Khoresh Bademjan

Persian lamb & aubergine stew

This Persian stew is probably my favourite of all the khoresh dishes. A controversial statement as most Iranians would say Ghormeh Sabzi (a stew made with lamb, kidney bean, herbs and dried limes). But my love for aubergines and tomatoes makes this my number one, although really there is not much in it between this and the other khoresh dishes we Iranians cook and eat.

Khoresh translated from Farsi means stew, but technically my version of this dish should be called a casserole as it is slow cooked to perfection in an oven, as opposed to simmered on a stove.  If you prefer, you can cook this all on the stove. Just continue to simmer on your stove top (medium / low heat) at step 6 below for over 1 hour until the meat is tender and falls off the bone when prodded.

The ingredients for this amazing khoresh are lamb (on the bone), aubergines (‘Bademjan’ in Farsi), onions and some tomatoes (either halved or on the vine) placed on top to slow cook with the rest of the stew. The flavour profile of this dish is enhanced by the use of garlic, turmeric, saffron, a bay leaf and cinnamon with some tomato purée and fresh lime juice for good measure.

Although the traditional recipe for this khoresh is with lamb, some make it with beef or chicken. You can make a vegetarian version by using tofu or lentils if you fancy. If you are looking for a vegan / vegetarian Persian khoresh then check out my recipe for Khoresh Kadoo-e-Tond here (a spicy red lentil and courgette stew). You can replace the courgettes with aubergines.

The key to this dish is frying the aubergine separately before adding it to the khoresh. It really does make a massive difference to the flavour and the consistency of the aubergine, which should be soft and not spongy. You can, of course, oven roast your aubergine if you don’t want to fry them. But the recipe below is as close to the version most Iranians make in their homes.

As long as I can remember this khoresh has featured at many of our family gatherings over the years, held during the winter months. It is deeply comforting and will warm the cockles!

It is commonly served with chelow and tahdig (rice and crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot while cooking), and further accompanied by a salad (such as Salad Shirazi), yoghurt dip (such as Maast O’Moosir or Maast O’Khiar) and pickles (Torshi).


Khoresh Bademjan

Persian lamb & aubergine stew
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time3 hrs 25 mins
Total Time3 hrs 45 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: khoresh bademjoon
Servings: 4 (to 6 people)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 100 ml vegetable oil (the majority of this is used to fry the aubergines)
  • 3 medium aubergines (halved and salted to draw out water)
  • 600 g to 1kg of lamb leg on the bone (ask the butcher to cut into 3 cm cubes)
  • 1 large brown onion (finely chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 tbsp tomato purée
  • 600 ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Salt and Pepper (to season)
  • 500 g small to medium sized tomatoes on the vine (I use Sainsbury's Majestic tomatoes on the vine as they are the perfect size - bigger than cherry tomatoes but smaller than medium sized tomatoes)

Instructions

Prepare Aubergines (this stage can be done in advance and the aubergine will keep in fridge for up to 3 days or you can freeze them, defrost and use at a later date)

  • Slice aubergines in half, salt and leave then in a colander to draw out the water (about 30 mins).
  • Pour 75 ml of the vegetable oil into a non-stick frying pan / skillet and place on high / medium heat. Pat the aubergines dry and then gently lower flesh side down into the oil and cook until golden / brown and soft on both sides. Cook in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Then place aubergine slices on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.

Prepare the Khoresh

  • Pre-heat oven to 140°C (fan oven) / 160°C (conventional) / gas mark 3.
  • Take a shallow casserole pan (with a lid) and place on a medium / high heat. Add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil and heat for about 1 min. Season and then seal the lamb chunks in the pan. Remove the meat from the pan and leave on a plate to rest.
  • Add 2 tbsp of oil to the casserole dish and heat for about 1 min / until the oil glistens. Add the chopped onions and cook until they turn golden / start to caramelise.
  • Add 3 crushed garlic cloves and stir into the onions. Then add 1 tsp of turmeric and stir in. Once evenly distributed and you can smell the aroma, add 3 tbsp of tomato purée and stir in.
  • Add the sealed lamb, followed by the stock, bloomed saffron, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Add some water if you need to ensure the meat is covered by the sauce. Stir and then add lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Let the mixture simmer for about 10 mins. Then turn the stove off. Nestle the aubergine halves into the stew so that they are submerged into the liquid. Place the tomatoes on top. Put the lid on the pan and place in the oven to cook for approx 3 hrs.
  • Half way through, remove from oven and spoon the juices over the aubergine and meat and adjust meat and/or aubergines gently to ensure they are in the sauce. The oil will rise to the top of the stew gravy - feel free to spoon off any excess oil which may have formed on the top. I sometimes gently lay a kitchen paper towel on the surface to soak up any excess oil. Others just mix it back in.
  • Once cooked (lamb should be falling off the bone after the slow cook), serve with rice, salad and yoghurt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Kotlet

Persian lamb patties

Kotlet is a Persian dish made with ground lamb or beef, potato, onion, mixed with turmeric and eggs and fried in a pan. It originates from the word “cutlet” meaning a flat-shaped patty made with ground meat. I have many wonderful memories about this perfect little Persian meat patty and it is probably in my Top 10 of favourite dishes. 

My maman is considered to be the best kotlet maker in our family (I mean the world). From as far back as I can remember, I have memories of her shaping the kotlet in her little hands and frying them on her stove. From the 80’s to present day, those memories are twinned with flash-backs of her various hair-styles. My favourite being the classic 80’s perm in the picture below.

The aroma of the kotlet cooking permeated through the house and bent my sister, father and me to its will. We had to get our hands on at least one of those patties even though my maman was cooking them for a family party (‘mehmooni’) with every single one potentially accounted for. It was a good day (for us) if she was having a clumsy day and a few of the kotlet broke into pieces while she was cooking them. This meant we were legitimately allowed to eat them before the guests arrived, as they had not met the mehmooni standard. But for those times the kotlet Gods were on her side and every patty was perfect, we had to get into stealth mode to try and snaffle one away from the tray they were cooling on.

‘Operation Kotlet’ would begin with each of us waiting for her to be distracted so we could get our prize. Throughout the day she would see her slowly depleting pile of kotlet and would demand which of us had eaten them. I, being the youngest, was the least adept at lying and mostly got the blame. My dad was such a smooth operator that even I believed I had probably eaten his share.

It is now my turn to take the baton and continue the skill of making kotlet but, as with every recipe that is handed down the generations, with the addition of a few personal touches to make this recipe my own. The core ingredients are simple: lamb mince, potato, onion, egg and turmeric. My recipe tweaks include a little garlic and smoked paprika. The resulting kotlet are equally delicious but with a little smokiness to them.

The key to cooking the kotlet is to fry them slowly on a medium / low heat in enough oil for them to be submerged to the edge of the kotlet but not completely under the oil. Also the width of the kotlet is important, too thick –  they end up undercooked. The perfect thickness for your kotlet is about 1 cm, oval in shape, approximately 5 cm in width and 10 cm in length (about the length of a palm). While shaping them, ensure you wet your hands which helps to prevent the kotlet from sticking to your hands.

Traditionally, we serve the kotlet warm and usually as an appetiser or part of main meal. We eat our kotlet as sandwich fillers with warm pitta bread or a crusty baguette, Maast O’Khiar (Persian yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip), fresh crisp lettuce, pickled dill gherkins and fresh tomatoes. My sister and I are also partial to ketchup with our kotlet stuffed in some bread with fresh herbs like tarragon, mint and / or coriander.


Kotlet

Persian lamb patties
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: potatoes, lamb, cutlet
Servings: 20 kotlet
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable oil (for frying the kotlet - you can fry with less oil and then finish off cooking in the oven if you would prefer)
  • 500 g potatoes (Maris Piper is the best) (peeled, boiled and mashed / grated with the fine side of a box grater)
  • 500 g minced lamb (minced leg of lamb no more than 20% fat is the best for kotlet)
  • 1 onion (grated)
  • 1 medium free range egg
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Take a saucepan and boil the peeled potatoes until fully cooked. Then mash or grate with the fine side of a box grater or equivalent.
  • Grate the onion. Squeeze as much liquid out of the grated onion as you can, otherwise it will make the kotlet fall apart while it is cooking.
  • Mix the grated onion and potato with the minced lamb. Add the egg, spices and seasoning and using your hand, mix everything until well combined. The mixture will be sticky.
  • Take a large frying pan and pour enough oil in so that it comes to the edge of the kotlet when frying them. Place the pan over a medium / low heat. The frying pan will need to gently heat up for approximately 10 minutes. Cook the kotlet in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and undercooking the patties.
  • Wet your hands and take about a golf ball amount of the kotlet mixture, form into an oval and fry it in the oil on each side until it turns a dark brown colour. During the frying process prick some small holes into the middle of the kotlet using a fork to allow the hot oil to penetrate through and cook the kotlet properly.
  • Serve warm or cold with bread, yoghurt (or ketchup), salad and / or fresh herbs.

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.

Sabzi Polo ba Mahi

Herbed rice served with grilled salmon

This dish is synonymous with Norooz – Persian New Year. Rice is steamed with saffron, garlic and chopped herbs, usually served with fish and Kuku Sabzi (a herb and egg frittata). In Persian, Sabzirefers to herbs or vegetables; ‘Polorefers to the fact that the rice is cooked with another element mixed in, in this case the fresh herbs. The herbs used in Sabzi Polo vary, but typically include dill, coriander, parsley, Persian chives or the green ends of spring onions and in some cases fenugreek.

