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!
Do you always plan your meals, find recipes and buy all your ingredients in advance? If you are, I envy you! I’ve never been able to do that, I’m just too spontaneous. I usually decide what to cook when I/others are getting hungry and after checking my fridge and cupboards for ingredients. It’s how I came up with this green lentil, tomato and coriander soup/stew recipe yesterday. I had never made this before but I will make it again and again because it turned out totally delicious. My ad hoc cooking experiments don’t always turn out so good I must confess, I’m no magician, and not every made-up dish is going to be a keeper. This one is.
Soups are more than starters in Persian cuisine. They are usually very hearty and chock full of legumes, herbs, vegetables and noodles. Some look like minestrone, others somehow like porridge or even stews. A lot of our soups have no meat or meat stock in them but believe me, they are so flavourful you won’t even notice there’s no meat. And why meat when you get lots of protein from the legumes anyway?
The Persian word for soup is ash (a is pronounced as a in arms) and the word for cook (ashpaz) actually means one who makes soups. I’ve included quite a few exotic Persian soup recipes in Nightingales & Roses including the ones in the pictures below and a very exotic Persian Plum Soup with Fried Mint Topping here on this blog. Check it out, it’s totally delicious, vegan and glutenfree.
This herby chick pea and yoghurt soup was one of my dad’s favourites and enjoyed very often in our house.
Back to the story of how my green lentil, tomato and coriander soup/stew recipe was born. To be honest, I first meant to cook spicey lentils for a quick lunch. I started with fried onions and garlic, spices (turmeric, smoked paprika, cumin, pepper, cayenne) and tomato paste and put the lentils straight in with some boiling water. My very friendly English handyman who was hanging blinds for me in another room was drawn to the kitchen by the smell and asked me what it was that I was cooking. It must have been quite unfamiliar to him.
I kept going back to the pot thinking the dish lacked something, I wanted something better than spiced lentils to whet the appetite I’ve lost following a nasty cold. I started craving my mum’s tomato, spinach and chilli soup (picture below) but I was already in the middle of making something else. I looked around and the very ripe tomatoes in my vegetable basket caught my eye, then I rummaged in the fridge and found a big bunch of coriander. That was it. I had to put chopped tomatoes and coriander in it and make it a little soupy similar to what I was so craving.
Unlike most Persian dishes this tomato-spinach soup is usually very spicy. The heat comes from fresh chillies. It’s served with dried mint fried in oil for added flavour and dollops of cooling yoghurt to balance the heat.
The dish ended up smelling fabulous and tasted even better. I think it was the fresh coriander that made it. I love coriander but do realise it can be extremely unpleasant to some people because of a gene that makes the smell unbearable to them. If you are one of those people you’ll probably not be reading this post after seeing the recipe title but if you are reading it and thinking “Oh, crap! I hate coriander!” I recommend using spinach, parsley or a mixture of the two instead. It won’t be the same but will still be very tasty.
I had this with crusty bread for lunch and obviously shared some with my friendly handyman – it would have been very un-Persian of me not to. He said it was delicious but had never had anything similar to it before. In fact he never had even thought of cooking lentils, he said.
Make this dish as thin as you wish and serve it as a soup to start a meal. Or make it thicker to have as a light meal on its own. Or serve the thick version as a side with roasts or even spooned over cooked rice or pasta. It can work in so many ways.
The following recipe will serve four as a light meal on its own.
4 tbsp oil (I prefer extra virgin rapeseed oil)
2 large white onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste
250g green lentils, picked over and rinsed in a sieve
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
big bunch of coriander (about 60 grams), chopped
1 tsp dried mint
salt and black pepper to taste
Yoghurt to serve
Coriander leaves to garnish
Put the oil and onion in a pot and fry over medium heat until golden brown and crisp. Remove about two tablespoons of the fried onions from the pot and spread on paper towels to drain. Set aside.
Add the garlic and spices to the rest of the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the tomato paste and cook for a further two minutes.
