With the arrival of fall, not only come Halloween, Thanksgiving (and my birthday), but also glorious squashes! I don’t know too many people who would pass on a well-prepared butternut squash dish.
Versatile in so many ways: you can eat squashes raw by shredding them into salads, fry them up, batter them like Tempura, roast them in the oven, or puree them and mash them like potatoes.
Butternut squashes are a prized vegetable in Persian cuisine. They are often pan-fried and added to a variety of stews, ranging from tangy to sweet. They can be accompanied by anything from yellow split peas to Persian golden plums, and of course, lamb, beef or chicken.
If you can put it in a stew, you can make a kuku out of it too!
In this dish, the butternut squash is cooked gently and various warming spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and cumin are added. Eggs and caramelized onion are then added to create a soft batter-like consistency that is then bound by rice flour. The result: naturally sweet and creamy savory kuku pieces that are sure to be a winner at any table, and more specifically at Thanksgiving dinners!
Here is another dish in the kuku series. But this kuku is quite special, as it highlights a vegetable that has been called the potato of Iran: none other than eggplant. Eggplant is such a unique vegetable, and – as my beloved cooking teacher would say – eggplant is a prima donna ingredient, and I could not agree more!
Eggplant tends to bring out strong opinions in people, whether you love to love them or love to….not love them! As a child, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat this vegetable. When you grow up in a culture that celebrates eggplants the way ours does, you have to get creative and find a way to eat around the eggplants in stews or kuku that mom would make.
Many people have an issue with the texture, and then there are the flavor and the taste. Some believe that eggplants are so bitter that you have to resort to all kinds of previous treatments. And, if I may be so bold as to say, many don’t know how to cook this vegetable until you accept and accommodate its prima donna qualities!
Eggplants need special attention and focus: they need to be at the front and center of the stage, and to be cooked all on their own. In other words, don’t cook the eggplant in the same pan with carrots or potatoes or broccoli or any other vegetable. Eggplants need to be blended and mixed into the dish after they’ve been cooked on their own: that is really the only way to treat them to ensure good texture and flavor.
Also, eggplants are not a diet food! They are cooked to perfection only with an amount of oil that will have some people rolling their eyes! So, when I crave this vegetable and cook it appropriately, I have to accept that I will be skipping ice cream or baklava after my eggplant dish!
I am cuckoo for kuku! Come to think of it, all Iranians are cuckoo for kuku! So what exactly is kuku that has gotten a whole nation and an entire race of people to fall madly in love?
Well, you say frittata, and I say kuku; you say (Spanish) tortilla, I say kuku . . . and we are saying the same thing – almost! Kuku is an Iranian egg-based dish that has a combination of different vegetables and/or meat mixed into the egg mixture and is baked or pan-fried to create a light and fluffy savory delight.
Here are some of the more popular kuku dishes:
Kuku seeb-zamini: potato kuku
kuku sabzi: fresh herbs kuku with barberries and walnuts