Iranians traditionally eat Sabzi Polo with a fried or smoked ‘mahi sefid’ (‘white fish’, the Caspian kutum or Caspian white fish which, as the name suggests, inhabits the Caspian Sea). It’s usually served with pickled garlic, other traditional pickles (‘Torshi’), Salad Shirazi and ‘Naranj’ – a tart and slightly bitter orange, which we squeeze over the fish and rice like a lemon adding a citrus note to the dish. You can buy Naranj from your local Middle-Eastern supermarket. Sainsbury’s has also recently been stocking Naranj (bitter Seville marmalade oranges). Kuku Sabzi is also served alongside the rice on the day, a great alternative should fish not be your thing.

The recipe I have put together is my family recipe for Sabzi Polo and we tend to use a greater amount of fresh herbs compared to others. We also add our chopped herbs to the rice while it is cooking and mix it through before draining. Others add the herbs when layering the rice into their pan pre-steaming.

The accompanying fish is grilled salmon marinated in a simple saffron, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil infusion and smoke sea salt. It is a low key and simple version of cooking the fish accompaniment for the star of this meal, which is the herbed rice. You can make the Sabzi Polo with any fish you want, including smoked fish like many in Iran will eat on the day. You can pan fry, grill, oven bake, poach or steam your fish if you prefer. Ultimately the aromatics of this dish comes from the herbs in the rice so if you want to eat this rice with a simple breaded fish from your local supermarket’s frozen aisle then go for it – no judgment at all! I would recommend some fresh lemon or lime to squeeze over any fish you do serve with the polo, if you cannot get your hands on Naranj.

Due to the herbs, the tahdig (crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot) will come out a dark green-brown as you can see in the picture above so do not panic when you flip the crispy stuff out – it’s meant to be that dark! 

You can make this a vegan dish by serving it with roasted vegetables or smoked tofu fried in a turmeric batter with a saffron, maple syrup, lemon juice and olive oil drizzle (I will write a recipe up for the tofu alternative one of these days – maybe next Norooz – watch this space). During recipe testing I had a fair bit of the Sabzi Polo leftover, so I roasted some purple sprouting broccoli spears with a drizzle of olive oil and smoked sea salt and it was a delicious yet simple and easy accompaniment for the rice which I also served with a Salad Shirazi.

Norooz – Persian New Year and the First Day of Spring (Northern Hemisphere)

Norooz is the day of the vernal equinox and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month of the Iranian calendar (Farvardin). The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year, and families gather together to observe the rituals. Due to this calculation, the day Persian New Year falls upon can vary but generally it is either on the 20th or 21st March. The Persian name translated means ‘New Day.’

Other than eating food centred around fresh herbs (Ash Reshteh, Sabzi Polo ba Mahi, Kuku Sabzi), the festivities and rituals we observe are focussed on letting go of the winter and all the negativity that may be associated with it and looking forwards to new life, prosperity and the general optimism brought by the spring and then the summer months.

In the lead up to the the New Year celebrations, many Iranians will undertake a ritual familiar to many – the ‘Spring Clean.’ I always do a major spring clean and this year was no exception. By day 3 into my efforts my house was messier than when I started, but by the end of the process I felt physically and mentally lighter from the purge of the clutter and the deep clean of the house.

The evening of the last Tuesday before Norooz is the night we celebrate Chaharshanbeh Soori – a festival of fire where we gather together and jump over bonfires. The tradition of jumping over the bonfire originates from people believing that the fire would take their problems, sickness and winter pallor and be replaced by energy and warmth, contributing towards their success for the upcoming year. As we jump, we chant the following words: ‘Zardiye man az toh (my pallor to you); Sorkhiye toh az man (your redness to me).’

Haft-Seen

 
  1. Sabzeh (wheat, barley, mung bean, or lentil sprouts grown in a dish) – symbolising rebirth and growth.
  2. Samanu (sweet pudding made from wheat germ) – symbolising strength and power.
  3. Senjed (Persian Olive / oleaster) symbolising love.
  4. Serkeh (vinegar) symbolising patience.
  5. Sib (apple) – symbolising beauty.
  6. Seer (garlic) – symbolising health and medicine.
  7. Somagh (sumac) – symbolising sunrise.

The Haft-Seen may also include a mirror (self-reflection), candles (enlightenment), eggs (fertility),  goldfish (progress), coins (wealth), hyacinth (spring’s arrival), and traditional confectioneries. A “book of wisdom” such as the Quran (religious text of Islam), or the Book of Kings – the Shanameh of Ferdowsi (an epic and long poem on the Persian Empire), or the Divān of Hafez (an anthology of the famous Iranian poet Hafez’s poems) may also be included.

Music will play and we will eat Sabzi Polo ba Mahi and Kuku Sabzi. Many of us continue the celebrations by having a separate organised event for the wider family and friends at a hotel or restaurant where we dress up and dance the night away.

During the Norooz holidays, we make short visits to the homes of family and friends. Typically, young people will visit their elders first. Visitors are offered tea and pastries, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and mixed nuts or other snacks. Gifts are given from the elders to the younger members of the family (predominantly any person of non-working age i.e. up to 21 years gets a gift and it is usually money).

On the 13th day of the Norooz celebrations we celebrate Sizdah Bedar. Iranians spend the day outdoors. Many will go out for a family picnic in a local park. Come rain or shine we will gather outdoors and celebrate this day – throwing our sabzeh into a nearby river or stream marking the end the Persian New Year celebrations.


Sabzi Polo ba Mahi

Herbed rice served with grilled salmon
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Course: Main Course, Rice Dish, Fish Dish
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: coriander, parsley, dill, salmon
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the Sabzi Polo (herbed rice)

  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 100mls of water)
  • 400 g white long grain basmati rice
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 80 g fresh coriander
  • 80 g fresh dill
  • 80 g fresh parsley
  • The green ends of 5 spring onions
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp melted butter mixed with 3 crushed or minced cloves of garlic

For the mahi (salmon)

  • 4 salmon fillets
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Small pinch of ground saffron (bloomed in 1 tbsp of water)
  • 1 clove garlic (minced or crushed)
  • Smoked Sea Salt and Pepper (to taste - you can use normal salt)

Instructions

  • Marinade the salmon by mixing the olive oil, lemon juice, bloomed saffron, smoked sea salt, pepper and garlic and pouring it over the fish. Massage the marinade into the fillets. Cover and place in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hr. I find the best results are to marinade the salmon for 2 nights.
  • The night before, 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 up to 2 inches above the rice. Leave to soak overnight.
  • Wash all the herbs and spring onions. Remove all the tough woody stems from the herbs and cut the spring onions to remove the green ends for the polo. In batches, pulse the herbs and spring onion ends in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Place the greens in a bowl until you are ready to add to the rice.
  • Fill a large non-stick saucepan 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, stir in the chopped greens, turn the heat off and immediately 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. Add 1 tbsp of the bloomed saffron to the saucepan and mix with the oil to distribute evenly. 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.
  • Reserve about 5 tbsp of rice and layer the rest into a gentle sloping pyramid shape in the saucepan, drizzling the garlic butter on each layer of rice spooned in. Mix the reserved rice with the remaining saffron water and then spread on top of the rice in the saucepan. Pour any remaining saffron water over the rice. Poke 5 holes, evenly distributed, into the rice to the bottom of the pan with the end of a spoon.
  • 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.
  • Take the salmon out of the fridge to come up to room temperature prior to cooking.
  • Heat grill to high. Place the fish in a shallow baking dish, then grill for 5 to 7 mins until cooked through, but still a little pink in the centre, cover and set aside.
  • When the rice is cooked, spoon the saffron coloured rice separately in a bowl and reserve for the garnish. Spoon the rest of the Sabzi Polo on to your chosen dish and plate up your tahdig separately. Garnish with the saffron-coloured rice and serve with the grilled salmon, fresh naranj (or lemons or limes) to squeeze over the fish and rice, Salad Shirazi and Torshi.

Ash Reshteh

Persian noodle soup with herbs & beans

Although we have translated this dish to be described as a soup, Persian ash (pronounced ‘aash’) recipes tend to be a hearty bowl of goodness and are more of a main meal unless eaten in small portions, as many Persians do when offered as a precursor to the main event.

Ash Reshteh is no exception to the rule. A wholesome bowl packed full of Persian noodles (‘reshteh’), kidney beans, chickpeas, green lentils, cooked with fresh herbs and greens and flavoured with kashk (a fermented / preserved food made with the whey left over from cheese-making). The texture of this ash is less soup and more like a chilli and it is not a soup that we eat bread with.

My version of this recipe differs to my maman’s recipe – I don’t use flour to thicken my ash and also I use slightly more herbs than her. The resulting ash feels fresher and lighter than the traditional recipe / method. If you cannot get your hands on Persian noodles, the closest alternative are udon noodles. You can also use spaghetti or linguine. If you are vegan, leave the kashk out and add some freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice to taste. You can also use a dairy-free yoghurt  in addition to the fresh citrus. 

This dish is served during the winter time and at special Iranian events like Chaharshanbeh Soori (the eve of the last Wednesday before Norooz – Persian New Year); and Sizdah Bedar (a festival held marking the end of the Norooz holidays in Iran). The noodles in the ash are supposed to symbolize good fortune for the new year. My next post will cover more details about Norooz and the dish Sabzi Polo ba Mahi (rice layered with herbs and served with fish) which we Persians eat on the day. This post focusses on Chaharshanbeh Soori and Sizdah Bedar, when my family come together to celebrate and eat Ash Reshteh.

Chaharshanbeh Soori

The first event in our Norooz festivities takes place on the evening of the last Tuesday before Persian New Year. It is a Festival of Fire. People in all parts of Iran and those of us who live outside of Iran celebrate this festival by setting up bonfires in almost all the public places in Iran – in our gardens or at organised events for the diaspora community.

