I’m Maryam, an Iranian political analyst and passionate home cook. I love to cook with herbs and spices and share my cooking adventures with you. Some of my recipes are authentic Persian and the others are simplified ones I create in my kitchen. I hope you like my recipes and cook up a Persian storm in your own kitchen!
Hey, I’m back again! This time I’ve come with a delicious chicken and barberry kookoo (frittata, omelette) recipe and some good news. You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been posting fewer recipes recently. That’s because it’s been really hectic for a few months completing the work on my cookbook. It’s going to be called Nightingales and Roses: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen. Hopefully now that the work is done I will have more time to post recipes here.
Writing the book was a very enjoyable experience. It was fun cooking and styling the food for photos. I did all the photography myself and learnt a lot in the process. To me that’s play, not work! I’m so excited about it and can’t wait until November to see the book in my hands. It’s my baby, you know…
Green beans, fried potato cubes and carrots make this Tabrizi version of kookoo (kookoo-ye loobiya).
Back to business now that I have given you my news. I make this chicken kookoo often when I have leftover roast or cooked chicken in the fridge. The other ingredients are all staples in my pantry. I’ve posted several kookoo recipes here before and have noticed that many of you like them. One always has some eggs, vegetable, meat or chicken in the fridge to whip up a kookoo with and they are always delicious and rather healthy. The best thing about a kookoo is that you can serve it both hot and cold.
A Tabrizi version of the potato kookoo. My mum makes it with a layer of walnuts and spices in the middle.
I like making my chicken kookoo a lot. It takes very little preparation and it’s full of flavour. I put lots of saffron and Aleppo pepper (Syrian mild chilli flakes, pul biber in Turkish) in mine. If you can’t find these ingredients you can skip them and still have a tasty dish. You can also add spices such as cumin to this kookoo if you wish. The following amounts make a small kookoo to serve four with some salad as a light lunch. I recommend serving it with warmed flatbread, mast-o khiyar (chopped cucumbers folded into yoghurt with some dried mint – find the recipe here) and a crispy green salad such as my Herby, Garlicky, Lemony Romain Lettuce Salad or even my Spinach, Pomegranate and Walnut Salad with Pomegranate Dressing.
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper (pul biber) or other very mild chilli flakes
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp flour
A pinch of ground saffron, dissolved in 1 tsp hot water
1 large roasted/cooked chicken breast
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp barberries, picked over (or substitute chopped unsweetened cranberries)
1 tbsp oil (I prefer extra-virgin rapeseed oil)
Put the eggs, salt, spices, flour, baking powder and the prepared saffron in a bowl and whisk lightly.
Shred the chicken and add to the egg mixture. Mix in the chopped parsley and barberries.
Put the oil in a small non-stick frying pan (18-20 cm in diameter) and place on the medium burner of your stove on medium heat. Use a brush to coat the sides of the pan.
When the oil is very hot and a drop of the egg mixture dropped in the pan sizzles immediately pour the egg-chicken mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Cook for 3-4 minutes on medium heat, then cover the pan with a lid and lower the heat as much as you can. Cook, covered, for 20-30 minutes or until the top is set and the sides are golden. Remove the lid and cover the pan with a slightly larger plate and holding tightly with both hands very carefully flip the kookoo onto the plate. Then gently slide it back into the pan, the cooked side up, and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the underside is lightly golden too. Turn the kookoo onto a chopping board and cut into wedges with a sharp knife. Arrange the wedges on a plate and garnish with herbs (I used thyme flowers from the garden). Serve hot or cold.
Spring is in the air even in cold, rainy England. Days are longer now, plum blossoms look like snow on their branches and birds sing at the top of their heads. My tulips, hyacinths and narcissus bulbs have sprung up their emerald leaves and soon there will be lots of flowers to fill the air with their sweet smell. Ah, spring! The most beautiful of all seasons, I’ve been waiting for you so long…
The beginning of new beginnings, a new cycle of life…
Iranians will celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on the 20th of March this year and the next day will be the first day of the first month of the year 1397 in the Persian calendar. That’s because the year will turn at 7:45:19 PM on 20th March in Iran this year. For us in England it will be at 4:15:19 PM and for those living in the United States and Canada it will be in the morning – even different times for the east and west coasts. Next year it will be at completely different times for everybody. A bit complicated, right?
Preparing a spread (haft seen) with various objects and food is part of the nowruz tradition.
That’s because for us the year turns not at midnight but whenever the earth completes its journey around the sun, at the exact moment of the Vernal Equinox in the northern hemisphere. If it’s in the middle of the night we will stay awake or get up and wait with family for that almost magical moment around a special spread.
In old days it would be the agents of the government who announced the arrival of the New Year with the beat of drums and much pomp on the streets of every town, nowadays it’s an announcement on the radio or TV. When the year turns it’s time to kiss and hug and felicitate each other, eat something sweet to have a sweet life in the year ahead and exchange gifts.
We have celebrated the Spring Equinox since ancient times, at least for 2500 years when Achaemenid kings made the Nowruz festival popular throughout their vast empire and built palaces to celebrate it with great ceremony. Ever since Achaemenid times (500- 330 BBC) Nowruz which literary means “new day” has been the most important of the festivals associated with the cycles of nature celebrated by Iranians. The ancients were much more advanced than we might think. Mesopotamian astronomers were able to calculate the moment of the equinox with great precision long before the Achaemenids who they served.
Tribute bearers on the staircase of Apanda Palace, Persepolis.
On the first day of the new year, the King of Kings ascended his throne and received the representatives of the many peoples of their empire who carried gifts from faraway lands. One such ceremony has been immortalised in a relief adorning the staircase of Apadana Hall of Persepolis – a stunningly beautiful palace built only for the purpose of celebrating Nowruz.
Today Iranian families- wherever they are on this huge planet of ours – and many people in Central Asia and other countries such as Afghanistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and even Albania and Mongolia- celebrate Nowrouz.
