Potato, Spring Onion & Leek Persian Frittata (Kookoo Sibzamini ba Piazcheh)

This recipe for potato, leek and spring onion frittata is a good way to use up those spring onion greens and the odd leek sitting in the fridge. What a delicious way to use up the veggies that would have ended up in the bin if I hadn’t remembered this easy recipe I hadn’t made in a very long time!

 

spring-onions-and-leek
A few spring onions and a leek I had no other use for became the main ingredients in my spring onion and leek kookoo.

We had it with salad for dinner and the leftovers went into yummy flatbread wraps with parsley and radishes for lunch two days later when I was too busy to cook.

I’ve called this dish a frittata in the title to give an idea of what the dish is like to readers who are not too familiar with Persian cuisine. In Persian cuisine this will be a kookoo.

kookoo-piazcheh-ingredients
Ingredients ready to be mixed. It’s best to shred the potatoes but grated will work fine too.

Persian kookoo (also spelled as kuku) is a omelette with loads of vegetables or herbs. There are some with meat or nuts too but most are vegetarian. The best thing about a kookoo  is that it can be served both warm and cold. I actually like the leftovers more than the freshly made dish so I often make it ahead for brunch, picnics or as part of a mezze spread.

kookoo-bademjan-ba-morgh
Aubergine (eggplant) and chicken kookoo with barberries just out of the oven.

A kookoo is usually cooked in a small round frying pan and cut into wedges to serve but sometimes people make them in the shape of small pancakes. I prefer the traditional cake-like shape. In recent years using muffin tins for making kookoo has gained popularity too. Have you seen my Kale & Potato Egg Muffins recipe? Those delicious egg muffins were inspired by Persian kookoo sabzi (herby green kookoo). Baking them in muffin tins made it very easy to pack them into my lunch boxes for work.

kookoo-sabzi
Kale and potato egg muffins inspired by kookoo sabzi.

The traditional way of making kookoo is on stove-top like most Persian dishes but baking in the oven is a good option too and much easier. If you are using the oven a temperature of 180-200C generally works perfectly. Duration of cooking, however, depends on the size of the dish the batter is baked in. The thicker the batter, the longer it will take to cook through.

Now a reminder: Non-stick utensils are a Persian cook’s best friend. It’s best to use a non-stick coated frying pan or cake tin to make kookoos. 

To make a large kookoo to serve four (eight as starter) you will need the following ingredients:

 

Ingredients: 

  • 3 large potatoes (about 700g total), shredded or grated
  • 1 or 2 bunches of spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium leek, cut in half lengthways and thinly sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper or mild chilli flakes (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 5 large eggs
  • 4 tbsp rapeseed oil (preferably extra virgin)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C (375F).
  2. Put 3 tablespoons of the oil in a 25cm non-stick coated ovenproof frying pan or cake tin. Oil the sides of the dish and place in the oven to heat for three minutes or until the oil is very hot and a drop of the batter dropped in the oil starts sizzling.
  3. While you are waiting for the oil to heat put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix very well with a large spoon. I put on a disposable glove and get my hand into the batter. Whichever suits you best.
  4. Pour the batter in the oil. Shake the pan or tin. Cover with kitchen foil and poke a few holes in the foil with the tip of a knife. Put the tin in the centre of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until the top is set. Brush with the rest of the oil and bake for 20 more minutes or until the top is golden brown. If the top is browning too quickly use a piece of kitchen foil to prevent a burnt top.
  5. Let cool in the tin for ten minutes and invert on a board like a cake. Cut into wedges with a sharp knife.
  6. Serve warm or cold. Bon appétit!

Persian Sweet & Sour Chicken Meatballs with Carrots & Prunes

This Persian sweet and sour chicken meatballs recipe is my quick and easy variation of khoresht-e aloo ba havij (plum & carrot khoresht/khoresh).

I hate to call it a stew but there’s no other word in English to use. In Persian cuisine my sweet and sour chicken meatballs belongs to the category of khoresht (also pronounced as khoresh) like many other so-called stews that we serve with rice. Like curries if you will. Khoreshts can be green, yellow, red or even dark brown.