We eat Ash Reshteh and other Persian delights cooked by our host and jump over the bonfires. The tradition of jumping over the bonfire originates from people believing that the fire would take their problems, sickness and winter pallor and be replaced by energy and warmth, contributing towards their success for the upcoming year. Therefore, jumping over fire on Chaharshanbeh Soori night is like a purification rite or a phrase familiar to the West  ‘out with old, in with the new.’

As we jump, we chant the following words: ‘Zardiye man az toh (my pallor to you); Sorkhiye toh az man (your redness to me).’

Another tradition is to bang on pots and pans with spoons that are named as ‘Ghashogh Zani,’ with the objective of beating out the last Wednesday of the year.

It is a celebration of good health and light – the end of winter and the beginning of Spring. It is believed that the ritual guarantees the dissipation of the misfortunes and evils and the materialization of hopes and desires for the next year.

Sizdah Bedar

Sizdah Bedar is considered the final day of the Persian new year celebration. It is celebrated on the thirteenth day of Norooz. The festival’s name translated means ‘getting rid of the thirteenth.’ As with many cultures, the number 13 was considered bad luck by Iranians and so they believed that by being outside with nature the bad luck would dissipate. Therefore, on Sizdah Bedar, Iranians spend the day outdoors. Many will go out for a family picnic in a local park where one family member will be entrusted with bringing a pot of Ash Reshteh and the rest of us the sandwiches and other Persian treats!

Come rain or shine we will gather outdoors and celebrate this day – throwing our sabzeh (sprouted lentils or wheat and one of the symbols of Norooz representing rejuvenation and new life) into a nearby river or stream. Other than eating, another ritual for the day is knotting greens. Usually, the young unmarried people knot the green of the sabzeh to find their soulmate prior to throwing it into the water.

See my how to Instagram Reel below:
 


Ash Reshteh

Persian noodle soup
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time2 hrs 50 mins
Course: Soup, Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: ashe reshteh, legumes, spinach, coriander, parsley, dill
Servings: 6 (to 8)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the ash

  • 125 g chickpeas (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 125 g red kidney beans (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 125 g green lentils (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 1 large bunch fresh coriander (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 large bunch fresh parsley (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 large bunch fresh dill (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 bunch spring onions (green ends only)
  • 200 g fresh spinach
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 litres vegetable stock (you can use water which is traditionally used but I like the extra depth of flavour stock brings to the dish)
  • 150 g Persian noodles - reshteh (you can use udon noodles, spaghetti or linguine as an alternative)
  • 3 tbsp kashk (mine are heaped tablespoons - add 1 tbsp at a time and mix and taste each time to see what amount suits your tastes)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

For the garnish

  • 100 ml vegetable oil
  • 1 to 2 large onions (finely sliced)
  • 2 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp kashk (diluted with some water to make it runny for drizzling on the ash)

Instructions

For the Ash

  • Soak your beans, lentils and chickpeas in a bowl of salted water overnight. The morning after, cook the beans and lentils in water by bringing to the boil and then simmering for 30 mins (this aids with making them digestible). Drain and leave to one side until you are ready to cook the Ash Reshteh.
  • Wash all the herbs, spinach and spring onions. Remove all the tough woody stems from the herbs and spinach. Cut the spring onions to remove the green ends for the Ash.
  • In batches, pulse the herbs, spinach and spring onion ends in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Place the greens in a bowl until you are ready to add to the Ash.
  • Take a large stockpot or equivalent and place on a medium / high heat. Add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil. After a minute or so add the finely diced onion and fry until it is tender and turning golden brown.
  • Add the garlic and turmeric and stir until evenly distributed and you can smell the aroma.
  • Drain the bean and lentil mixture and add to the stockpot. Cook for about a minute, stirring gently to coat with the onions, oil and spice.
  • Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to allow the beans to simmer. Place the lid on the pot and cook for approximately 30 mins to 1 hr. Skim off any foam which may rise to the top and stir now and again. To check if the bean mixture is cooked test a chickpea, as they take the longest to cook. The chickpea should be tender with no grainy or chalky texture to it.
  • Once the bean mixture is cooked, add the chopped greens and allow the Ash to simmer for about 30 mins for the greens to wilt. If the Ash is too thick after the greens have wilted, add some water. The texture of the Ash should be thicker than soup like a chilli but not so thick it feels like there is no liquid in it.
  • Then add the noodles - you can snap these to the length you desire. I like mine fairly long so I snap mine in half, if at all. Allow the Ash to cook with the noodles for about 20 to 30 mins. Test a noodle to see if cooked to you preferred texture - we tend to have ours very soft.
  • Then add the kashk 1 spoonful at a time and mix it fully into the Ash. Taste as you go along. Some put less kashk into their Ash and add more to their liking by way of a garnish.
  • As kashk is salty, add any extra salt to your taste and a generous amount of pepper. Then give the Ash a gentle stir and simmer on a low heat until it is evenly heated through.

For the Garnish

  • You can prepare the mint oil and fried onions in advance of / or during the cooking of the Ash.
  • For the mint oil - place a frying pan on a low heat and add 2 tbsp of oil and 2 tsp of dried mint and let the mixture heat through for only 1 minute. Then pour it out into a bowl and set aside for when you are ready to garnish the Ash.
  • For the fried onions - wipe the frying pan used to make the mint oil and place it on a medium heat. Add the remaining oil and let it heat through for about 1 minute. Then add the finely sliced onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring regularly until it turns golden brown and caramelized - about 20 mins. Place the onions on a paper towel to absorb the oil and set aside for when you are ready to garnish the Ash.
  • When you are ready to serve, ladle into bowls, drizzle with some of the diluted kashk, the mint oil and a sprinkling of onions.

Notes

*You can use pre cooked tinned beans and lentils. Use 1 x 400 gram tin of each.

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.

Kashke Bademjan

Aubergine dip with kashk

This dish literally translates as ‘kashk and aubergine.’ Although it is described as a dip, as with many dip-style dishes from the Middle-East, it is substantial and can be eaten as either an appetiser or a main dish. In our family we tend to serve it as a starter with flatbread before the main event at our larger family gatherings. At home, as a family of 3, we eat it as a main course with a hearty salad like tabbouleh, Noon-e Barbari and some fruit for afters as pictured.

We have other delicious aubergine dip-style dishes like Mirza Ghasemi (tomato based with beaten eggs folded through) and Kal Kabob (made with walnuts and pomegranate molasses) both from the North of Iran. But my heart belongs to Kashke Bademjan as it is the one I grew up eating regularly and the depth of flavour that comes from the ingredients coming together is incredible.

There are various iterations of this recipe but the one I have shared with you is the one I have developed and includes aubergines, garlic, turmeric, caramelised onions, dried mint and kashk.

So what is kashk, I hear you ask. Kashk is a range of fermented dairy products used in Iranian, Turkish, Balkan and Arab cuisines. Kashk has been a staple in the Iranian diet for thousands of years.

Persian “kashk” is a fermented / preserved food that comes in liquid or dried form and is traditionally made with the whey left over from cheese-making. It is used in dishes like Ash-e Reshteh (a herb, lentil, bean and noodle soup), Kashke Badamjan (recipe below) and Kaleh Joosh (a soup made with walnuts, onions and mint). In its dried form it needs to be soaked and softened before it can be used in cooking.

The taste of kashk is distinctive and almost indescribable. It is well worth purchasing and not substituting with an alternative, such as yoghurt. Kashk provides a sour, salty, creamy and slightly cheesy flavour to the dishes it is added to. I may not be selling this to you but I promise if you make this dish you will not be disappointed.

When I was growing up, my maman used to have the dried balls of kashk which she would soak in a bowl in preparation for using them in one of dishes above. Apparently before she knew she was pregnant with my sister, a relative surmised she was as she saw her sucking on kashk like they were sweets! Nowadays, you can buy kashk in liquid form in jars from Middle-Eastern food shops or online. I use Kambiz Kashk and buy it online here or by popping into a local Middle-Eastern supermarket.

I fry the aubergines, as do most Iranians when they cook this dish. But if you would prefer not to, instead of following step 2 to 5, you can oven roast the aubergine, after brushing them with a little oil, for about 30 – 40 minutes or until they are cooked through and soft (oven temp – 180°C (fan) / 200°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 6). Also, if you roast your aubergine, you will need to add a little oil to your frying pan at step 6 to cook the garlic.

We garnish the dish with fried onions, a mint-infused oil, diluted kashk mixed with saffron and ground walnuts.