Those who celebrate Nowruz, particularly in Iran, make a special spread for the New Year called Haft Seen. The Nowruz spread must always have seven things the names of which in Persian begin with the sound “s”. There are also items such as mirrors, candles, goldfish, sweets, flowers and painted eggs all of which have symbolic meanings related to nature and its rejuvenation in spring. People of different faiths put a copy of their holy book in the Haft Seen too. Non-believers like me put a copy of Divan-e Hafez, a collection of the poems of our most beloved poet, Hafez (1315-1390 AD), on the spread.
Painted eggs, sprouted seeds, coins and candles in a haftseen spread all have symbolic meanings.
The most common of the “s” items of Haft Seen are sprouted grains or lentils (sabzeh), hyacinths (sonbol), sumac (somagh), sir (garlic), apple (sib), coins (sekkeh), dried oleander fruit (senjed), vinegar (serkeh) and a pudding made from sprouted wheat grains (samanu). Quite an erratic mix. This tradition doesn’t have a long history. It stems from a previous tradition of preparing seven trays (sini) of food and other things. Seven has always been a sacred number for us.
We make or buy a lot of different sweetmeats and confections for Nowruz festivities. One of my favourites is a little rosewater marzipan resembling a mulberry (toot/ tūt). Sweets made from almonds paste have a very long history in our cuisine. Pre-Islamic texts mention a sweet almond confection called lōzīnag which apparently evolved into a very popular treat called lōzīnah/lōzīneh later. Today a saffron-flavoured variety of almond paste cut into small diamonds is called lōz.
My mum came from a family obsessed with making dainty Nowruz sweets. The Nowrous sweets recipes were handed down from mother to daughter in her family for generations. My mum always made many different kinds of sweets for Nowruz, including lōz and tūt (mulberry marzipans) which she sometimes coloured with pink, yellow and green food colouring. Making mulberry marzipans didn’t involve cooking. I loved helping my mum shape her dainty little marzipan mulberries.
Persian marzipan mulberry (toot) is a joy to make with children.
In old days it took days to soak almonds to remove the brown peel, dry them again and make ground almonds. My mum used a small round cheese grater to grind the almonds because pounding them with a mortar and pestle would make the paste greasy. I only reach for the shop-bought ground almonds now. Life has changed so much. Has it become easier? I don’t know…
You’d be surprised how easy it is to make mulberry marzipans. You just need some ground almonds (also sold as almond flour), sugar, rosewater, egg whites and slivered pistachios to make it. It’s a great thing to make with children, too. The recipe below will make a small batch of mulberry marzipans, about seventy pieces.
200g ground almonds (almond flour)
200g icing sugar
1 tbsp egg white
1 tbsp rosewater
Slivered pistachio to decorate
Pink, yellow or green food colouring
Mix the almond flour and icing sugar in a small bowl. Use a fork to mix the egg white with rosewater and food colouring and pour over the almond mixture. Stir well and shape into a ball. You can add a little more egg white if the mixture doesn’t come together. Knead very lightly. Too much kneading will make the paste greasy.
Shape small pieces of the dough like mulberries. Insert a piece of slivered almond or pistachio at the bigger end to resemble a stem. Coat each marzipan mulberry with granulated sugar and arrange in a small dish. Cover with cling film or store in a tightly covered tin until needed to keep them from drying. Enjoy with strong tea. HAPPY NOWRUZ!
I wasn’t a big fan of dampkhtak when I was a child probably because it didn’t have meat in it or come with a stew as most other Persian rice dishes do. Grown-ups had it with sharp, vinegary pickles (torshi) which are not a child’s thing. The more I grew, the more I came to appreciate the earthy flavour of dampokhtak. I like it even better now because it’s one of the easiest, most flavourful meatless rice dishes I know.
Many Iranians will remember their mums or grandmas making this golden rice dish when they were too busy to make elaborate stews but have never made it themselves. It’s one of those nostalgic, almost forgotten dishes from the depths of the memory lane. But you don’t have to be Iranian, or nostalgic about something you never knew, to enjoy this simple, nutritious and healthy dish!
The ingredients for making dampokhtak are usually found in every Iranian kitchen: rice, onions, turmeric, oil and split fava beans. Now, this last item may be something you don’t normally see in supermarkets in Britain or other countries. But split fava beans aren’t that hard to find. They are used in many ethnic groceries including Middle Eastern, Turkish, North African, Italian and Greek groceries so your problem is most probably solved if you have any of those near you. Try online or check healthfood stores where they are sold for their high protein content if there aren’t any of these ethnic groceries where you live.
Split fava beans are known as lappeh baghali (لپه باقالی ) in Persian, fool majroosh (فول مجروش) in Arabic, fave in Italian and koukia in Greek.These rather unattractive beans are a good source of protein (25 grams of protein in every 100 grams) for those who don’t eat animal protein.
Split fava beans are yellow in colour and often may look chipped or broken. They cook rather quickly.
Turmeric is what really makes this dish. All the flavour and colour of the dish comes from turmeric and a rather copious amount is used. Turmeric is probably the most used spice in Persian cookery. We always add Turmeric to meat and chicken but not just for its colour or earthy flavour. Iranian cooks believe turmeric will also absorb the undesirable “raw” smell of meats.
I had always used powdered turmeric and never seen it fresh before I came to live in Britain. It was in London’s many Asian and African groceries and food markets that I discovered fresh turmeric. And what a discovery! I loved it and soon incorporated this amazing new ingredient into my Persian recipes. In the recipe below I have given the option of using fresh turmeric too in case you can find it as easily as I do here.
Fresh turmeric works in almost everything but is particularly good in dampokhtak. Dried turmeric is stronger in flavour and aroma so one heaped teaspoon of dried turmeric is almost equal to one tablespoon of grated fresh turmeric. I find that in a dish like dampokhtak it’s best to use both fresh and dried turmeric for better flavour, if possible.
Fresh turmeric works very nicely in dampokhtak.
