Maast O’Khiar

Persian yoghurt & cucumber dip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Maast O'Khiar

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kooie Kaka

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes

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

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

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

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

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


Kooie Kaka

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

Mirza Ghasemi

Smoked aubergine dip

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

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

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

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

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


Mirza Ghasemi

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

Advieh Kabab

Grilled Beef Kebabs with Persian Spices

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

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

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

 


Advieh Kabab

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

Ingredients

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

Marinade

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

To baste while cooking

  • 2 tbsp butter (melted)

Instructions

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

Summer Kuku served with a Pea, Mint and Feta Dip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summer Kuku served with a Pea and Mint Dip

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

Ingredients

Kuku

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

Pea and mint dip

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

Instructions

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

Jujeh Kabab

Persian Chicken Kebabs with Saffron & Lemon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Jujeh Kabab

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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