool dark place like a pantry for 2 months. Once opened store in the fridge.


Torshi Seer

Garlic pickle
Prep Time20 mins
Pickling Time365 d
Total Time365 d 20 mins
Course: Appetiser, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: garlic pickle
Servings: 1 litre jar of pickles
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • As many whole garlic and extra cloves you can squeeze into the jar
  • A mix of red wine and balsamic vinegar (50:50 ratio)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 litre pickling jar (sterilised)

Instructions

  • Take the whole garlic bulbs and slice the stalk off, exposing the tops of the cloves.
  • Peel back the white skin of the garlic down to the thin pink layer covering the raw garlic cloves.
  • Add the garlic bulbs, whole if you can, to the jar. Break them down if they can't fit through the jar opening. Fill the gaps with the separated cloves.
  • Once you have filled the jar (there will be gaps so don't worry about that), add red wine vinegar until it fills half the jar, then add your balsamic. Push down the garlic cloves and squeeze in more if you can. Fill up with more balsamic vinegar if you have space.
  • Add the salt and close the jar. Tilt the jar up and down gently to mix the vinegars and salt.
  • Leave in cool dark place like a pantry for at least 1 year. Once opened store in the fridge.