Dampkhtak, like other Persian rice dishes, comes with a delectable golden brown crust from the bottom of the pan (you can see that in the picture above) and is usually eaten with a fried egg on top and one or more types of torshi (vinegary pickles). Most torshis are quite sharp and unlike Persian food that’s usually not spicy, they can be quite hot with chillies. These pickles usually need a month or two for the flavours of the spices, herbs and vegetables to meld together but my Spicy Persian Pickles (Torshi Bandari) can be enjoyed right away (although it does benefit from a week or two of “ripening”).
If you use a non-stick pot you can get a delectable browned rice crust (tahdig). The rice can be flipped out of the pot like a cake.
The following recipe (with one or two fried eggs per person) will feed 3-4 people.
Chopped tomato, onion and cucumber salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar (salad shirazi)
Torshi (vinegary pickles)
Put the rice in a bowl and cover with water. Gently rub the rice between palms to remove some of the starch. Drain the water and repeat once or twice more so that water is clear. Drain well in a sieve and return to the pot. Cover with the measured water, add the salt then stir gently and set aside to soak.
Pick through the split fava beans to remove any brown skins or foreign material. Put in a rather large pot and cover with water. Swirl around and drain. Cover with water again then add a big pinch of salt and bring to a gentle boil. Keep an eye on it because while boiling there will form rather a lot of white foam which will easily overflow if the pot is small. Use a big spoon to remove the foam and continue to cook gently until they are soft but still have a bite in the centre. Don’t boil too long or they may turn mushy. Drain in a sieve and set aside.
While the split fava beans are cooking put half of the oil in a lidded non-stick pot (about 20cm in diameter) and cook the chopped onion until it’s golden brown. Add the turmeric powder and cook while stirring for 2 minutes. If you are using fresh grated turmeric you will need to add it to the pot when the onion begins to take colour and once it’s browned you can add the dried turmeric and cook for a further two minutes.
Add the soaked rice and its soaking liquid to the pot, stir and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Add the cooked split fava beans and stir gently. Cook until all the water is evaporated. Then turn the heat down to very low. Drizzle the rest of the oil over the rice, wrap the pot lid in a clean kitchen towel and tightly cover the pot. Steam the rice for about 40 minutes on very low heat or until the sides of the rice begin to take colour. The time required for steaming the rice largely depends on the size of your burner so to get the perfect golden brown crust (tahdig) it’s important to keep the heat as low as you can (or use a heat diffuser) so it doesn’t burn.
Fry the eggs when you are almost ready to serve. To flip the rice out of the pot cover it with a large plate. Holding tightly with both hands flip the pot and the plate to release the rice onto the plate. This should be quite easy if your pot is non-stick. Alternatively, use a silicon spoon to transfer the rice to a plate then carefully remove the tahdig and place around the rice. Serve with fried eggs, salad, yoghurt and torshi. You can also sprinkle the fried eggs with chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper (pul biber in Turkish) and/or black pepper. Enjoy!
There are hundreds of rosette cookie recipes out there so why another one, you may ask. Well, this is a Persian version “traditionally” made with a rosewater-flavoured batter and dusted with cardamom-scented icing sugar.
Ask any Iranian and they will swear that nan panjereh (as they are called in Persian) are traditional Persian cookies but rosette cookies are originally from Scandinavia. Iranians consider rosette cookies traditional because many of them remember their mums and grandmas making them for the Persian new year holidays (Nowruz) and other festive occasions such as weddings.
Rosette cookies are really delicate, crispy and dainty. They are made by dipping a hot rosette iron (mould) in a light egg batter and submerging the iron in very hot oil to cook it. Rosette irons come in many shapes and sizes. In Sweden, Norway and other European countries such as Italy and Poland rosette cookies are usually made for Christmas. In these countries, the irons used for making the cookies are often intricately shaped like stars, pine trees, hearts or flowers. The same irons are widely available in Iran too plus a few others that I haven’t seen elsewhere including the one that I used to make my cookies. It’s a very simple one (top right in the picture below) but makes gorgeous rosettes.
The rosette iron (top right) is heated in oil to allow the batter adhere to it. The iron is then dipped in hot oil and shaken to release the batter.
When I was a child rosette cookies were usually made with square, gridded irons which might explain why the cookies are called nan panjereh (window cookies) or khatoon panjereh (ladies’ windows). Sweet shops made huge square cookies with deep indents to hold a lot of cardamom-scented icing sugar and displayed them in their shops’ windows piled high on platters decorated with ribbons.
Rosette cookies seem to have been out of fashion for a while but rosette irons in different shapes are still widely available from specialty shops and online and are quite cheap. You may even find one in your mum or grandma’s kitchen. Any shape of rosette iron will work but the ones with a bent wooden handle are easier and safer to use.
The shape of this old iron (top right) may explain why rosette cookies are called nan-panjereh “window cookies” in Persian.
Since I found out about the Swedish/Norwegian origins of rosette cookies I always wondered how and when they were adopted by Iranians until working on a totally different topic I remembered that in the early twentieth century a number of high-ranking Swedish Gendarmerie officials had been invited to Iran to modernise the rural police and highway patrol force. The Swedish officers and their families stayed in Iran for about a decade which is long enough to presume someone learnt from Swedish ladies to make rosette cookies and spread the recipe.
Persian cooks have always been quite quick with adopting recipes from other cuisines and making them their own. In this case they soon added rosewater to the batter and added cardamom, a spice very frequently used in Persian sweets, to the icing sugar for sprinkling on the cookies.
Rosette cookies are really easy to make if you know a few tricks:
Always heat the rosette iron in the hot oil before dipping it in the cookie batter. The iron must be hot enough to “hiss” when you dip it in batter.
Don’t dip the iron in the batter all the way. The batter should only come about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the iron or it will be difficult (or impossible) to get the fried batter off the iron.
Shake the iron in the oil gently as soon as you dip it in the hot oil to release the batter.