Kashke Bademjan

Aubergine dip with kashk
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: kashk-e bademjoon, kashke bademjan
Servings: 2 (generous portions as a main or 4 as an appetiser)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Vegetable oil (plus more if required)
  • 3 large aubergines
  • 2 large onions (sliced very finely)
  • 5 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 250 ml water
  • 2 tbsp kashk (plus a little more diluted in a little water for the garnish / topping design)
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp ground walnuts
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tsp of water - for decorating the dish - optional)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Peel the aubergines and cut them lengthwise (approximately 1 inch thick slices). Salt them and leave them in a colander for 30 minutes to remove some of the water content. This will help to reduce the amount of oil that is absorbed and to reduce the cooking time required. When you are ready to cook them, dab them with a paper towel to remove the moisture.
  • In the meantime, take 2 tsp of vegetable oil and heat in a small pan on a low heat with 1/2 tsp of dried mint. Let it infuse on the low heat for 10 seconds and then remove and leave until you are ready to garnish the dish. Be careful not to burn the mint.
  • Place a large frying pan on a medium / low heat. Add 2 to 3 tbsp of oil and add the onions with a pinch of salt. Fry them gently until they caramelise and start to turn a little crispy (they will get crispier once removed from the oil). Be careful not to burn them otherwise they will be bitter. Once cooked, remove them and place them on an absorbent paper towel on a plate / bowl for use later.
  • Add half of the remaining oil to the frying pan and fry your aubergines in batches until they are golden brown. Top up the oil in the pan, if required, after frying each batch. You want to make sure the aubergines do not have a green tinge to them and are fully cooked through. Using the back of a fork press down on the aubergine while it is frying to aid the process.
  • When cooked, remove the aubergines from the pan and place them on an absorbent paper towel on a plate / bowl for use later.
  • You can re-use the pan you fried the aubergines in for cooking the next stages but if you do, make sure you give it a wash. Place the pan on a medium / low heat. Some oil will have formed on the top of your aubergine, drip this into the pan - just enough to sauté the garlic.
  • Add the garlic and let it sauté for only 10 seconds. Then add your aubergines and stir until it has mixed with all the garlic.
  • Add the turmeric and 125 ml of water and stir. Then mash the aubergines using a fork or potato masher. Add the rest of the water (125ml) and mash and stir further until it has a stringy texture.
  • Add 1/2 tsp of dried mint, half of your onions (reserve some of the fried onions for the topping / garnish) and 2 tbsp of kashk. Mix until everything is fully incorporated. Taste the mixture and then season further with salt (if required - as kashk is quite salty you may not require any) and pepper. Let the mixture gently heat through and stir occasionally. The dish only needs to be warm for serving.
  • Turn the heat off and spoon the aubergine mixture into a serving dish of your choice. Spoon off any extra oil which may have formed on top before garnishing.
  • Garnish with the fried onions, diluted kashk, saffron water (you can mix some of the kashk with the saffron water to make a yellow kashk as I have in the picture above), mint oil and ground walnuts in any design you like. Serve with flatbreads and salad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Kateh-e Estamboli

Persian easy cook tomato rice

This recipe is an adaptation of the dish ‘Estamboli Polo.’ In my family this dish is vegetarian and is cooked by steaming rice layered with a tomato, onion and potato mixture with saffron and turmeric as the aromatics.

Every Iranian household is likely to have their own variation, with some layering their versions with lamb, beef or chicken. In fact other Iranians may call my family’s version ‘Dami-e-Gojeh Farangi’ but that is the beauty of food – there are no hard and fast rules and it is the recipes we grew up with that are often the dearest.

I wanted a quick version of this dish for my family, one that I could cook up during the week with the last pathetic looking onions, potatoes and tomatoes in my vegetable drawer before my weekly trip to the supermarket. So instead of using the traditional method of cooking Estamboli Polo by draining the rice after par-boiling, I used the kateh method by boiling and steaming the rice without draining the water. The resulting rice is not as elegant as our traditional polo recipes but it is delicious, quick and involves less washing up. Also it still creates tahdig – the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot, which I guess is what most people want to hear!

I have, as always, added a few tweaks to my version including some garlic to the vegetable mix and some chopped parsley and coriander (because they were also the last pathetic looking items at the bottom of my vegetable drawer). The resulting dish from my hodgepodge experiment is delicious. You can, of course, leave out the garlic and fresh herbs which is the traditional version of this recipe.

Perfect when accompanied with a salad like Salad Shirazi, or Maast O’Khiar (Persian yoghurt, mint and cucumber dip), or Torshi and/or fried eggs.


Kateh-e Estamboli

An easy-cook vegetarian rice with potatoes, tomatoes, onions
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Side Dish, Rice Dish, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan option
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 200 g potatoes (peeled and diced into small cubes)
  • 1 medium onion (finely diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed) (optional)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 350 g fresh tomatoes (chopped)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 15 g each of fresh chopped parsley and coriander (optional)
  • Salt and pepper (to season potato and tomato mixture)
  • 2 cups white long grain basmati rice (approximately 400g of rice)
  • 650 ml vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp salt (for the rice)
  • 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).
  • Take a saucepan and add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil and place on a medium / high heat,
  • Add the diced potatoes and fry until they turn golden and a little crispy. Then add the onions and fry until they soften and turn translucent.
  • Then add the garlic, turmeric and tomato purée and stir until evenly distributed in the mixture.
  • Add the chopped fresh tomatoes, the bloomed saffron, fresh herbs and seasoning. Stir and cook for a few minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the mixture until you are ready to add to the rice.
  • Drain and put the rice in a saucepan and add the vegetable stock and 1 tsp of salt (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 forming in the rice (as the water is evaporating), take the temperature down to the lowest setting. Take the potato and tomato mixture and pour into the rice. Gently stir into the rice mix whilst trying to avoid breaking the rice grains.
  • Then 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 45 mins or more. The longer you leave it, the better the crispy layer that forms at the bottom of the pot (tahdig).
  • Once you have come to the end of the cooking time (45 mins or more with the lid on), turn off the heat and dish up the rice on to your plates or serving dish. Plate up your tahdig as well.
  • Serve with salad or yoghurt, and / or eggs.

Borani Laboo

Beetroot Borani

 

Borani is an Iranian appetiser, which is basically a dip made with yoghurt. The most well-know of these dips are Borani Esfenaj (spinach borani) and Borani Laboo (beetroot borani). But you can make borani with any vegetable you want including roasted aubergines and courgettes.

The recipe for Borani Laboo below is an add-on recipe to my Kuku Sabzi post (seen pictured around the borani dip bowl). You can, of course, make and eat this dip without Kuku Sabzi. It is delicious with crisps or flatbread and makes a great addition to a mezze-style meal. The colour of the borani is stunning and has an eye-catching presence on your table of appetisers and other Persian delights.

Beetroot is of exceptional nutritional value with it being an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of fibre, manganese and potassium. But it can taste too earthy to some or as my husband puts it – ‘It’s like eating soil.’ In fact, beetroot isn’t the most loved vegetable in my family unless I make it into this dip and then it gets devoured at a rate of knots with me barely getting a look in! This dip uses Greek yoghurt, garlic, nigella seeds, dried mint, feta, toasted argan oil and red wine vinegar to complement the beetroot and bring out its sweetness.

I recommend buying raw beetroot and boiling them yourself. But if you do want to use pre-boiled ones then avoid the ones cooked in vinegar, otherwise your borani will be too tart. You can make a vegan version by substituting the yoghurt and feta below with a plant-based alternative.


Borani Laboo

Betroot Borani
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Dip, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, beetroot, yoghurt, vegan option
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 4 small raw beetroot
  • 5 tbsp Greek yoghurt (heaped tablespoon)
  • 1 clove garlic (crushed)
  • 50 g feta crumbled
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp toasted argan oil or olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
  • 1 tbsp nigella seeds (plus extra for sprinkling on top)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Wash the beetroot, put in a pan (unpeeled), cover with water and bring to the boil. Cook until tender (approx. 40 mins), topping up the water, if necessary. The beetroot is ready when a sharp knife goes through easily.
  • Drain and leave to cool. Peel the beetroot and grate using the coarse side of a grater.
  • Transfer to a bowl, add the yoghurt, garlic, oil, mint, vinegar, feta, nigella seeds, salt and pepper and mix well.
  • Top with a sprinkling of nigella seeds and a drizzle of oil. Serve with Flatbread.

Kuku Sabzi

Persian herb frittata 

Kuku Sabzi is a frittata-style dish traditionally made with eggs, turmeric, coriander, parsley, dill, chives, barberries and crushed walnuts. It is usually fried on one side and then flipped over and cooked on the other-side and then sliced into triangles. It is served either hot or cold as a starter, side dish or a main course, and is accompanied with bread or rice and either yogurt or salad. 

The key difference between a kuku and a frittata is the egg to vegetable ratio, with the kuku favouring the latter. Besides being delicious, I am fond of this dish for two other reasons.

The first is that it reminds me of the preparation leading up to the parties (mehmoonis) my mum would host. My mum would place a large sheet on the floor of our living room and pile the fresh herbs on top of each other and call my sister and I over to sit with her on the floor and help her pluck the leaves off the bunches. Initially, I would be annoyed at my mum for asking me to help but after a few minutes the peacefulness of the process would absorb me into a sphere of mindfulness. Afterwards, my mum would wash and chop the herbs by hand with the kitchen being filled with the aroma of the herbs. My process, and one my daughter will witness as she grows up, is a lot less peaceful but much quicker with the use of a food-processor!

The second, and one I suspect resonates with most Iranians, is that it is a dish we eat at Persian New Year (‘Norooz’). Norooz is the day of the vernal equinox, and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, usually falling on 21 March each year. The herbs symbolise rebirth, and the eggs symbolise fertility. I will write a post focussing on Norooz including the symbols in more detail soon but for now let’s celebrate this delightful dish!

My version of Kuku Sabzi is baked as I find the fried version more and more difficult to digest as I get older. British chives are not as spicy as Iranian chives so we tend to replace these with the green ends of spring onions. I have also added some baby spinach leaves which results in a bright green kuku as opposed to the darker green colour usually associated with this dish. I use barberries by including them in the kuku mixture so when you bite into them, you get a tart burst of flavour from the berries. You can buy barberries from most Middle-Eastern food shops or, alternatively, buy them online. They are not essential but rather a nice touch. I also sprinkle ground walnuts as a garnish.

To prepare the herbs, wash them and remove the toughest parts of the stems. There is no need to remove all the leaves from all the stems if you have a food-processor to chop the herbs finely for you. Dill and parsley will require a bit more time removing the tough stems unlike coriander which you can usually chuck in and blitz.

I serve mine with a vibrant Beetroot Borani which really modernises the presentation of Kuku Sabzi and you can find the recipe for this delicious dip here.

