Spinach, parsley and mint sauté with poached eggs

Nargesi

نرگسی

A peasant food, at its core! And let’s face it, I’d eat like a peasant any day when the dish tastes this rich and yummy, and is yet very simple, quick and inexpensive!

Nargesi’s origin is back in the Caspian Sea region of Iran, where produce and vegetables are abundant. Spinach is a cherished and prized leafy green that is not only eaten raw in salads, but also cooked in various stews. It is a common belief in Iran that spinach adds flavor and more importantly a certain level of viscosity to stews.

However, it is also believed that spinach adds a certain level of grittiness or chalkiness. Not to worry, though: Iranians have a remedy for that too! Spinach is almost exclusively added to dishes in the company of fresh herbs (sabzi). Herbs not only reduce spinach’s chalkiness, but also make it more appetizing and aromatic.

In this dish, spinach is combined with parsley and mint to achieve a flavorful balance and a pleasant mouth experience.

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Butternut squash and walnut kuku patties

Kuku kadu halva-ee

کوکو کدو حلوائی

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!

Gratitude!

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Cumin Turmeric Rice Pilaf layered with Chickpeas and Potatoes

Zireh polo

زیره پلو

Today I found myself wanting to stay close to home and do all kinds of domestic things. After the chores had been knocked off one by one, I was still longing to do something comforting and truly homey.

Naturally, I ended up in the kitchen, and I started to explore some less well-known Persian recipes. I found myself changing them around just a little to suit my craving for comfort food.

The result of this pursuit was this rice pilaf, based on a dish that originated in the Kerman province of Iran, on the eastern side of the country. The recipe I came across doesn’t have any meat or beans in it; as it is traditional with Persian dishes, the protein is often cooked separately and served alongside of the dish. Alternatively, I can totally see this dish accompanied by a couple of sunny side up eggs, with turmeric sprinkled on top, of course!

I opted to make this dish vegetarian by using chickpeas, but I would venture out and say you could also use lamb, beef, chicken, or prawns for the protein. Enjoy exploring while blending cultures and flavors!

Exploration!

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Yogurt with Persian shallots, garlic and mint

Maast-o Museer

ماست و موسیر

This is another gem in the Persian yogurt series. Yogurt plays such a significant role in the cuisine, and is always there to accompany a flavorful layered rice or well-seasoned stew.

The star of this yogurt dish is Museer, a Persian shallot. Museer is best described as a mix between an elephant garlic and a shallot, and is packed with flavor, aroma and pungency.

This variety finds its roots in the the south eastern region of Iran, in the foothills of the Zagros mountain range. However, its popularity has spread throughout Iran and it has become another staple on the Persian table.

I mostly associate eating this yogurt with trips north to the Caspian Sea region. Whether this belief has actual merits or not, it has always been said that you can eat more garlic and not feel awkward about your breath when you are by the Caspian Sea, where the weather is tropical, humid and delightfully warm!

I made this yogurt today in Seattle’s mid 70’s degree Fahrenheit weather under partially cloudy skies and with very little humidity in sight! Far, far away from the magical power of the Caspian Sea to shield me from the consequences of eating so much Museer and garlic!

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Yogurt with dried mint, cucumber and raisins

Maast-o Khiar

ماست و خیار

Yogurt is no stranger to Persian cuisine, and is frankly a mandatory side item on the table. Each region of Iran offers its own unique version of a yogurt dish to accompany a Persian meal.

In the North by the Caspian Sea, the specialty is a garlic and shallot yogurt, which has an intoxicating quantity of Persian shallots mixed into thick and creamy yogurt.

The variety in this recipe, which is more common throughout Iran, blends yogurt with grated cucumbers and dried mint, which are packed with flavors and aroma. To this then we add garlic, salt, pepper and rose petals to make sure that you fall completely in love!

Yogurt, whether plain or mixed, is typically served with a variety of Persian stews or rice dishes. Though, to make matters more interesting, it’s not considered compatible with every such dish!

Unlike the popular sugary and starch-thickened fat-free yogurt in the US, yogurt in Iran is full-fat, tangy, and flavored with salt and spices. And if we want to incorporate elements of sweetness, we simply reach for a few raisins!

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Pistachio soup with barberries

Sup-e Pesteh

سوپ پسته

Iran is the world’s largest producer of pistachios, so it’s no wonder that pistachios are mandatory at any Persian table for celebrations and offerings to guests.

Pistachios are roasted, salted, and typically flavored with various acidic ingredients that are a signature of the Iranian palate for sourness. They are often colored with saffron, another of Iran’s precious offerings to the world.

We’ve all had baklava made from one or another region of the world. Persian versions use a variety of different nuts, and my absolute favorite baklava is made with pistachios, rose water and cardamom.

This soup is very simple in composition but is flavorful and satisfying, showcasing and celebrating pistachios! Top the soup with pomegranate seeds when in season, or with barberries, and see how the rich and creamy flavors brighten and become even more inviting!

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Potato Kuku

Kuku Seeb-zamini

کوکو سیب زمینی

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
  • kuku bademjan: eggplant kuku
  • kuku kadoo: zucchini kuku
  • kuku gol-kalam: cauliflower kuku
  • kuku morgh: chicken kuku
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Smoked eggplant spread with poached eggs

Mirza Ghasemi

میرزا قاسمی

When you think about it, just about every culture has its own version of an eggplant spread. Iran has no shortage of its own variety of eggplant dishes. As a matter of fact, it has been said that eggplants are the potatoes of Iran. Eggplants are so easy to love for their flavor, texture, and adaptability to the flavors you offer it – and for those exact reasons, it is also easy to dislike! Throughout my years of teaching cooking classes and engaging with students about eggplants, I have not come across any other vegetable that was so controversial!

As an adult, I have come to love eggplants, though it was not always a lovefest of a relationship. As a kid, eggplant was not a vegetable I wanted anything to do with, and when you grow up in a culture that has so many eggplant dishes you either have to learn the necessary skills required to convince your mother why you should be pitied and allowed to eat hotdogs on the days she made eggplant dish or simply accept your faith to go hungry or surrender!

Make eggplant spreads, not war!

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Persian Olive Tapenade with pomegranate

Zeitoon Parvardeh

زیتون پرورده

Zeitoon parvardeh is full of umami flavors, a mixture of olives, creamy ground walnuts, and fresh herbs topped with pomegranate and a unique Persian spice called golpar, a hogweed seed.  This is a Caspian Sea specialty that also uses locally grown herbs that are unique to the area and otherwise not available elsewhere. Hence for the recipe, I have simply eliminated it and increased the quantity of the other herbs!

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Butterbeans and seasoned poached eggs with dill and turmeric

Khoresht-e Baghaleh Ghatogh

خورشت باقله قاتق

This simple peasant food brings back such fond memories of childhood and time spent visiting family near the Caspian Sea.  

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