Drain the cookies well on paper towels so they won’t get greasy and soggy.
Use a good quality vegetable oil with high smoking point (frying oil) so the oil doesn’t burn and ruin the flavour. Keep the temperature of the oil steady by adjusting it as required.
It’s best to use a small saucepan and make one cookie at a time.
Rosette cookies can be made without rosewater, obviously, and dusted with vanilla sugar or even sugar mixed with cinnamon. They are great on their own with coffee or tea but also make a good accompaniment to ice cream. The following recipe makes a small batch of about 20 cookies. Simply double the ingredients for more cookies if you wish.
8 tbs flour
2 tbsp cornflour
pinch of salt
1/2 tbsp icing sugar
1 large egg
6 tbsp milk
2 tbsp rosewater (or substitute milk)
rapeseed (canola) or rice bran oil for frying
50g icing sugar
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (or more if you wish)
Sift the flour, corn flour, salt and icing sugar together and set aside.
Whisk the egg well in a bowl then add the milk and rosewater and mix until blended. Gradually add the sifted flour mixture and whisk until the batter is smooth. Allow the batter to rest in the fridge for about an hour.
Line a large plate or tray with a double thickness of kitchen paper.
Pour enough oil into a small saucepan to a depth of about twice the thickness of your rosette iron (4-5 centimetres/2 inches). Place the saucepam on a medium-sized burner and heat until the oil reaches a temperature of 190C/375F. If you don’t have a thermometer put a drop of the batter in the oil. If the oil is hot enough it will rise to the surface and puff up in about 3 seconds.
Immerse the rosette iron in the hot oil for one minute then gently shake to remove the excess oil. Immediately dip the hot iron in the batter and make sure the batter doesn’t cover the metal all the way up. It should come about 3/4 way up the side of the iron. Re-immerse the iron in the hot oil and gently shake to release the batter. The first couple of attempts to release the batter may be difficult so you can get a little help from a wooden chopstick to ease it off the iron. You will soon get the hang of it and the batter should come off the iron with no trouble. Turn the rosette with tongs as soon as the underside is golden and cook the other side until it’s golden too. This will take about thirty seconds on each side. Immediately remove the cookie from the oil and put on the paper-lined plate to drain (upside down).
Heat the iron for thirty seconds and repeat with the rest of the batter.
Mix the icing sugar with the cardamom and dust the cookies. Arrange on a plate and serve. The cookies will keep nice and crisp for a day or two.
Colder days call for comfort food and this vegetarian version of the iconic Persian khoresht-e gheymeh is one of my go-to comfort foods. This vegetarian gheymeh recipe is quite quick to make and perfect for weeknights. My son, though not fully vegetarian, always prefers meatless dishes on ethical grounds. He loves this meatless gheymeh and we enjoy eating it too, a winning solution that keeps everybody happy.
Khoresht-e gheymeh, which was the inspiration for my vegetarian gheymeh, is made with yellow lentils (split peas), small cubes of lamb (or beef) and dried limes with a hint of cinnamon and other spices. It’s often perfumed with saffron and/or a hint of rosewater and is served with fried matchstick potatoes and fluffy Persian rice.
Traditional Iranian restaurants generally stick with a limited menu of different kinds of Kebabs – which are really luxurious and scrumptious – as well as baghali polo (rice with broad beans and dill) served with lamb shanks or chicken, zereshk polo (rice with barberries) served with chicken and tahchin (baked saffron rice with layers of chicken). Occasionally stews, particularly gheymeh and ghormeh sabzi (a very green stew of lamb and herbs with kidney beans and dried limes), find their way on restaurant menus too. At home it’s another story. Gheymeh and other stews are very frequently made and enjoyed. That’s probably why restaurants stay away from them.
Khoresht-e gheymeh was the inspiration for my vegetarian/vegan yellow lentil (split pea) stew. It’s often topped with fried matchstick potatoes and is served with rice.
I’m not a big fan of meat substitutes such as soya meat and Quoron and always use mushrooms (white, brown, portobello or oyster). In this particular dish mushrooms really deliver, especially when they are paired with fried courgette (zucchini) which makes the dish a bit similar to gheymeh bademjoon (gheymeh with fried slices of aubergine without the matchstick potatoes). What makes the different versions of gheymeh is the spicing which should be quite subtle but enough to impart an aroma that will draw everyone to the kitchen.
Frying the courgettes until they are lightly brown gives them a very soft and buttery texture and enhances the flavour of the stew so give them enough time to properly caramelise on both sides.
Serve this stew with fluffy white rice. If you want to make Persian rice you can find a rather quick version in my recipe for Kabab Tabei: Persian Beef Patties in Tomato Sauce with Sumac Rice. Just follow the instructions for making the rice but omit the sumac. The method is exactly the same. The following recipe will serve 4 people with rice.
4 dried limes (both black and brown varieties are good)
5 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed or other vegetable oil (you can substitute butter for some of the oil if you wish)
2 courgettes, cut into thick half circles
400g button mushrooms (white or brown), thickly sliced
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
1 1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 cinnamon stick (or 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2-3 tbsp tomato purée (depending on concentration of the purée)
200g yellow lentils, washed in a sieve and drained well
1/2 tsp salt
A handful of baby plum or cherry tomatoes
A large pinch of saffron
Put the dried limes in a small jar and fill the jar with hot water then screw on the cap and allow to soak while you are preparing the other ingredients.
Drizzle one tablespoon of oil in a deep lidded non-stick frying pan and cook the courgette on medium heat until both sides are golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add two tablespoons of oil to the pan and fry the sliced mushrooms until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the remaining oil and fry the chopped onions until golden brown, stirring from time to time so they are evenly coloured. Add the spices and cook for a couple of minutes until the spices are fragrant. Add the washed and drained lentils to the pan and stir well to coat them in the oil. Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes then add the tomato puree and cook for a further two minutes. Keep stirring gently so it doesn’t catch.