 


Check out my how to Instagram Reel via link below:


Kuku Sabzi

Persian herb frittata
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course: Main Course, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, egg recipes, coriander, parsley, dill, barberries, walnuts
Servings: 12 (mini kuku)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 100 g fresh parsley (washed and tough stems removed)
  • 100 g fresh coriander (washed and tough stems removed)
  • 100 g fresh dill (washed and tough stems removed)
  • 5 spring onions (green ends only)
  • 1 handful baby spinach
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (1 tbsp for greasing your muffin tin, 2 tbsp for the kuku mixture)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 6 large free range eggs
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp self-raising flour (heaped tbsp)
  • 1 tbsp dried barberries (optional)
  • 1 tbsp ground walnuts (to garnish - optional)

Instructions

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 4.
  • Take a 12-hole muffin tin, grease (using 1 tbsp of olive oil) and line the holes with baking paper. Brush a little olive oil into each recess after lining and leave to one side until you are ready to use.
  • Put the herbs, spring onion ends, spinach, eggs, turmeric, garlic, lime zest, olive oil, self-raising flour, salt and pepper into a food processor and blitz until the herbs are finely chopped.
  • Add the barberries (if using) to the mixture and stir.
  • Take the muffin tin and spoon the mixture evenly between the 12 holes.
  • Place in the oven for 25 mins. To check if  the kuku are done, use a thin skewer / tip of a knife to check one by gently poking to the bottom. It should come out clean.
  • Serve warm or cold sprinkled with ground walnuts alongside a salad, dips and bread as part of a mezze-style meal.

Kuku Sibzamini ba Laboo

Potato and beetroot kuku

Kuku (also spelled kookoo) is a Persian frittata-style dish. It is often vegetarian and is made with beaten eggs and various herbs and / or vegetables folded in. The main difference between kuku and its western counterparts is the ratio of egg to vegetables, with kuku favouring the latter.

It is served either hot or cold as a starter, side dish or a main course, and is accompanied with bread or rice and either yogurt or salad.

The two most well known kuku recipes are Kuku Sabzi (made with herbs and barberries and / or walnuts); and Kuku Sibzamini (made with potatoes). We also have Kuku Kadoo (made with courgettes). Ultimately there are no hard and fast rules about what you should put in your kuku – I have made ones with curried mushrooms; kale and red pepper; bacon, cheese and tomatoes and the list goes on… 

The traditional Kuku Sibzamini recipe is made using mashed potatoes, in some cases grated onion, turmeric, saffron, dried mint and egg. I have always loved Kuku Sibzamini but on a nutritional scale it is not the most nutrient dense dish you can cook for you and your family. To top it off, it is usually fried which can make it a little greasy.

The recipe below is my variation to of Kuku Sibzamini (potato kuku). To make this kuku a little more nutritionally balanced, I have added beetroot, garlic and feta to the recipe. The resulting kuku has a vibrant colour and delicious depth to the flavour. I have also varied the recipe by baking instead of frying the kuku.

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 a great addition to a mezze-style lunch or a sandwich filler. We eat our kuku sibzamini with a mint yoghurt, made by mixing a few teaspoons of mint sauce  with Greek yoghurt; fresh herbs, salad and bread. The picture below is one of our kuku platters.


Kuku Sibzamini ba Laboo

Potato and beetroot kuku
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Main Course, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, egg recipes
Servings: 12 (mini kuku)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp olive oil (1 tbsp for greasing the muffin tin and 2 tbsp for the kuku mixture)
  • 500 to 600 g potatoes (peeled, boiled and mashed - use potatoes suitable for mashing such as Desiree or Maris Piper)
  • 1 medium / large beetroot (boiled, peeled and grated with excess water squeezed out)
  • 80 g feta or equivalent (crumbled or cut into small chunks)
  • 1 small / medium onion (grated with excess liquid squeezed out)
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 to 2 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 4 large free-range eggs
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 4.
  • Take a 12-hole muffin tin, grease (using 1 tbsp of olive oil) and line the holes with baking paper. Brush a little olive oil into each recess after lining and leave to one side until you are ready to use it.
  • Mix all your ingredients for the kuku (mashed potato, grated beetroot, grated onion, crumbled feta, garlic, mint, turmeric, eggs, remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil, salt and pepper) in a mixing bowl.
  • Take the muffin tin and spoon the mixture evenly between the 12 holes.
  • Place in the oven for 25 mins. To check if  the kuku are done, use a thin skewer / tip of a knife to check one by gently poking to the bottom. It should come out clean.
  • Serve warm or cold with salad, dips and bread as part of a mezze-style meal.

Khoresh-e Beh ba Aloo

Chicken stew with quince, sour plums & apricots

This khoresh (stew) is not as well-known as other stews from Iran such as Ghormeh Sabzi (lamb stew with herbs and dried limes) or Fesenjoon (chicken stew with pomegranate molasses and walnuts). This is probably due to the hero ingredient of the stew – quince.

Quince is in season between October and January in the UK and during these months I suspect most Iranian households (like my family) will try to cook this dish a few times before the season ends.

Many of you may be familiar with quince being used to flavour gin, eaten as a paste with cheese or made into jam. For those of you new to quince, let me tell you about this lovely fruit. It is a member of the apple and pear family. It has a yellow, lumpy hard flesh with a bitter flavour when raw. Due to the unpalatable flavour when raw, quince is generally consumed after cooking. When cooked, quince becomes soft and dense and develops a sweet, slightly tart flavour with hints of apple, pear, and citrus. Quince can last up to several weeks if stored in a fridge.

The best quince is grown in Esfahan in Iran and unsurprisingly the dish originates from this beautiful city. There are a few variations of this khoresh  with some cooking it with lamb; using tomato purée; adding lentils. The recipe I have shared below results in a sweet and sour stunning golden stew, an unusual colour by comparison to the other stews we Iranians cook.

I use chicken in my version and cook the stew with dried apricots and dried bukhara sour plums, which add to the sweet and sour notes brought by the quince.

As with most of my recipes for khoresh using chicken, I recommend using skinless chicken thighs on the bone. Another option is to use a whole chicken by quartering it and removing the skin.

I fry the quince separately first to caramelise it which adds a little variation to the stew’s colour. Dried apricots are easily found in supermarkets but the dried sour plums will require a trip to your local Middle-Eastern / Asian food shop or can be bought online. Iranians cook the sour plums with the stones in and just pop them out while eating. Be careful with children to remove them before serving them their portion. You will also need turmeric and saffron which gives the khoresh it’s lovely golden colour.

I also add a little corn flour to thicken my stew, which is not a step we Iranians take for our stews. I wanted more of a gravy-type sauce for this stew and my experiment worked wonderfully. But do feel free to leave this step out.

This dish is delightfully easy to cook with minimal preparation. The final dish is comforting and loved by adults and children alike, so it is a great family recipe. Serve this khoresh with Chelow (Persian steamed rice) and Salad Shirazi. Alternatively serve it with a parsley mash and steamed green vegetables or just eat it with crusty bread.


Khoresh-e Beh ba Aloo

Chicken stew with quince, sour plums and apricots
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr 20 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: chicken, quince, apricots, sour plums
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp butter or ghee
  • 2 medium quince (halved, sliced 1.5 inch thick and with core taken out)
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8 chicken thighs or a whole large chicken (approx. 2 kg - quartered) (on the bone, skin removed)
  • 1 onion (finely diced)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 500 ml water
  • 1 heaped tsp corn flour (dissolved in 1 tsp of cold water)
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 15 small dried apricots (soaked in hot water overnight)
  • 20 dried bukhara sour plums (soaked in hot water overnight)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Take a frying pan, add the butter and place on a medium / high heat. Once the butter has melted, fry the quince until they caramelise on each side. Place them on a plate and put to one side.
  • Season the chicken. Add 2 tbsp of oil to the same frying pan and seal the chicken by frying for a few minutes on each side. Once sealed, place on a plate and put to one side.
  • Take a large casserole dish with a lid (minimum 3.5 litre capacity). Add 2 tbsp of oil and place on a medium / high heat. Then add the diced onions and fry until translucent.
  • Add the turmeric and stir until evenly distributed.
  • Add the water and the bloomed saffron. Then add the corn flour paste. Season the sauce to taste. Add the cinnamon stick.
  • Drain the apricots and sour plums from the water they have soaked in and add to the pan with the honey. Stir gently and distribute the fruit evenly across the pan.
  • Arrange the chicken and the quince in the saucepan. Quince cooks very quickly and can be quite mushy so arrange the quince so it partially rests on the thighs. Once the liquid starts to bubble, turn the heat down to low and place the lid on the pan. Let the stew simmer for 40 mins to an 1 hr. Prior to serving, taste the stew and season further if required.
  • Serve with chelow and Salad Shirazi; or mashed potatoes and some steamed green vegetables; or crusty bread.

 

Zereshk Polo ba Morgh

Barberry rice & saffron chicken

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.


Zereshk Polo ba Morgh

Barberry Rice and Saffron Chicken
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course, Rice Dish
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: family recipes, chicken, saffron
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the Saffron Chicken

  • 4 Chicken Breasts (with skin and drumette - see note above about cut)
  • 1 medium Onion (finely sliced)
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (for the marinade)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 1/2 lemon (juice squeezed)
  • Salt and Pepper (to season)
  • 25 g butter (to cook the chicken)
  • 2 tbsp olive (to cook the chicken)

For the Rice

  • 2 cups white long grain Basmati rice (approx. 400g)
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water for the tahdig - crispy rice formed at the bottom of the pot)
  • 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tsp of rose water and 2 tbsp of water for the saffron rice garnish)

For the Barberries

  • 5 tbsp barberries (washed)
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar (feel free to add more if you want it sweeter)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed saffron in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar

Instructions

Preparation

  • 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.

 

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.

 

Sosis Bandari

Persian spicy sausage served with saffron roasties



I happened upon this dish while I was researching Iranian street food, trying to find the delicacies I had eaten during my travels around Iran in 2004. Now, being a British national, I love a sausage! Usually wrapped in puff pastry and from a good old fashioned bakery. So when this popped up during my investigations, I was delighted – an Iranian sausage dish that was spicy and quick to cook.