Add the lentils to the pot and cover with boiling water (coming up about 3-4 centimetres above the lentils). Bring back to the boil then cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat. Simmer gently until the lentils are cooked through. This may take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes depending on the type of lentils and the size of your burner. Add a little more boiling water from the kettle whenever it’s getting too dry.
When the lentils are cooked add the chopped tomatoes, coriander and dried mint and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Stir the soup/stew with a wooden spoon from time to time to break down some of the lentils to thicken it. If you intend to serve it as a soup add a little boiling water from the kettle to thin it. It’s really totally up to you how thick or thin you want it to be.
Ladle the soup/stew into bowls and spoon some yoghurt over it, then garnish with the reserved onions and coriander leaves. Enjoy!
Autumn is almost upon us and as usual when it’s getting colder I’ve begun craving the comfort of a rich sweet and sour quince stew spooned over steaming mounds of fluffy rice, Kkhoresht-e beh aloo to be exact. Last autumn I meant to share the recipe for my quince, plum and chicken stew with you but other commitments left me no time to write a proper blog post. Before I knew autumn and winter had passed by and spring come again. I had to put writing the recipe post on the back burner till the season for golden, fragrant quinces came again.
I’m lucky quinces are abundant here in England but this year I haven’t seen any on the market yet. Not too long before they appear everywhere, I’m sure. I often see rather old quince trees too, covered in gorgeous pink or white blossoms in spring and laden with fruit in autumn, in people’s backyards and in some parks.
Quinces can be round or pear-shaped.
I buy quinces from farmers markets and more often from Persian, Turkish and other Middle Eastern groceries. If you don’t see them around ask your local grocer, they might be able to source it for you. You may also know someone who will be willing to share some from their garden with you.
Quinces keep quite well in a cold room or in the fridge. You can buy several unbruised quinces and wrap them individually in paper towels to store for as long as a month. They are also great for making jam and a Persian confection called quince halwa (halva-ye beh) too. Quince halwa is very similar to the Spanish/Portuguese dulce de membrillo often served with cheese but is sweeter and usually served with tea. I’ve included recipes for quince jam and quince halwa in my cookbook.
Halva-ye beh (quince halwa) is a confection from northern Iran.
Chunky, ruby red quince jam is my other quince favourite. I often smother toasted bread/crumpets/pancakes/scones with butter or clotted cream and top them with quince jam for a quick treat to satisfy my sweet cravings, with a cup of strong tea of course.
Chunky Persian quince jam is delicious on toasted bread with clotted cream.
In Persian dishes Quinces are often paired with dried Persian plums (aloo bokhara). These are sundried yellow plums with an intensely sweet and sour flavour. They are hard to come by if you don’t have a Persian grocery near you. I always run out of these plums, no matter how big my stash is, but that has never stopped me from making the quince stew. I often use a few puréed cooked plums or a little lemon juice and sugar instead to give that luscious, fruity richness to the sauce.
Aloo bokhara is a sun-dried, slightly fermented skinless golden plum with a distinct sweet and sour flavour.
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve titled this recipe ‘Quince & Plum with Chicken Stew’ and might have wondered if it shouldn’t have been the other way round, chicken first. But no, it’s not a mistake. It’s usually not the meat that takes the pride of the place in a Persian stew, the star of the dish is usually a vegetable, as humble as aubergine, or fruit in fresh or dried form.
So if you fancy lamb make this stew with lamb, or even succulent chunks of stewing beef (shin is the best). Just slow cook the meat and add the quince when the meat is tender. Crinkle-cut slices look so much prettier so put that crinkle cutter gathering dust and rust in a drawer somewhere if you have one.
Adding saffron to this stew enhances the golden colour of the quinces and gives it an extra layer of flavour but there’s so much flavour in quinces and plums the stew will still be very delicious without it. If you choose to add saffron have a look at my How to Use Saffron, the King of Spices for a few tips to make the most of this precious spice.
The following recipe will feed four hungry eaters with rice. You can serve this stew with bread and a crispy lettuce salad too, if you want.