Cover the lentils with about 3 cm boiling water from the kettle and add the courgettes and mushrooms. Too much water will require longer cooking and the lentils may go mushy. Coating the lentils in oil before adding water will help to keep their shape when completely cooked. You can always add a little more boiling water during cooking if the lentils are not properly cooked yet and the khoresht looks too dry.
Drain the dried limes and cut a circle from the top of each dried lime or make a few slits on the sides with a knife. Add to the pan with the cherry tomatoes and salt. Cover and bring to the boil then turn the heat down and gently simmer the stew for 30-45 minutes or until the lentils are very soft but not mushy. Cooking times hugely depend on the type of yellow lentils you are using. Some yellow lentils cook faster while others like Iranian yellow lentils take much longer to cook.
Prepare the saffron according to the instructions in How To Use Saffron. Add the saffron liquid to the stew when the lentils are cooked to your liking and stir gently. Adjust the seasoning and cook for five minutes. When ready to serve discard the cinnamon stick. Serve the stew with fluffy rice, a chopped tomato and cucumber salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil (salad shirazi) and sliced radishes.
*** You can add a little fresh lemon juice (a tablespoon or two) towards the end if you wish.
*** Homemade matchstick fried potatoes are an optional (and quitevery delicious) addition to this version of gheymeh too if you are not scrupulous about calories!
*** Dried limes are for flavouring the dish. They usually have a few seeds. Some people like to eat them, skin and all. Others will only squeeze them with the back of a fork to draw out the delicious tart juices to mix with rice. Some others consider their job done when the dish is cooked and discard them. Have a little taste and do as you wish. Enjoy!
Have you ever wondered how to use fresh or dried rose petals in cooking and baking? Or whether you can use the petals from the roses in your garden in food?
When I was growing up some dishes in our house were always flavoured or garnished with dried rose petals. Rosewater was a regular pantry ingredient too and was added to sweets, desserts and even the thick coffee my grandma made. Rose petal jam made from fresh rose petals often made an appearance on the breakfast table to be eaten with bread and butter or clotted cream. I must confess, the sophisticated floral flavour of rose petal jam was quite grown up and I didn’t care for it much as a child. I do adore it now.
As a Persian cook I am never without a jar of dried rose petals, another of tiny dried rosebuds and a bottle of rosewater in my pantry. I use dried rose petals as a garnish for food and sweets, as a spice, and even make a very delicious fudge-like sweet (rose petal halwa, pictured below) with it. Fresh rose petals from my garden always make decorating cakes and desserts a breeze.
These little Persian sweetmeats (rose petal halwa) are flavoured with dried rose petals and rosewater.
But can you use the fresh petals and buds of all roses in cooking and food decoration? As a simple decoration, by all means. But you need to make sure the roses haven’t been sprayed with chemicals. Fresh rose petals as they are, crystalised or coated with sugar look great on desserts and cakes. Check out my rather different method of coating fresh rose petals with sugar in my Persian Rose & Vanilla Ice Cream recipe which involves dipping the petals in a rosewater syrup to make them very fragrant.
Dried rose petals and rosebuds look gorgeous when used sparingly as decoration on cakes and pastries, too. I often use a few to decorate my Puff Pastry Hearts with Chantilly Cream. It’s important not to overdo it, though. Dried flower buds and petals are papery and don’t have much taste or aroma so they better not be used heavy-handedly. Less is definitely more in this case.
Dried rose petals, dried rose buds and toasted and crushed rose petals.
If you are using dried rose petals as a spice toast them lightly in a dry pan. Toasting intensifies the aroma and gives dried rose petals a delicious smokey edge. They burn very easily so keep an eye on them. My mum uses crushed toasted rose petals to flavour some of her biryani-type (layered) Persian rice dishes such as lubia polo (spiced rice with cubed lamb and green beans). I sometimes make her lubia polo with chicken instead of lamb. Check out Persian Spiced Rice with Chicken and Green Beans for the recipe.
My mother also sprinkles crushed untoasted rose petals on yoghurt or stirs it into a chilled yoghurt and cucumber soup with herbs, raisins and chopped walnuts (abdoogh/abdugh). This soup is a great dish to serve as a starter on hot summer days. She always decorates the soup with crushed dried mint and rose petals in beautiful patterns. Sometimes it looks too good to eat!
Mast-o khiyar (yoghurt with cucumbers, herbs, walnuts and raisins) is often flavoured and decorated with dried rose petals. The diluted form of this yoghurt salad makes a refreshing cold summer soup called abdugh/abdoogh.
Apparently not all roses are created the same when it comes to culinary use. My mother only uses pale pink rose petals specially grown for use in food in Tabriz, her hometown in the northwestern Iranian province of Azarbaijan, especially when they are meant for making jam. She says petals from very aromatic roses grown for making rosewater in other regions of Iran taste bitter in jams and some varieties can even have an unwanted laxative effect.
Most rose varieties are only mildly laxative and a few fresh or dried rose petals scattered on a dish or a little used as a spice won’t cause any trouble. But if you are using big quantities, to make jam or jelly for instance, it’s best to make a small amount at first and test it before making a large batch. I remember my mother spending a lot of time and effort to make a huge pot of fresh rose petal jam from the lovely pink roses in our orchard only to bin the whole thing when it caused discomfort to everyone who had it. Lesson learned the hard way!
Coarse sugar infused with the scent of dried rose buds or petals can be stirred into tea.
Dried rose petals are great in herbal tea mixes, too. My favourite herbal tea mix is the Persian Rose Petals and Borage Flowers Herbal Tea. It’s a well-balanced herbal mix that’s delicious, very pretty and apparently quite heart-friendly. You can also mix dried rose petals, tiny rose buds and a few cardamom pods with black or green tea leaves for an exotic brew.
Dried rose petals sold in UK supermarkets and online are mostly sourced from Pakistan and are usually of rosa canina variety. They are dark pink or crimson in colour. Persian dried roses are pale pink and come from damascene roses. Both are good for food decorating but I prefer Persian dried roses, available from Middle Eastern groceries and online, for use as a spice.