Sosis Bandari translated is sausage from the port or port-style sausage. ‘Sosis’ is the Persian word for sausage, and ‘Bandar’ means port. Apparently this dish was invented in one of the northern ports of Iran, called Bandar Anzali where the first sausages were introduced from Iran (probably from Turkey). However it became trendy among southern port residents, and the dish is now associated with Southern Iran. Iranians who live in the south of Iran mostly eat spicy and hot foods and this dish packs a punch due to their revisions to the original recipe. 

There are a number of variations to the recipes with many including potatoes in the spicy mixture. It is commonly served in a baguette-style bread like the Iranian equivalent of a sausage and chip butty. My recipe extracts the potatoes and cooks them separately by making them into saffron flavour roasties to be eaten as a side dish and dipped into harrissa mayonnaise.

I love this dish as it is so easy to cook. The cooking time below is due to the roasted new potatoes but the sosis bandari part only takes about 20 minutes to cook and to be ready to stuff into a roll. I don’t bother removing my sausage from the pan and separately frying the onions and the peppers like other people do – I just chuck it all in for speed, less washing up and it further allows for the peppers and onion to retain a crunch.

The main reason the dish is quick to cook is down to the type of sausage used. I use sucuk – a Turkish sausage which is a dry, spicy and fermented sausage consisting of ground beef, garlic and other spices. They are encased in a red skin, which I peel off before cooking the sausage. You can buy these from most Middle-Eastern food shops. If you cannot source sucuk, then you can use any other type of sausages you want including vegetarian or vegan.

If you are using your local supermarket raw sausages then I recommend cooking them first (as per the instructions on their packet) before slicing them up and adding them to the recipe below – this will also extend the cooking time below. Sucuk can just be sliced and cooked with the rest of the ingredients as per steps below.

I serve this dish as a sandwich with a rustic roll, a side of saffron roasties, pickled cucumbers and some fresh herbs (as always). A cousin of mine recently mooted adding cheese to the sandwich which would also be an excellent addition.


Sosis Bandari

Persian spicy sausage with saffron roasties
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Course: Main Course, lunch
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: easy recipe, sujuk, sucuk, spicy
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the Saffron Roasties

  • 600 g new potatoes (halved – approx 150 grams per person)
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron
  • Water to boil the potatoes
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

For the Sosis Bandari

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • Approximately 300 grams of Sucuk Turkish sausages (remove outer skin / casing and slice diagonally) – see note above re: alternatives to sucuk
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1 large red onion (finely sliced)
  • 1 yellow pepper (finely sliced)
  • 1 heaped tbsp tomato purée 
  • 100 g cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • 100 ml water
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Fresh chopped parsley (to garnish)

For the Harrissa Mayonnaise

  • 8 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp harrissa paste
  • A squeeze of a fresh lime

To Serve

  • 4 crusty rolls / mini baguettes
  • sliced gherkins or Persian pickled cucumbers and / or cheese can also be included in the sandwich

Instructions

Harrissa Mayo

  • Prepare your harrissa mayo by combining the mayo, harrissa paste and lime juice in a small bowl. Cover and place in the fridge until you are ready to serve the dish.

Roasties

  • Take a saucepan and fill with water, add the halved new potatoes and saffron. Turn the heat to high and bring the potatoes to a boil. Boil the potatoes for approximately 8 to 10 minutes - you want them cooked through but not too soft as they will fall apart in the roasting stage.
  • While the potatoes are cooking in the saucepan, pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan) / 200°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 6.
  • Turn the stove off and drain your potatoes. 
  • Take a baking tray and place the potatoes on it. Add the oil, salt and pepper and mix until the potatoes are evenly coated. Place the tray in the oven and roast the potatoes for 30 minutes or until crispy to your liking.

Sosis Bandari

  • While the potatoes are roasting, take a frying pan (about 30 cm diameter) and place on a medium to high heat.
  • Add the sliced sausages to the pan, stirring them until they start to curl, then add the garlic.
  • Add the turmeric and chilli and stir until evenly distributed.
  • Add the sliced onions and pepper and stir until they start to soften.
  • Add the tomato purée and stir until evenly distributed.
  • Add your halved cherry tomatoes and stir.
  • Add the water and stir and lower the heat to let the sosis bandari cook further gently for about 5 minutes. Season to taste and scatter some chopped fresh parsley over the top.

Serving the dish

  • Turn the oven and stove off. Remove the potatoes from the oven and place them on a paper towel to soak up any excess fat.
  • Fill your rolls / baguettes with the sosis bandari (sliced gherkins or Persian pickled cucumbers and / or cheese can also be included in the sandwich).
  • Serve the sosis bandari sandwiches with a side of the roasties and some harrissa mayo to dip them in.

Persian Delights

Rose water & pistachio cupcakes

I first made these cupcakes over 10 years ago for a friend’s wedding and they have been a firm favourite ever since.

Cupcakes enjoyed a lot of attention and glamour following the episode in Sex and the City featuring Magnolia Cupcakes. The UK saw Violet’s Cakes, Hummingbird Bakery and Lola’s Cupcakes as the UK’s representation in the delicious world of luxury cupcakes. For about 5 minutes, I considered the possibility of starting my own cupcake business until I did a few weddings and charity events for friends and realised I needed a holiday to recover from all the baking and decorating.

I experimented with many flavours but these were the favourite among my family. Not surprising really as they are flavoured with Rose Water and pistachio. Had I found a use for saffron in the recipe, then I would have had the holy trinity of Persian desserts! But I felt the pink and ivory tones were perfect for the cupcakes’ presentation and that the yellow effect of incorporating saffron would not have been as aesthetically pleasing.

If you are using the traditional fairy cake tin for your cupcakes, then the recipe below will yield 24 cupcakes.  If you are using the deeper cupcake tins (like I do), which are also used for muffins, then the recipe below will result in 12 cupcakes.

For the decoration, I used crushed fresh pistachio slivers and edible rose petals, which are both available from Iranian and Middle-Eastern food stores. If you cannot get your hands on rose petals then crushed fresh pistachios are equally lovely for decorating the cupcakes. You can make more elaborate / delicate decorations for your cupcakes, the reel below which I posted on my Instagram account has the version I made for various weddings over the years.

 

 

 


Persian Delights

Rose water and pistachio cupcakes
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Dessert, Sweet Treats
Cuisine: Persian, British, Cross-cultural
Keyword: cupcakes
Servings: 12 large cupcakes
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Cake Batter / Sponge

  • 225 g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 225 g caster sugar
  • 4 medium free range eggs (room temperature)
  • 225 g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tbsp rose water (depending on how floral you want it)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp ground fresh pistachios

Buttercream Icing and Decoration

  • 250 g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 450 g icing sugar
  • Pink food colouring (if you want your cupcakes to have a pink tint - I do a mix of ivory and light pink cupcakes)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tbsp rose water
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • Ground pistachios and edible rose petals (for decoration)

Instructions

For the Cupcake Sponge

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas mark 4. Line a 12-hole cupcake tin with cases (deep fill cupcake tin).
  • In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light in colour and fluffy.
  • Crack the eggs one by one and beat each one in before adding the next.
  • Add the vanilla extract and rose water. Then sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and gently fold into the mixture.
  • Add your ground pistachios and again gently fold into the mixture.
  • Divide the mixture equally into your cupcake cases and place in the oven for 20 to 25 mins. To check if  the cupcakes are done, use a thin skewer to check one by gently poking to the bottom. It should come out clean of cake batter. Leave the cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the Buttercream Icing and Decoration

  • Make the buttercream by beating the butter until light in colour and then sift the icing sugar gradually and beat until fully mixed.
  • Then add the vanilla extract, rose water and milk and mix. I halve my icing mixture and add pink food colouring to one batch and leave the other half an ivory colour. 
  • Make sure your cupcakes have cooled and then pipe or spread your icing onto the cupcakes.

Shab-e Yaldā Chicken Wraps

Sticky pomegranate chicken wraps

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.  


Shab-e Yaldā Chicken Wraps

Sticky pomegranate chicken wraps
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time55 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian, Fusion
Keyword: easy recipe, chicken wrap
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the chicken

  • 8 free-range chicken thighs (skin-on, bone-in)
  • 1 large red onion (finely sliced)
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tbsp sriracha chilli sauce
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • Juice of half an orange
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

For the Moosir Mayo

  • 5 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 5 to 7 discs of dried moosir (rehydrate, mince and add to mayo as per note above). Alternatively 2 garlic cloves (pour boiling water over them and leave for 5 minutes before mincing and adding to mayo)

To Serve

  • 8 large tortilla wraps
  • Crunchy lettuce (Romaine or iceberg - shredded)
  • Torshi Soorati or other pickle of your choice
  • Fresh coriander, mint and parsley (chopped) and pomegranate seeds (for garnish and sprinkling in the wraps)

Instructions

  • 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. 

Omelette Irani

Persian tomato omelette

Usually eaten at breakfast or as a brunch option, this dish is less omelette and more scrambled eggs despite its name. It is incredibly simple to cook and can be eaten as a lunch or dinner option. It is probably the most well-known of all the breakfast-style egg dishes with many cafes and restaurants serving it in Iran. I guess you can call it the Iranian version of shahshuka. 

I love tomatoes, from slicing them up and putting them in a sandwich to slow roasting them for hours. They are quite perfect and reveal layer upon layer of flavour the more you cook them. This dish satisfies my fondness for the perfect red berry as it uses a lot of fresh tomatoes and a healthy dollop or two of tomato purée cooked down to a sweet base for the omelette. The tomato to egg ratio is quite high so the resulting texture is creamy and, like so many recipes from this part of the world, comforting.

