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.
4 to 5largeskinless chicken breasts(or approximately 1.2 kg)
1largebrown onion(finely sliced)
5tbsp Greek yoghurt
1/4tspground saffron (bloomed in 50ml water)
Juice from a whole large lemon
Salt and Pepper(to season)
1largegarlic clove(crushed or minced)
1 to 2tbspbutter(Melted - to baste the chicken while cooking)
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).
This dish is a real Persian classic and one that most Iranians cherish. It definitely tops my list of Persian comfort foods, reminding me of my childhood and the big family gatherings my mother would host.
Zereshk polo is Persian steamed rice, layered and/or topped with barberries. Some also scatter fresh pistachio slivers as a garnish on top of the rice. Where rice dishes are referred to as ‘polo’ (pronounced ‘pawlaw’) it usually indicates that the rice has been mixed with some other ingredient. Our plain white rice, served with our kebabs and khoresh (stews) is referred to as ‘chelow.’ In the case of this dish, barberries are the additional ingredient.
Barberries are edible red berries which grow in the wild in Europe and West Asia. They are rich in vitamin C and tart in flavour. They are called ‘zereshk’ in Farsi and are bought and used in their dried form. You can buy zereshk from most Middle-Eastern food shops or, as I often do, online.
Zereshk polo is a sweet and sour dish, where the barberries are gently sautéed on a low heat with sugar and bloomed saffron water before being added to the rice. It is commonly served with poached saffron chicken or chicken stewed in a saffron sauce and either layered through the rice or on the side. Some Persian restaurants serve it with jujeh kabab (grilled chunks of chicken, marinated in onion, lemon juice and saffron). Either way, you must be getting a sense that some kind of saffron flavoured chicken complements this sweet and sour rice dish.
My mother and other members of our family would always poach the chicken and as a child I would search for the breast meat layered throughout my mother’s zereshk polo but I appreciate now that, when cooked for too long, this cut of meat can be quite dry. My recipe below uses chicken breast but with a few changes to preparation and cooking to ensure it remains juicy. I generally source chicken for all my cooking from a butcher (online or the old-fashioned method of dropping into a local establishment).
For this recipe I bought chicken breasts with the skin left on and a partial wing (the drumette) in tact. I marinate the chicken overnight and then I pan fry the chicken and finish it off in the oven as per the recipe instructions below. You can also eat this rice with saffron stewed chicken and I will post a recipe for this in due course, but for now the recipe below is a homage to the dish I grew up with and loved. The recipe below will also result in the delicious crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot called tahdig which adds a lovely crunchy texture to the dish.
Out of all our polo dishes this is probably the easiest to knock-up (relative to other Persian dishes which tend to be more involved in preparation and cooking time). The recipe below looks daunting with all the steps but after you have done it once, and created a ridiculous amount of washing up, I promise the second time will be easier. And this dish is so delicious you will want to make and eat it a second, third, fourth…time!
As with most Persian dishes, I cook this on a weekend for my family and serve it with a mix of fresh herbs (coriander, parsley, mint, chives, tarragon and Thai basil), torshi and/or Shirazi salad.
4Chicken Breasts(with skin and drumette - see note above about cut)
2tbspolive oil(for the marinade)
1/8tspground saffron(bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
Salt and Pepper(to season)
25gbutter(to cook the chicken)
2tbspolive(to cook the chicken)
For the Rice
2cupswhite long grain Basmati rice(approx. 400g)
2tbspghee or butter
1/8tspground saffron(bloomed in 2 tbsp of water for the tahdig - crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot)
1/4tspground saffron(bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of water for the saffron rice garnish)
For the Barberries
2tbspcaster sugar(feel free to add more if you want it sweeter)
1/8tspground saffron(bloomed saffron in 2 tbsp of water)
Chicken – take the chicken breasts and place in a large bowl and add onion, tomato purée, yoghurt, olive oil, turmeric, saffron and fresh lemon juice to the chicken and mix until evenly coated. Cover and leave in the fridge to marinate for a minimum of 8 hrs (preferably overnight).