4 large chicken thighs, skin removed
5 tbsp oil (I prefer extra virgin rapeseed oil)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp white pepper (black is okay)
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp salt
2 large quinces
A big handful of Persian dried plums (aloo bokhara- see note below for substitute)
Lemon juice and sugar to taste
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water (optional)
Pomegranate seeds and a few sprigs of herbs to garnish (optional)
*** If you can’t find Persian dried plums cook/roast half a dozen yellow plums, then peel, stone and puree. Heat the puree and add sugar in small quantities (1/2 tsp at a time) and taste until you get a balanced sweet and sour sauce. Use this puree to flavour the chicken cooking sauce to your liking.
Rinse the dried plums and put them in a small bowl. Cover with hot water and let soak.
Saute the chicken thighs in 2 tablespoons of oil in a deep lidded non-stick frying pan without covering until golden on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan and fry the chopped onion until golden brown then add the turmeric, cumin and pepper. Cook for another minute or two and put the tomato puree in. Cook while stirring for another two minutes.
Return the chicken pieces to the pan and add enough hot water to slightly cover them (about 400 ml). Cook with the lid on for about 20-30 minutes or until the thighs are almost tender.
Meanwhile, peel and core the quinces. Cut into thick slices and drop the slices in a bowl of water with a few drops of lemon juice as you go to prevent them from discolouring while you are preparing the rest. Heat the remaining oil in another non-stick pan. Drain the quince slices and pat dry with a tea towel. Saute the quince slices until caramelised around the edges.
When the chicken is tender add the sauteed quince as well as the plums and some of their soaking liquid and the prepared saffron to the pan and cook until the plums are plump and the quince slices are almost tender. Add a little lemon juice and sugar (as much as you like) to get the right sweet and sour flavour for you. You need to have a few spoonfuls of sauce in the pan to spoon over your rice. At this stage add hot water if required, adjust the seasoning and cook for about ten minutes to allow the flavours to meld together. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and herbs and serve immediately with rice.
These Persian-inspired cauliflower ‘rice’ and cauliflower ‘steak’ recipes are the first ones I’ve been writing in quite a while. A major house move recently meant I had very little time to cook, let alone to write blog posts. Probably after announcing the publication of my cookbook in the previous post some of you thought that would put an end to my recipe blog. But no, I promise it’s not the end of it because the book and this blog where I started my food-writing journey are two completely different things, one doesn’t exclude the other.
So let’s talk about my new cauliflower rice and cauliflower steak recipes. I wasn’t too excited when I first had cauliflower rice to be honest with you because it was just another version of roasted or stir-fried cauliflower I normally serve as a side to meat or chicken, just a different and rather uninteresting texture. The ‘steak’ I had at a restaurant a while back was much much better. The thick slice of cauliflower had been brushed with a delicious, slightly sweet Asian sauce and grilled. It was very flavourful and made me think more seriously about creating my own version.
The eureka moment came when I used some of my favourite Persian flavours in the ‘rice’. Saffron, cumin and turmeric all work really well with cauliflower and the barberries and toasted slivered almonds I put in the ‘rice’ completely transformed it. Barberries added a bit of zing to the dish and almonds obviously gave it the much-needed crunch. It was no longer like the clumpy, soggy cauliflower rice I had first had. I had made rather a lot of the ‘rice’ and had the leftovers cold a couple of days later. It tasted great, maybe even better so I guess it’s a great dish to make ahead and serve at room temperature as a salad.
Persian inspired cauliflower rice recipe with saffron, barberries and almonds.
It was quite appropriate to flavour cauliflower ‘steaks’ similarly to imitate the chicken that usually goes with zereshk polo, a Persian rice dish with saffron, barberries and nuts that was the inspiration for the ‘rice’. Zereshk polo is a very popular Iranian dish and one of the recipes I had to include in my book. Cauliflower ‘rice’ and ‘steak’ got a very high approval rate from my son (my best critic, always with great ideas to improve a dish).
Cauliflower steak should be cooked until a little caramelised around the edges.