Serve this dish with some kind of flatbread, a sprinkle of fresh herbs (coriander, basil or parsley or all of them – whatever takes your fancy) and Persian pickled cucumbers for an authentic experience. When we have ours as a dinner option we serve it with side of fries or chunky chips which is equally satisfying.

 


Omelette Irani

Persian tomato omelette
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Breakfast, Main Course, Brunch
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: tomatoes, vegetarian, egg recipes, omelette gojeh farangi
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion (finely diced)
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed / minced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 10 g fresh coriander (leaves and stalks chopped finely)
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 500 g cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • 125 ml water
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 8 free range eggs
  • Chopped fresh coriander leaves to sprinkle as a garnish

Instructions

  • Take a large frying pan, add the olive oil and place it on a medium / high heat.
  • Add the onions and cook until they turn golden.
  • Add the garlic, all the spices and herbs and stir until their aromas are released.
  • Then add the tomato purée and stir into the mixture and cook for a few more minutes.
  • Add the halved cherry tomatoes and 125 ml of water and stir. Once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low / medium to allow the mixture to simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the cherry tomatoes have broken down and the mixture is looking like a sauce, add the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Take 4 of the eggs and crack them into a bowl and beat them. Then pour into the tomato mixture in the pan and stir in gently to distribute evenly. You want the beaten eggs to be mixed into the tomatoes but not completely scrambled or cooked through.
  • Make 4 holes evenly distributed in the tomato mixture. Crack the remaining eggs into the holes.
  • Cover the pan and cook on a medium / low heat for about 5 to 7 minutes depending on how runny or cooked you prefer the eggs. Once the eggs are cooked to your liking, turn the heat off.
  • Season the eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper and sprinkle some chopped fresh coriander leaves on the dish prior to  serving with flatbreads, Persian pickled cucumbers and / or fresh herbs.

Panir Bereshteh

Scrambled Eggs with feta & dill

Breakfast is probably my favourite meal of the day. I wake up seeking a savoury dish most mornings. I have never been a cereal, fruits or yoghurt breakfast fiend and I am one of the rare people that feels hungry within half an hour of eating porridge. When we are on holiday you can often find me at the cooked section of the buffet or asking for a Full English – just as long as there are eggs available, I am a happy human.

There are a number of Iranian breakfast-style egg dishes to dip in and out of. I have previously posted the recipe for Nargessi (Persian spinach and eggs) and I will be posting more in due course. The Persian variations to familiar breakfast recipes have provided a great deal of variety to my breakfast choices and I hope recipes like this one will do the same for you.

Panir Bereshteh is a delicately flavoured old recipe from Gilan Province, in northern Iran, which 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 name of the dish translated means ‘crispy cheese’ (Panir – cheese, and Bereshteh – crispy), but the actual dish is not crispy as the cheese melts to a creamy sauce while cooking, before the eggs are added.

This recipe is a great addition to your breakfast or brunch catalogue of recipes with the dill and feta resulting in fresh and light flavours. We often eat this as a Persian version of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon as the flavours complement each other perfectly or with tomatoes and cucumbers, as pictured, if you are a veggie.


Panir Bereshteh

Scrambled Eggs with feta & dill
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Total Time10 mins
Course: Breakfast, Brunch
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: egg recipes, easy recipe
Servings: 2
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp butter or ghee
  • 1 garlic clove (crushed) (optional)
  • 80 g feta cheese
  • 2 spring onions (finely sliced)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 4 large free-range eggs (beaten)
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill (chopped and a further pinch to garnish)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Add olive oil and butter to a frying pan and heat on a medium heat until the butter has melted. Add crushed garlic and stir until aroma released.
  • Add feta cheese and let it cook down until it has melted into a creamy mixture.
  • Reduce heat to low and add spring onion and stir gently.
  • Add turmeric and stir gently pushing the creamy mixture evenly across the pan, ready for the egg mixture.
  • Add dill to beaten eggs and then pour into the frying pan, tilting the pan slightly from side to side so the mixture spreads equally. Increase the heat to medium.
  • As the eggs start to firm, take a spatula and stir gently to the preferred consistency. Turn heat off and serve on its own or with smoked salmon, flat bread or toast.

Khoresh Karafs (sabz)

Lamb, herb and celery stew

Winter is the season of Persian stews and this is a lovely introduction if you are new to Persian cuisine. Persian stews are relatively low maintenance to cook, which is a bit of a relief as the accompanying rice (chelow) requires attention and precision to create the fluffy grains and moreish Tahdig.

We have two versions of Khoresh Karafs in my family. The first one, the subject of this post and the better known version, is cooked with herbs. The second one is cooked with tomatoes and I will do a separate post on the red version in due course. In my big fat Persian family, we refer to them by their colour: Khoresh Karafs-e-Sabz (‘sabz’ means green in Farsi); and Khoresh Karafs-e-Ghermez (‘ghermez’ means red in Farsi).

The ingredients for this khoresh (stew) are simple and easy to source: onion, lamb, celery, parsley, mint, garlic, fresh lime juice, turmeric and saffron. Every household has its own variation and mine differs from others as I use more mint in my version. The resulting khoresh is lighter and fresher in flavour. The celery is also an equal star of the show and adds a delicious peppery and savoury flavour to the dish. So often celery is hidden in dishes to flavour them but in this case it is a headliner, where it deserves to be.

My family cook our stews with lamb or chicken but I have noticed our US and Canadian counterparts use beef. You can certainly use beef but make sure it is the cut of beef best for stewing i.e. braising beef such as skirt, chuck or blade. In the case of this recipe, the UK has excellent quality lamb so, unless you are not keen on it, it is the best meat to use to complement the herbs. The best cut of lamb to use for this recipe is from the leg and from a butcher. Ask for the leg to be trimmed of the outer layers of fat and to be cut into stew size pieces with the bone. I often buy a full leg of lamb chopped into chunks for stews and then I create separate portions (equivalent for a family of 4, ranging from 600 grams to 1kg depending on the bone to meat ratio) and freeze the lamb portions until I am ready to cook. The slow cooking of the khoresh results in the lamb falling off the bone and melting in your mouth and the stew will be more flavoursome due to the bone broth created.

If you are vegetarian or vegan then other vegetables of your choice which complement the herby flavours and/or meat substitutes such as jackfruit, tofu or quorn are great alternatives.

Although supermarkets have an excellent selection of herbs available, I tend to buy my big bunches of herbs from my local Asian supermarket. Usually it works out to two large bunches of parsley (approximately 250 grams) and one large bunch of mint (approximately 150 grams).

I hope this dish becomes a favourite for you as it has for my family. As with all Persian stews, the flavour continues to mature and intensify if you leave it for a day before you reheat and serve.  This is, therefore, a dish you can make on a Sunday evening and tuck into later in the week reducing the time spent in the kitchen and washing up afterwards. Serve it with chelow and either torshi or a salad with a citrus dressing.

My husband recently asked me why Iranians referred to the vegetable and/or fruit element in the names of most of our stews and not the meat. For instance this stew translated is celery stew, there is no reference to the lamb. Khoresh Bademjan, despite being made with lamb, only refers to the aubergine (bademjan). Khoresh Beh ba Aloo refers to the quince (beh) and plums (aloo) despite either being cooked with chicken or lamb. There are exceptions such as Khoresh Gheymeh (a stew made with lamb, yellow split peas and dried limes) and Khoresh Fesenjan (a stew made with chicken or duck with walnuts and pomegranate molasses) which have their own etymology but I will save that history lesson for another time!

Now I don’t know the actual answer so as my husband and I discussed the matter I concluded the position on the following assumptions:

  1. It is a given that all or most of our stews have meat in them; and
  2. It is the addition of these vegetables, herbs and/or fruits that change the flavours of the dish given that the core ingredients and spices are often the same e.g. onion, either lamb or chicken, turmeric and saffron.

The variation of these vegetables, herbs or fruits should get top billing in the name of the stews as ultimately it is these hero ingredients that change the flavour profile.


Khoresh Karafs

Lamb, herb and celery stew
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time2 hrs
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: mint, parsley, lamb, celery
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 5 tbsp oil or butter or ghee
  • 250 g fresh parsley
  • 150 g fresh mint
  • 1 large head of celery (about 7 to 10 stalks cut into 2 to 3 inch chunks)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 0.6 to 1 kg lamb on the bone (preferably leg, portioned into chunks approx. 2 to 3 inches width)
  • 600 ml water or vegetable stock
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • Juice of 1 to 2 fresh limes
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Take the herbs and remove leaves from the stalks, discard the stalks, and place the leaves in a colander. Wash the leaves and let the water drain out in the time you are working through the next steps of the recipe.
  • Finely dice your onion.
  • Take a casserole dish / saucepan which has a lid and a minimum capacity of 3.5 litres and place it on a medium to high heat. Add 1 tbsp of the oil / butter / ghee and brown the lamb and remove from the pan.
  • Add 2 tbsp of the oil / butter / ghee and then add the diced onions. Cook the onions until they have turned golden (approx. 10 minutes).
  • Add the crushed garlic cloves and stir, being careful that the garlic does not turn brown and/or burn.
  • Add the lamb and stir.
  • Add the turmeric and stir until distributed evenly.
  • Then add the water or vegetable stock and bloomed saffron (the liquid should just cover the meat so adjust if necessary), place a lid on the pan and turn down the heat to low and let the meat simmer.
  • In the meantime, take the herbs and finely chop them making sure to mix the mint and parsley until it is evenly distributed. Feel free to use a food processor to chop the herbs but pulse the herbs until they are chopped. If you over-process the resulting herbs will taste bitter.
  • Then take a frying pan and add 1 tbsp of the oil / butter / ghee and put on a medium/low heat. Add your chopped herbs and stir until the herb mix has softened, being careful not to burn it. A few minutes will suffice. Then add the herb mix to the lamb and stir. Replace the lid.
  • Take the celery and chop into 2 inch chunks. Sauté the celery on a medium heat in the frying pan, used for the herbs with the remaining tbsp of oil / butter / ghee, for no more than a few minutes. Just enough for the celery to take on some heat from the pan but not soften. Turn the heat off under your frying pan and add the celery to the lamb and herb mixture.
  • After 5 minutes of simmering, add the fresh lime juice (start with half the lime and then add more), salt and pepper and adjust according to taste.
  • Continue simmering the stew for a minimum of an hour, stirring gently every 15 minutes and checking the softness of the meat - ideally you want the meat to be falling off the bone.
  • When ready, turn off the heat and serve with chelow and either torshi or a salad with a citrus dressing.