Rice – gently wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Then place the rice with 1 tbsp of salt in a bowl and pour in cold water to cover the rice up to 2 inches above the rice. Leave the rice to soak for a minimum of 30 mins (preferably overnight).
Barberries – take a small saucepan, place it on a low heat and add 1 tbsp of butter. Once the butter has melted, add the barberries, the sugar and the bloomed saffron water and stir for 30 seconds. The barberries should only be cooked gently for 30 seconds. Turn the heat off and set them aside for later (I prepare the barberries the morning of the day I am cooking this dish as it one less thing to manage later and it allows for the sugary saffron syrup to infuse further).
Cooking the Rice
No less than 1 hour before you want to serve this dish, fill a large non-stick saucepan (minimum capacity 2.5 litres) with approximately 1.5 litres of water and 1 tbsp of salt. Bring the water to a boil.
Drain the rice and then add to the saucepan. Gently stir the rice to make sure it does not stick to the pan. Every minute give the rice a gentle stir and take a grain of rice and check the texture – either between your fingers or using your teeth. What you want is the rice to be soft on the outer layer but still firm in the centre. It can take any time from 3 to 7 minutes with the quantity of rice in this recipe.
Once the parboiled rice reaches the correct texture, turn your heat off and drain the rice in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle a little cold water on the rice to halt the cooking process. Taste the rice – if it is very salty then rinse the rice further with a little water.
Place the empty saucepan on the stove. Add 2 tbsp of oil to the pan. Add your bloomed saffron (1/8 tsp bloomed saffron in 2 tbsp of water) to the saucepan and mix with the oil to distribute evenly (this will give a lovely golden colour to your tahdig).
To make your tahdig spoon about a 1-inch layer of rice into the saucepan and gently stir to mix with the saffron oil to ensure colour is distributed evenly. Be careful not to break the grains. Then pat the rice down flat with the spoon.
Then layer the rest of the rice, reserving 5 tbsp of rice, into a gentle sloping pyramid shape and poke a few holes in the rice. Take the bloomed saffron (1/4 tsp of saffron bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of water) and add the 5 tbsp of rice to it and mix gently. Then spoon this rice on top of the rice in the saucepan to one side of the pot. Do not mix this into the rest of the rice. This saffron coloured rice will be your garnish, but it is steamed with the rest of the rice to cook to the correct texture but also to add saffron and rose notes to the rest of the rice while cooking.
Pour 2 tbsp of cold water evenly over the rice and drizzle the 2 tbsp of melted ghee or butter over the rice. Place the glass lid on the saucepan and turn the heat to the highest setting. Once the steam starts to rise from the rice lower the heat to the minimum flame or equivalent. Cover the lid with a tea towel (making sure it is not a fire risk) and replace the lid on the saucepan.
Allow to steam for a minimum of 45 mins to get a crunchy layer of tahdig – the longer you steam your rice the thicker the tahdig.
Cooking the Chicken
Approximately an hour before you want to serve this dish and just before you launch into cooking your rice, remove the chicken from the fridge and bring up to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 180˚C (fan) / 200˚C (conventional) / Gas mark 6.
Approximately 30 mins before the rice has completed the cooking process, take the chicken breast and generously season both sides with salt and pepper. Discard the rest of the marinade including the onion.
Place a non-stick pan over a high heat, once smoking add a drizzle of olive oil and place the chicken breasts skin down in the pan. Cook on this side for about 5 minutes or until the chicken skin is golden and crisp.
Flip over and add the 25 grams of butter split into small knobs. Once melted, baste the chicken with the foaming butter for a minute. Then flip so they are skin side up again.
Place in the oven and cook for 15–20 minutes. The flesh should be firm and white (not pink) and the juices should run clear. A temperature probe should read 75˚C when it is safe to eat. Rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Serving the Dish
Once the rice has completed its cooking time, turn off the heat and remove the lid from the saucepan. Spoon the saffron-coloured rice out first into a separate bowl and reserve until you are ready to garnish. Spoon the rest of your rice onto a serving dish and plate up your tahdig separately. Then sprinkle the saffron rice over the white rice.