Khoreshts are made with various kinds of vegetables, herbs, nuts, fruits and pulses. Many include meat, poultry or fish but there are some without. A khoresht is often named after whichever ingredient that is the star of the dish. Possibilities are quite endless.

khoresht-karafs
Lamb and celery in mint and parsley sauce is an example of green, herby khoresht served with rice.

You’ve probably noticed that there’s no mention of chicken in the Persian version of the name of the my khoresht. That’s because in this one carrots and prunes are the shining stars.

Have you seen my Persian Aubergine (Eggplant) Stew with Meatballs & Dried Lime recipe? If you are not a big fan of meat you can make that one with chicken pieces or meatballs like this one. Or use mushrooms if you like and it will still be khoresht bademjoon (aubergine/eggplant khoresht).

khoresht-beh
Lamb meatballs with quinces, prunes and yellow lentils (khoresht-e beh) is another example of khoresht.

Nothing is really set in stone in Persian cooking. We even don’t really measure our ingredients. Most Persian cooks just use their eyes, taste buds and noses and few have measuring cups and spoons in their kitchens!

I learned cooking in the same way. My grandmothers didn’t have measuring cups or scales in their kitchens but very magically they managed to turn out fabulous dishes of same quality every time.

When I’m writing recipes I do use scales and measuring spoons. It takes more time but I want to give you a recipe that works. You can go on to make it your own by adjusting the ingredients to your own taste. It’s the method that really matters.

chicken-meatballs
Frying the meatballs until they are golden makes the sauce richer and the meatballs more delicious.

I often make my sweet and sour chicken with thigh pieces but when I have chicken breasts in the fridge I tend to make chicken meatballs for this khoresht rather than using whole or cut up breasts. All the spices that I add to the meatballs and the onion that goes into it makes the rather bland chicken breast taste so much better and more succulent.

In Iran this dish is usually made with golden aloo bokhara, a special kind of yellow plums that are poached, peeled and sun dried. Aloo bokhara is quite hard to come by here. I find prunes a very good substitute but add a little fresh lemon juice to the sauce. It works quite well.

I did say nothing is set in stone, right? Cut your carrots in any shape you like but do sauté them in a little oil before adding to the pan.
I did say nothing is set in stone, right? Cut your carrots in any shape you like but do sauté them in a little oil before adding to the pan.

Chicken meatballs with carrots and prunes is delicious with rice but you can also serve it on its own, with crusty bread and a nice green salad like my Herby, Garlicky, Lemony Romaine Lettuce Salad and a lovely glass of dry white wine.

Ingredients to serve four:

For the meatballs:

  • 3 medium chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
  • 1 tbsp butter

For the sauce:

  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced or cut into batons
  • A handful of pitted prunes
  • Pinch of ground saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
  • sugar to taste

Method:

  1. Put the cubed chicken, onion, salt and spices in a food processor and blitz until everything is chopped up.
  2. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. Wet your hands and shape the chicken mixture into balls larger than walnuts. Add to the pan and fry on medium heat until golden brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add one tablespoon oil to the pan and gently fry the carrots for a few minutes without colouring. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  4. Add the rest of the oil to the pan and fry the chopped onions on medium heat until well caramelised. Add the turmeric and cumin and cook briefly. Add the tomato paste and salt and cook for a minute or two.
  5. Return the chicken meatballs and carrots to the pan. Add the prunes and enough boiling water to almost cover the meatballs. Bring to the boil. Add the saffron and lower the heat. Cover the pan and simmer for thirty minutes or until the carrots and prunes are cooked through.
  6. Add lemon juice and a pinch of sugar to taste and adjust the seasoning. During cooking you can always add a little boiling water if the sauce is too thick or cook longer to reduce it. Serve with rice.