 

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.

Eshkeneh

Persian Onion & Egg Drop Soup

Eshkeneh originates from the Khorasan region of Iran – the east side. My mother and her family are from Mashhad, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘capital of Khorasan’, so this soup was a regular feature in her childhood. There are many variations of the recipe for Eshkeneh. If you have tried it before, you may be more familiar with the version that results in a golden soup with flecks of green from the fenugreek leaves. One of the many variations is Eshkeneh made with the addition of tomatoes and this is the recipe I have shared below. 

This soup reminds me of my Aunty on my mother’s side. She was a lovely, glamorous yet incredibly earthy and sassy woman. Before all these young women knew how to pose in photos to emphasise and de-emphasise certain parts of their body on social media, my Aunty was trailblazing in the 80’s with the hands on the hip pose for all Kodak moments.

She and her family lived with us on and off in my childhood and she was often the first face I would see in the morning, smiling and incredibly loving. She used to sing songs to me to emphasise how much she cared about me, changing the words in Persian pop songs to feature my name. A powerhouse of a personality whose loss we felt deeply and still do.

We have a legacy and a future of strong women in my family with many generations of women pursuing careers whilst navigating the challenges of motherhood. And my aunt was one of these women. It was my aunt and my mother who taught me that women can be anything and everything and that there are no external limitations just our own minds. Our family is matriarchal to it’s core and to no surprise I see this strength and determination in my own daughter.

I remember the first time she introduced me to this soup.  She had to convince the 8 year old me to give it a go. I was won over by the first spoonful. The combination of the tomatoes, fenugreek, onion, potatoes and egg were dreamy. It is a real winter warmer and an easy soup to knock up for a quick lunch or light dinner. As with all Persian food, leaving it a day allows for the flavours to intensify so don’t poach the eggs in the soup until you are ready to tuck into a bowl of it. Traditionally the eggs are cooked until the egg yolks are hard, but I like my eggs gooey so I cook them for about 2 minutes in the simmering soup.


Eshkeneh

Persian onion and egg-drop soup
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: tomatoes, vegetarian, eggs, fenugreek
Servings: 2
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the Soup

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil / butter / ghee
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 1 clove garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (crush a little if the leaves are large)
  • 1 large potato (finely diced - 1 cm cubes)
  • 1 medium tomato (chopped)
  • 600 mls water
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • A squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 large free range eggs

For the Chive Oil Garnish

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • A handful of fresh chives
  • A squeeze of lemon juice

Instructions

  • Take a medium size saucepan and place on a medium / high heat. Add the oil and then add the onion. Stir and cook the onion until translucent and starting to turn golden in colour. 
  • Add the garlic and stir.
  • Add the turmeric and stir into the mixture.
  • Add the tomato puree and stir until evenly distributed. Then add the dried fenugreek leaves and stir into the mixture.
  • Add the diced potato and stir gently for a few minutes, making sure the potatoes do not stick to the pan.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes and stir. Then add the water. Once the soup starts to bubble lower the heat to low and let it simmer for 20 minutes minimum. Check in now and again to stir occasionally.
  • Season according to taste.
  • Place the olive oil, finely chopped fresh chives and lemon juice in a bowl and mix and put to one side to garnish the soup when ready to serve.
  • Prior to serving, and when the soup is simmering, crack the eggs into the soup as far away as possible from each other so they don't merge. Poach 2 mins for soft; 4 mins for medium; and above 5 mins for hard. Turn off the heat and serve in bowls with the lemon and chive oil drizzled on top and flatbread to dip.

Kabab Tabei

Pan cooked lamb kofte kababs with roasted tomatoes

We ate Kabab Tabei frequently as a child as it was a quick and easy way to cook up a dish similar to the well known Kabab Koobideh. If you have ever eaten at a Persian restaurant or have been invited to a BBQ at an Iranian’s home, then you will be familiar with the long metal skewers of minced lamb cooked to juicy perfection over a charcoal flame.

This is the easy version, with no skewers required, and can be eaten all through the year come rain, wind or shine. It’s cooked in a pan and other than the need to tenderise / marinate the meat for a minimum of 4 hours (preferably overnight) it is a quick and easy dish.

I use supermarket minced lamb with 20% fat content which is readily available at all the familiar names in the UK.

Continuing the theme of quick and easy Persian cooking, I tend to eat these kababs with Kateh or Chelo (Persian rice) and Salad Shirazi as pictured. They can also be eaten with flatbreads, salad, chilli and garlic sauce with a side of chips as part of a fake-away style meal!

See my how to reel on instagram via the link below.


Kabab Tabei

Pan cooked lamb kofte kababs with roasted tomatoes
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: lamb, kebabs, easy recipe
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 500 g lamb mince (approx. 20% fat)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tbsp of water)
  • 1 tsp tomato purée
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp sumac
  • 500 g small or cherry tomatoes (on the vine)
  • Drizzle of olive oil (for the cherry tomatoes)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Put the minced lamb in a mixing bowl.
  • Grate the onion and squeeze most of the juice out. This will ensure the kebab does not fall apart when cooking but will tenderise the meat and be juicy once cooked.
  • Add the grated onion, garlic, turmeric, saffron water, tomato purée, and salt and pepper to the bowl with the mince. Knead the mixture well for a few mins.
  • Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for no less than 4 hrs but preferably overnight. Take the meat mixture out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to cook it.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C (fan oven) and drizzle olive oil over the cherry tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Place in an oven tray and roast for 20 minutes.
  • Shape the meat mixture into patties of your choice. I shape them into an oval shape about the length and width of my hand (they will shrink a little while cooking).
  • Coat a frying pan with the tablespoon of oil and put on a medium / high heat. After 2 minutes, place the kababs in the pan.
  • Sprinkle some of the sumac on the uncooked side and wait until the meat releases water and the water dries out in the pan before flipping.
  • Sprinkle sumac on the cooked side. Wait until the kababs release further water and it is cooked off. Turn off the heat.
  • Serve the kababs with your roasted tomatoes and rice or bread.

Notes

If you like your kababs spicy then try my Kabab Tabei-e-Tond (‘Tond’ means spicy in Farsi). Follow the recipe and method as set out above but at step 3 replace the tomato purée with 1 tsp of Harissa paste or 1 tsp of biber salcasi (Turkish spicy tomato paste), which you can buy from any local supermarket, and 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh coriander.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nargessi

Persian Spinach & Eggs

This is a simple breakfast, brunch or light dinner dish that my mum frequently cooked during my childhood. My love for spinach and other greens probably comes from this dish being introduced early as a child. 

There is a lot of advice out there regarding the impact of the early introduction of varied and bitter flavours to babies during the weaning phase, such as kale and spinach, to ensure they grow up to to eat greens and have a diverse palate. I can certainly vouch for that as I gave my daughter pureéd frozen Brussels sprouts during her weaning stage, I did heat them up but, even so, both my husband I nearly gagged when we tried it. She, on the other hand, guzzled it down like it was cake and now, at the ripe old age of one, she didn’t bat an eyelid at the introduction of Nargessi and even used her hands to spoon the spinach and egg into her mouth.

Nargessi gets its name from the narcissus flower. The egg white and yolk representing the petals and the corona of the flower. It is a nutrient dense dish and if you serve it with rice as a lunch or dinner option, perfectly balanced for the whole family. The quality of the eggs you use is so important for many reasons from the treatment of hens to the aesthetics of this dish. As you can see the eggs I have used have a rich orange yolk and are from well-treated and well-fed hens. The combination of organic, free-range and cared for hens is often the key to achieving these rich yolks.

I tend to eat mine as a weekend breakfast or brunch option with buttered sourdough toast or Persian flatbread (Noon-e Barbari) or Turkish Simit (as pictured), a side of roasted cherry tomatoes or a dollop of Greek yoghurt. 

We love a cooked breakfast in our household but the Full English can be overindulgent and take a while to cook. This dish is a lovely veggie alternative and quick to rustle up.

I use a lot of spinach, but feel free to revise the spinach amount down. Also if you want a spicier version, then add some dried red chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper at step 3 below. You can also use frozen spinach, you will just need to sauté it for longer to cook off the water.


Nargessi

Persian Spinach & Eggs
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course: Breakfast, Brunch
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, egg recipes, spinach, nargesi
Servings: 2 (to 4)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil / ghee / butter
  • 1 onion (finely sliced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional)
  • 150 g baby leaf spinach (washed)
  • 4 large free range eggs
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Place a frying pan on a medium to high heat and add the oil / ghee or butter.
  • Add the onion and sauté until golden.
  • Add the garlic and then the turmeric and stir.
  • Add the spinach, stir and cook until wilted. Season the spinach mixture with the salt and pepper.
  • Make 4 holes in the spinach and crack the eggs into them. Cover with a lid and let the eggs cook for 5 to 8 minutes until the eggs are firm but the yolk is still runny (unless you prefer a hard yolk, then cook for a further 3 to 5 mins).
  • Season the cooked eggs. Turn off the heat and tuck in. Serve with bread, roasted cherry tomatoes and / or Greek yoghurt.