Reheat your barberries for 30 seconds on low heat, remove from and turn off the heat, and then spoon over the rice.
Serve the rice with the chicken, tahdig, a side of fresh herbs and / or salad shirazi and / or torshi.
In light of the use of pomegranate molasses in this recipe, I have decided that this dish will feature in my family’s Shab-e Yaldā celebrations. Shab-e Yaldā (Yaldā Night) is an Iranian festival which takes place on the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, usually falling on either 20 or 21 December. From its Zoroastrian routes, Shab-e Yaldā celebrates the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness – the winter solstice marking the lengthening of days, shortening of nights and the advancement towards Spring. Pomegranates are traditionally eaten at this festival as they symbolise the cycle of life. This recipe can be eaten anytime of the year (not just on Shab-e Yaldā) and you can even cook the chicken on a BBQ in the Spring and Summer seasons.
This is an easy recipe and will be familiar territory for you if you have, as most people have these days, cooked and/or eaten some kind of wrap. If not, it is still an easy recipe to follow and worth getting your hands on the two ingredients you may not have to hand – pomegranate molasses and moosir (Persian shallots).
Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup with a dark grape colour made from reducing pomegranate juice. The juice is obtained from a tart variety of pomegranate. You can pick up pomegranate molasses (rob-e-anar) from most Middle-Eastern food shops, online or even at some local supermarkets. It is deliciously tart but the addition of honey and freshly squeezed orange juice balances the favours perfectly for this marinade and complements the chicken. As with all marinades, the longer you leave it the better. So if you have time to marinate your chicken overnight (thighs with skin on and bone in preferably) this will allow the chicken to absorb all the delicious flavours.
Moosir is a Persian shallot and has a flavour profile similar to garlic but slightly sweeter and softer in its spiciness. They grow wild in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, and have to be found and dug out of the earth – a similar process to truffles. Commonly used in a yoghurt dip called Maast-o-Moosir, this ingredient adds an amazingly distinctive flavour to dishes. You can buy moosir from most Middle-Eastern food shops or online.
I have added the moosir to the mayonnaise for the chicken wrap. Moosir is bought in its dried form and will need to be re-hydrated if you are going to use it. Soak the moosir in water for 3 to 24 hours in the fridge. Drain, rinse in cold water and pat dry. Check the moosir and cut out any stems that remain hard after soaking. Chop the moosir finely and mix with your mayonnaise. I tend to soak my moosir for 3 hrs before mincing and adding to my mayonnaise and leave it in the fridge, covered, overnight before I use it. If you cannot get your hands on moosir, then you can use garlic. I would recommend steeping the garlic cloves in boiled water before mincing and adding to the mayonnaise to temper the harshness of the raw garlic.
As a final addition to complement the flavours, I use my own homemade Torshi Soorati (an easy and quick pickle made from red onion, red cabbage, white wine vinegar and coriander seeds – ready in 5 days). You can of course omit the pickle or use another pickle of your choice. Serve these wraps with wedges – sweet potatoes are a great accompaniment.
Fresh coriander, mint and parsley (chopped) and pomegranate seeds (for garnish and sprinkling in the wraps)
Put the chicken, onion, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, pomegranate molasses, tomato purée, sriracha, maple syrup, orange juice, seasoning and olive oil in a mixing bowl and mix to coat evenly. Cover, place in the fridge and let it marinate for a minimum of 4 hours (preferably overnight). About 1 hour before cooking, remove the chicken from the fridge and set aside to rise to room temperature.
Place the mayonnaise in a bowl and add your minced moosir or garlic (see notes above) and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
Transfer the chicken and its marinade to a shallow roasting tin, then roast for 40-45 minutes, until the chicken and onions have caramelised and are sticky. Remove the chicken from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
About 5 minutes before removing your chicken from the oven, take your tortillas, wrap them in foil and place them in the oven to heat for about 15 mins. Then remove them from the oven and turn off the heat.
Scatter the chicken with the fresh mint and pomegranate seeds.