I wrote this recipe for pistachio, basil and feta pesto long ago but kept procrastinating about posting it. Spaghetti and linguine with pistachio pesto is a favourite in my home and when I shared a picture of my pesto and the pasta I made with it on twitter last week I realised it appeals to many others, too. So I decided to share the proper recipe for my pesto.
Making pistachio pesto is exactly the same as making regular pesto. If you have a nice big pestle and mortar (and a bit of time on your hand) it’s best to put it to good use. Otherwise, chuck everything in the small bowl of a food processor and whiz for a few seconds. Most of the time that’s what I do when I’m tired from work and can’t be bothered too much.
Using a pestle and mortar is best for making a good pesto but not essential.
Almost every recipe for pistachio pesto that I have seen uses Parmigiano Reggiano which I really love but aged cheeses usually bring my migraines on so I often make my pesto with feta cheese. Pesto with feta obviously tastes different but is very delicious in its own right.
Being Persian I always have different fresh herbs around in the kitchen, in little pots on the windowsills or in the garden. The mesmerising scent of fresh herbs such as tarragon, mint, lemon basil (which is quite different from Italian basil) and the less common savory (satureja hortensis,) often tempt me to experiment with these herbs in pesto-like preparations.
My vegan pistachio pesto with savory really complements the flavour of tomatoes. Link to the recipe is in the text below.
My favourite pesto by far is the vegan pesto I made with savory (marzeh in Persian) a couple of years ago to dress some very pretty heritage tomatoes. In Iran we use marzeh in a lot of cooked dishes. Marzeh is also one of the soft herbs we put in sabzi khordan (a basket of fresh soft herbs to pick from and eat with food). If you have summer savory (or its perennial relative, the winter savory) check out the recipe for myTomato & Fennel Salad with Vegan Pistachio Pesto. Or even make that salad with the pistachio, basil and feta pesto recipe in this post. Pesto really makes the tomatoes and fennel sing in the salad!
30g fresh Italian basil
2-3 small clove of garlic
50g shelled pistachio nuts
40g feta cheese
100ml extra virgin olive oil
If using a pestle and mortar put the garlic in first with a pinch of salt and pound to a pulp. Add the basil followed by pistachios in handfuls and continue pounding until a rather grainy paste forms.
Break the cheese into small pieces and mix with basil and pistachio paste.
Add the olive oil in a thin stream and work it into the paste.
If using a food processor just put everything in the bowl and whiz until the nuts are finely chopped.
Stir the pesto into boiled pasta of your choice or thin with olive oil and pour over salads.
Believe me, I know I’ve posted too many aubergine recipes here but it just happens! Aubergine is one of the most used vegetables in Persian cuisine and available throughout the year. A whole lot of Persian dishes, from stews to dips, including this chicken and aubergine stew recipe, are made with aubergines. That’s why I keep posting aubergine recipes. I have no choice, you see?
My lot never get tired of having aubergine stews (khoresht bademjan). These stews, whether with meat or chicken or meatless, are yummy and comforting. Like most other Persian stews khoresht bademjan is served with piles of fluffy rice and tahdig (the coveted crust from the bottom of the rice pot) and accompaniments such as fresh fragrant soft herbs (sabzi khordan), pickles, salad and yoghurt. Doesn’t that sound like a feast?
Don’t be put off by the mention of unripe grapes in the ingredient list. I know it’s not an easily available ingredient but this stew with its buttery fried aubergines can be made without it too and will be equally delicious in its own right. Bear with me and I will tell you all about unripe grapes and what to substitute for them if you can’t find any.
In Persian cooking unripe grapes are commonly used as a souring agent like limes and lemons.
Bademjan-ghooreh mosama hails from the Caspian Sea region in the north of Iran but it’s quite popular throughout the country now. In the summer it’s made with fresh unripe grapes (ghooreh) and in the winter with unripe grapes preserved in brine (ghooreh ghooreh) or frozen unripe grapes.
When I moved to the UK six years ago I thought finding Persian ingredients such as brined unripe grapes or verjuice would be very difficult. Soon I realised that London is the most amazing of all cities and probably the most cosmopolitan. In London I found many Persian and other Middle Eastern groceries where I could buy everything I needed to cook the meals we had back home. I don’t live in London anymore but I can still stock my Persian pantry with ingredients I find online and at Asian or Turkish groceries. Bless them, they are pretty amazing!
Unripe grapes are quite acidic in flavour when raw but the flavour mellows with cooking. They impart a flavour similar to limes and lemons to stews. So if unripe grapes can’t be found, you can still make the stew and flavour it with fresh lime or lemon juice. I’ve made this dish a few times with slightly unripe gooseberries (both fresh and frozen). Gooseberries almost look like unripe grapes and the flavour is similar too.
These little aubergine parcels (boghcheh bademjan) are stuffed with a meatball and cooked in a tomato sauce flavoured with verjuice.
Enough choices? You may even have a vine with grapes that haven’t ripened yet, won’t ripen because the weather has just not been warm enough or you need to thin out a few bunches to allow the other bunches to grow better. Pick some and chuck in the freezer. They will be delicious in many stews where lemon or lime juice are called for.
We often use verjuice to flavour this and other stews too. Verjuice is the juice pressed from unripe grapes. It’s a fantastic souring and flavouring agent. I was quite surprised when I found out that verjuice had been a staple in British kitchens before lemons from the Mediterranean became available. And I hear that it’s now being produced in Sussex, England, from grapes destined for sparkling white wines. I still have to try that but I suspect it will be a little less acidic than the Iranian variety which is quite strong and deep red in colour.
Use a shallow casserole dish to make this stew and arrange the prepared ingredients in one layer.
For this recipe try smaller aubergines so they keep their shape better and look nicer after cooking. I made this one with very small aubergines (about 12 centimetre long and a bit chubby) that I found at our local Asian grocery. They always have a variety of aubergines of all sizes, shapes and colours. Long and slender aubergines are the best but they are not common in supermarkets.