I often use Persian cumin (aka Persian caraway and zireh poloi in Persian) with cauliflower and other brassicas. It’s a bit different from regular cumin. The seeds are almost black and tinier than regular cumin. It’s my favourite spice and goes into a lot of my dishes as does our beloved saffron. In my marinade for the ‘steaks’ I used a little smoked paprika too. I love the smokey flavour and slightly red hue that it imparts to a dish. It’s a perfect partner for saffron. Do use it if you can get your hands on it.
Don’t assume that saffron will make this dish expensive, not at all. If you have good quality saffron only a tiny pinch will be enough and that’s cheaper than many bottled sauces and spice mixes a lot of us use on a daily basis. To find out how to get the best of your saffron have a look at my How to Use Saffron, the King of Spices.
I took the inspiration for my ‘cauliflower rice’ from zereshk polo which is usually served with saffron chicken.
When you are choosing your cauliflower go for a medium to large head with tightly packed florets. To make the ‘rice’ don’t put the whole thing in a food processor. It does save time but when the cauliflower is chopped too finely it clumps. I use a grater with large holes and leave in some of the tiny florets as they are to give a little bit more texture to the ‘rice’. Rinse your cauliflower and drain it very well before grating to avoid a mushy ‘rice’.
One large cauliflower (800g or more) will give you two thick ‘steaks’ (about 2 1/2 cm thick) and enough ‘rice’ to go with them. You will probably have some leftover rice to eat later, too.
For the steak marinade:
1/2 tsp lemon pepper seasoning (or salt and pepper to taste)
1/4 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
small pinch of ground saffron dissolved in 1 tsp hot water
For the rice and steaks:
Two thick slices of cauliflower (about 2 1/2 cm)
3-4 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
About four cups of coarsely grated cauliflower
1/4 tsp crushed sea salt (preferably smoked)
1/4 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
small pinch of ground saffron dissolved in 1 tsp hot water
2 tbsp barberries
2 tbsp slivered almonds (or pine nuts)
2 tbsp chopped coriander or parsley and a few sprigs to garnish
lemon or lime wedges to serve (optional)
Mix all the ingredients for the marinade and brush the steaks with the marinade. Set aside.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a non-stick pan and add the grated cauliflower. Add the sea salt, turmeric and cumin seeds and stir-fry over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower is cooked. Set aside.
Heat one tablespoon of the oil on medium heat in a large non-stick pan and place the steaks in the oil. Cover with a lid and cook for about 8 minutes or until they are tender but not too soft. Then transfer to the oven and grill on medium on the middle shelf until the steaks are caramelised around the edges. This will take about four or five minutes.
Heat half the remaining oil in a small pan and gently cook the barberries until they are a little puffed up and shiny. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Heat the remaining oil and lightly toast the almond slivers (or pine nuts).
Add the prepared saffron, 3/4 of the barberries, 3/4 of the toasted nuts and 3/4 of the chopped herbs into the rice and gently mix and reheat.
Remove the steaks from the oven when they have caramelised to your liking and transfer to serving plates. Spoon in some of the reheated cauliflower rice and garnish with the rest of the barberries, toasted nuts and herbs and serve.
I’m thrilled to announce that the cookbook I had been working on during the past couple of years will be out soon and is available for preorder on Amazon now. Writing Nightingales & Roses was a long and sometimes bumpy journey for me. It took very long to write about 150 recipes, test every recipe several times and to take photos of every single dish (I did the styling and photography myself).
With the help of a brilliant team at Head of Zeus (my UK publisher), we made the book into what I believe is a very comprehensive collection of authentic Persian recipes from rice dishes, stews and soups to bread, pickles and sweets. I love fusion food and this blog has a lot of fusion-style recipes but I wanted the book to only contain authentic recipes so the recipes are quite different from most of what I have shared here.
There is also an American version by Interlink Books with some minor differences where US cup measurements are given to make it easier for those who are more accustomed to that system. The US version is going to publish earlier, in September and the UK version in November.
I’m so very excited and wanted to thank you, my dear readers, for giving me motivation by sharing the recipes of this blog on the social media. When the share numbers reached thousands I knew I was on the right path.
So thank you, thank you, thank you! I wouldn’t have done it without your support.