Build a wrap by spreading the moosir mayo on it, adding shredded lettuce, layering with sliced chicken (removed from the bone) and caramelised onions, topping with Torshi Soorati or other pickle, the chopped fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds. Roll up the wrap and tuck in.
It may not be a Persian dish but it is a firm favourite and will, in time, be a classic Sunday dish in our little family.
My husband, being English, loves a roast and so do I. It wasn’t a dish that we ate when I was growing up but with pub lunches and Christmas becoming another excuse for a family gathering, my Iranian family were introduced to the concept of the British Roast dinner. Although I love a roast, I don’t always love the amount of work and washing up involved, so this is my alternative to the traditional Sunday Roast.
All the vegetables are cooked in one pot as a casserole and the addition of fluffy dumplings are a highly satisfactory substitute for roast potatoes. The chicken is slow roasted for three hours, so you can prepare the casserole straight after popping the chicken into the oven and then get on with Sunday chores, park adventures with the kids or zoning out in front of Netflix with a glass (or 4) of wine.
Slow roast chicken and vegetable stew with herb dumplings
Course: Main Course
Keyword: family recipes, roast dinner
Author: Mersedeh Prewer
1largewhole chicken(1.8kg - 2kg)
2clovesgarlic(crushed - for rubbing on the chicken)
Fresh mixed herbs roasting herbs (sage, thyme and rosemary - usually sold as a packet of roasting herbs)
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper
2tbsp olive oil
400gnew potatoes (washed and halved)
2mediumleeks(washed and chopped into 2 inch chunks)
4parsnips(washed, peeled and chopped into 3 inch chunks)
300gChantenay carrots(washed and halved)
250gmushrooms(cleaned and quartered)
8stalkspurple sprouting broccoli
1tbspfresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper (I sometime use crushed / ground pink peppercorns as an alternative which gives a lovely note to the stew)
140gchilled butter(chopped into small cubes)
Preheat the oven to 120°C (fan) / 140°C (conventional) / gas mark 1.
Place the herbs in the chicken’s cavity and around the chicken in a roasting tray. Add the lemon halves and the garlic bulbs to the tray.
Crush the 2 garlic cloves and add to the butter. Rub the butter into the chicken and drizzle with the olive oil. Season and place in the oven for 3 hrs.
After the chicken has been in the oven for 90 mins, baste with the juices and return to the oven.
About 15 mins before the end of the cooking time for the roast chicken, increase the heat to 200°C (fan) / 220°C (conventional) / gas mark 7 to crisp the skin. Once the skin is crispy, to your liking, leave to rest out of the oven (don’t cover) for about 15 mins.
While the chicken is in the oven, heat the oil in a casserole dish approx 3 litres capacity on a medium heat.
Add the potatoes and cook for about 5 mins. Add the flour and mix, this will help to thicken the gravy for the vegetable casserole.
Then add the vegetables, with the slowest cooking veg going in first, with around 2 minute intervals between each addition (carrots, parsnips, leeks, mushrooms). Hold back on the broccoli for now.
Add the bay leaves, thyme leaves and garlic and mix. Add the wine, if using. Then add the stock and lower the heat and let simmer until the veg is soft.
Season to taste. You can put the lid on the casserole once simmering or if you have cooked the casserole early on and intend to reheat prior to adding the dumplings.
Then make the dumplings. Rub the butter into the flour until it looks like bread crumbs. Add chopped parsley and the Parmesan. Add water and form into a dough. Divide and make 8 balls.
While the casserole is simmering and about 5 mins before increasing the temperature of the oven to crisp the chicken skin, remove the lid of the casserole dish (you will have no further need for it during the remaining cooking steps) and add the broccoli and the dumplings and let the casserole simmer.
Place the casserole dish in the oven with the chicken on 200°C (fan) 15 minutes before the roast chicken has finished cooking. Check in on your dumplings half-way through the cooking time i.e. when you take the chicken out to rest.
Leave the casserole in the oven as the chicken is resting for a further 15 mins (overall about 30 mins in the oven) for the dumplings to turn golden.
Serve the vegetable casserole with the roast chicken and a side of cranberry sauce.