This recipe will feed four. Serve with plain rice and a nice chopped tomato and cucumber salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar. Add about 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon or lime juice to the sauce before arranging the chicken and aubergines in the pan if you don’t have unripe grapes or verjuice.
4 medium aubergines or 3 large
3-4 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed or other vegetable oil
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
4 pieces of chicken (large thigh or medium breast), skin removed
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 small piece of cinnamon stick
A few threads of saffron, ground to powder (optional)
400ml boiling water
A handful of cherry tomatoes
A handful of brined unripe grapes (ghūreh ghūreh) or fresh unripe grapes
Peel the aubergines, remove the stems and halve lengthwise (cut them in four if they are too big). With smaller aubergines like the ones I used (see the picture above) you can keep the stem on and cut almost to the top without separating the two halves at the stem end. They will be a bit faffier to fry but I like the presentation better. Once they are golden and soft on the outside you can spread the two flaps to fry the inner sides too. Your choice which way to go.
Put the prepared aubergines in a large shallow casserole dish or frying pan (preferably non-stick). Drizzle the oil on the aubergines and rub the oil all over them. Cook the aubergines on medium-low heat, turning occasionally, until they are golden brown all over. Partially covering the pan with a lid during the first few minutes helps soften the aubergines faster and you get a better and more even colouring. Add more oil during cooking if the pan is too dry. Alternatively, brush the aubergine halves generously with oil and roast in a preheated 180C/375F oven on a non-stick coated baking sheet for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the aubergines from the pan and set aside.
Melt the butter in the same pan and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add one more tablespoon of oil to the pan and cook the chicken pieces until golden on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Return the fried onions to the pan. Add the turmeric and tomato puree and cook for two minutes, stirring from time to time. Pour in the boiling water and bring to the boil. Add the ground saffron, salt, pepper and cinnamon stick, lower the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
Add the fried aubergine to the pan and scatter the unripe grapes and cherry tomatoes on top. Brined unripe grapes can be quite salty. Taste and rinse with water before adding to the pan if needed. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. If using lemon/lime juice it’s time to add it now.
Cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes or until the chicken pieces are well done, the aubergines are very soft and buttery and the sauce has reduced in half. The sauce must be of the consistency of gravy. Serve with rice.
It’s amazing how the Persian cuisine has been catching on in the western world in the past few years. There are now tens or maybe even more lovely Persian jewelled rice recipes in English out there. I was surprised though when I checked for the recipe of gheymeh nesar, a gorgeous jewelled rice with tiny succulent pieces of lamb. There were less than a handful in English. So I decided to bring that to you this time, my tested and tried gheymeh nesar recipe.
Like many other Persian dishes making gheymeh nesar sounds quite faffy, I admit, but once you know the basic techniques (especially the technique of cooking of Persian rice) you can make not only this but several other amazing dishes. I think this pretty number is one of the easiest to make for a special occasion if you prepare your “jewels”, your rice and the lamb in advance (even a day or two before) and put everything together just before serving.
My meatless jewelled rice with butternut squash, cranberries and flaked almonds. It’s delicious on its own but also a perfect side for the Christmas turkey or chicken.
Gheymeh nesar is basically plain rice garnished with meat (usually lamb but beef or chicken may also be used) barberries, slivered nuts and most important of all, very lightly sweetened orange peel that gives the dish its unique flavour. My friends often tell me they can’t find some of these ingredients, like a twitter friend who asked where on earth she could find barberries in the depths of Yorkshire. Luckily there are substitutes so bear with me!
When I can’t find barberries I use chopped unsweetened or lightly sweetened dried cranberries or red currants. Pistachio and almond slivers are also hard to come by sometimes. I use chopped pistachios and almond flakes instead. I like using new ingredients in Persian dishes as long as I can keep the Persian essence of the dish. I’m guilty of speckling my white rice with wild rice (not a Persian ingredient) when I make jewelled rice as in my Jewelled Butternut Squash Rice and I must say wild rice works beautifully in Persian rice dishes.
No need for elaborate garnishing.
Now you don’t have to go to long lengths to garnish you rice too elaborately but beautiful presentation will definitely add to the pleasure of eating and there will be a lot of ahs and ohs. We usually create some sort of pattern with the “jewel” ingredients and some golden-coloured saffron rice but it will be perfectly fine to simply scatter the jewels on top of the rice. It will still look beautiful!
This jewelled rice with saffron-flavoured rolled chicken breast fillets is perfect to serve on special occasions such as Persian holidays and Christmas.
Qazvin, where this fabulous dish hails from, is one of the most beautiful cities in central Iran. The city served as a capital of the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century and is famous for its sophisticated cuisine and fabulous sweets including gorgeous baklava and a delicious cardamom-scented tea cake (noon-e chayi ghazvin).
If you have Iranian family or friends you’ve probably been wondering how they can manage to cook so many dishes for even a small family get-together. You’ve probably wondered about the wastefulness, too. So much food for only a handful of people? Rest assured, not even a grain of rice ever goes to waste! Leftovers will be reheated and served at other meals and are often even better than the freshly prepared. In true Iranian style the following recipe makes quite a lot, enough to feed six people, but can easily be adapted for a smaller number.
For the lamb chunks (gheymeh):
300g lamb lean lamb leg, shoulder or neck fillet, cut into 3cm cubes
2 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil or any other vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 large cinnamon stick
3-4 tbsp tomato puree
3/4 tsp salt
For the rice and tahdig:
2 cups basmati rice
3 heaping tablespoons table salt
1cm thick slices of baking potatoes (about two medium)
2 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil or any other vegetable oil
For the garnish:
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp of hot water
2 tbsp dried barberries
2 tbsp almond slivers
2 tbsp pistachio slivers
1-2 tbsp rosewater
One large orange
2 tbsp sugar
Cook the meat:
Heat the oil in a medium pot and lightly brown the lamb chunks and chopped onion on medium heat. Add the spices and cook for a few minutes, stirring often so it doesn’t catch. Spoon the tomato puree over the meat, add the salt and cook for a couple of minutes. Add enough boiling water to cover the meat. Turn down the heat, cover and braise the meat until it’s very soft and almost all of the water has evaporated. This will take about 1 hour depending on the size of the chunks and the cut of meat.
