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: lunch, Main Course
Cuisine: Fusion, Iranian, Persian
Keyword: frittata, kookoo, light lunch, mezze
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: Appetiser, Main Course
Cuisine: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: cutlet, lamb, potatoes
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 and 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: Fusion, Iranian, Persian
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.

Growing up in the UK my maman would cook two types of fish to serve alongside the Sabzi Polo: the first being a fried white fish (like grey mullet) in a light batter; or grilled salmon for the health conscious. As a kid, the smell of fish frying from the early hours in the morning used to torment me. I hated fish until I made myself overcome my fear when I was seventeen. When my maman would fry the fish, I would lock myself away in my bedroom slowly accustomising myself to the smell with the windows wide open until I could find the courage to open the door and step outside. Now, I love fish but those years of fish fear were character building.

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 and olive oil infusion. To emulate the smoked fish flavour, I use a smoked sea salt to season my fish before serving. 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: Fish Dish, Main Course, Rice Dish
Cuisine: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: coriander, dill, parsley, 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

  • 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.
  • Marinade the salmon by mixing the olive oil, lemon juice, bloomed saffron, 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.
  • 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. Add your smoked sea salt (or normal salt if not using) and 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 and 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.


Ash Reshteh

Persian noodle soup
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time2 hrs 50 mins
Course: Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: ashe reshteh, coriander, dill, legumes, parsley, spinach
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)
  • 125 g red kidney beans (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other chickpeas and lentils)
  • 125 g green lentils (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other chickpeas and beans)
  • 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 water overnight.
  • 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 continuously 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 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.

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: Iranian, Persian
Keyword: vegan, vegetarian
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.