Cook the rice:
Put the rice in a bowl. Fill the bowl with water and gently rub the rice between the palms. Drain. Repeat 2 or 3 times until the water runs clear. Cover the rice with water. There must be about 4 cm of water on top of the rice. Add the salt and gently stir. Let soak. The longer the rice soaks, the better it will be. So give it at least two hours or even let it soak overnight.
Fill a medium-sized lidded saucepan (preferably non-stick coated) with water and bring to the boil. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. Gently stir and cook until the rice grains are al dente (soft with a bite in the centre). Drain in a sieve and rinse with lukewarm water.
Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium heat until very hot. Sprinkle some salt on the oil and arrange one layer of sliced potatoes in the bottom of the saucepan. Use a large spoon or skimmer to gently transfer the rice from the sieve to the pot, slightly heaping it in the middle. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel and cover the pot tightly.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave oven.
Increase the heat and cook the rice for a couple of minutes on high heat or until the side of the pot is very hot to the touch. Lift the lid, pour the butter evenly over the rice and cover with the lid again. Lower the heat as much as you can (using a heat diffuser is helpful) and let the rice steam for approximately 45 minutes. The rice is ready when you see a lot of steam and there is some caramelisation around the bottom (you can see that if you have shaped the rice into a mound).
Prepare the garnishes:
While the rice is steaming scrub the orange well. I scrub the orange with a very fine cheese grater to help remove the bitterness of the peel. Remove the peel in wide strips and remove almost all of the white pith, then shred finely. Cook the peel in plenty of water to remove the bitterness. Drain in a sieve and taste for bitterness. Repeat the boiling if it’s still too bitter and drain again. Rinse with cold water and return the peel to the saucepan. Add the sugar and stir. Only the water clinging to the peel will be enough to dissolve the sugar. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Set aside.
Melt 1/3 of the butter in a small saucepan and cook the almond slivers for a couple of minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Prepare the pistachio slivers in the same way and set aside.
Melt the remaining butter and briefly cook the barberries until they are shiny and puffed up. Be careful not to burn them. Set aside.
Put the dish together when you are ready to serve:
Put a few tablespoons of the rice in a bowl and mix with the prepared saffron.
Put half of the remaining rice on a large plate. Spoon half of the cooked meat on the rice. Cover with the rest of the rice and shape into a mound. Put the potato slices (tahdig) from the bottom of the pot in another plate to serve separately.
Garnish the top of the rice mound with the rest of the meat, saffron rice, slivered almonds, slivered pistachios, sweetened orange peel and barberries. Alternatively, mix the nuts, barberries and orange peel with saffron rice and scatter over the rice. Spoon the rest of the meat on the dish. Serve immediately.
I was in baking mood this morning, or probably baking was an excuse to dodge chores I couldn’t bring myself to tackle. Yes, not today, I kept telling myself. But you know what such days are like. The ingredients I needed to bake what I craved – strawberry cheesecake – I didn’t have and I was feeling too lazy to go shopping. So I kept going from room to room not knowing what I was looking for. And there they were, a few pears in the fruit bowl that were a bit too hard and not very sweet so no one had touched them.
A while back I had made a pear and ginger cake with walnuts that tasted incredibly good. But as happens I didn’t have walnuts. So I made this one, which is really delicious even without walnuts. But do stir a handful of chopped walnuts into the batter. You can never go wrong with walnuts in spicy cakes.
I made the cake and it turned out really nice although cakes like this need to sit for at least a few hours for the flavours and the texture to develop. I sprinkled it with icing sugar like I usually do. I’m not a big fan of icings. It was delicious as it was but I felt like something was missing because today I wanted more than cake. I needed dessert. Salted toffee! It’s really easy to make and I did have cream, butter and sugar. And it worked like magic. The perfect dessert!
Pear and ginger cake makes a stunning dessert when served with warm salted toffee sauce but is delicious with a dusting of icing sugar too.
Next time you need a cake to share with family or a dessert to finish off the Sunday meal, give a try to this one. Let me know what you think. Your feedback is always appreciated!
For the cake:
150g dark brown sugar
250ml olive oil or vegetable oil
4 medium eggs
1 1/2 tbs ground ginger (less if you wish so)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
About 400g of firm pears (juicy ones will ruin the cake)
Extra sugar for coating pear slices
For the salted toffee sauce:
250ml double cream
100g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp sea salt
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F (170C fan assisted). Line the bottom of a 26 cm round cake tin with baking paper. Lightly oil the sides of the tin.
Take two long slices from the middle of each pear, about 3-4 mm thick, and set aside for decorating the top. Cut the rest of the pears into small cubes (about 250 grams chopped). Set aside.
Put the flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and mix well with a whisk or fork.
Put the sugar in another bowl and add the olive/vegetable oil. Beat on medium speed for three minutes or until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the eggs to the sugar one by one, beating well after each egg is added.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat on low speed to incorporate. Add the rest of the flour mix in two batches and beat to incorporate, then beat the batter for 2 minutes on medium speed. Stir in the chopped pears with a spatula and mix well.
Pour the batter into the lined cake tin. Dip the reserved pear slices in sugar (only one side). Arrange the slices on top of the batter (sugary side up).
Bake the cake for 50 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the tin, then turn out on a plate. Cover with another plate and turn so the decorated side is facing up.
To make the toffee sauce put the sugar, cream and butter in a small saucepan. Stir well and cook on medium-low heat until it’s bubbly and toffee-coloured. Add the sea salt and stir to dissolve. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Serve warm with the cake.
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