Persian Plum Soup with Fried Mint Topping (ash-e aloocheh)

Hello there my lovely friends! How about a vegetarian Persian plum soup recipe today? Did I hear yes? I think I did hear a few of you who had “liked” the picture on the social media but I hope you will give it a try even if you hadn’t. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Most classic Persian soups are satisfying meals on their own. Like minestrone they are usually chock full of vegetables, herbs and green leaves, legumes and grains. Cooking ash (a is pronounced as in art) is so important in Persian cuisine that a professional cook is actually called ashpaz “one who cooks soups” and the general word for cooking is ashpazi.

Our most popular thick soup is probably ash reshteh (noodle and beans soup), pictured below.  It’s cooked both for everyday meals and for special occasions. It can be on the menu of restaurants or sold in roadside huts in snowy mountain roads.

Ash-reshteh-Persian-noodle-soup
Ash reshteh (noodle soup) is made with beans, chickpeas, lentils, loads of herbs and hand-pulled wheat noodles.

Egg-drop soups (eshkaneh/eshkeneh) are of a different category. They are quick to make and usually require very few ingredients. My favourite is the one made with onions, dried mint, turmeric and eggs of course. It’s my go to on a cold day when I need something quick, filling and warming. I love to soak torn flatbread in the soup and have it with vinegary vegetable pickles.

eshkaneh-Persian-egg-drop-soup
Eshkaneh/eshkeneh is a delicious rustic quick egg drop soup usually eaten with flatbread “croutons”.

Most Persian soups are vegetarian or even vegan. Adding meat, chicken or stock is usually a choice, not a requirement. My plum soup is also completely vegetable-based but one can make it with stock too. Plum soup is thickened with rice and takes its flavour from caramelised onions, turmeric and herbs.

plum-soup
Plums of all colours and sorts can be used in ash-e aloocheh

I make this soup with whatever kind of fresh plums I happen to have. In early summer I make it with foraged plums (the tiny sour ones), damsons or greengages. Sweet and sour, more on the sour side, is the characteristic flavour of many Persian dishes. I may balance the flavour of the soup with a little sugar if the plums I’m using are too sour. If they aren’t sour enough I add a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice.

plums-for-persian-plum-soup-ash
Stoned plums before turning into pulp in a food processor.

You don’t need to completely puree the plums. Some bits will add texture to the soup. And the herbs don’t need to be chopped too finely either. It’s nicer when the soup is a bit chunky. You can see what you should be looking for in the pictures below.

Stoned plums mashed in a food processor.
Stoned plums mashed in a food processor.
Persian-ash-chopped-herbs
Chop the herbs and spinach roughly before adding to the soup base.

One last thing: Fried mint topping is very often used to garnish soups but it’s much more than a garnish. Fried dried mint adds a lot of flavour to soups and helps with digestion. Combining ingredients in certain ways to help maintain good health is one of basic skills a Persian cook needs to have.

According to principles handed down for generations Persian cooks divide ingredients into two major categories, those that are “hot” and others that are “cold”. Plums like most other stone fruit are considered as “cold”. They can cause indigestion and wind. Mint, on the other hand, is a rather “hot” ingredient. So the topping of this soup balances the “coldness” of the plums.

You can read more about “hot and cold” in Persian cooking and ancient medical lore in The Hot and Cold Secrets of the Persian Kitchen by Tori Egherman in Global Voices to which I made a little contribution.

Ingredients to serve four to six persons:

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp oil (rapeseed, olive or vegetable oil)
  • 11/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 litres boiling water
  • 120g Persian, pudding or arborio rice, rinsed in a sieve
  • 120g yellow lentils (split peas), parboiled and rinsed
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • Pinch of ground black pepper
  • 500g fresh plums or greengages
  • 250g fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
  • 80g coriander, roughly chopped
  • 80g parsley, roughly chopped
  • Sugar, lemon juice (to adjust the flavour if necessary)

For the topping:

  • 2 tbsp dried mint
  • 4 tbsp oil (rapeseed, olive or vegetable oil)

Method:

  1. Put the chopped onion in a saucepan and add the oil. Sauté on medium-low heat until it’s golden brown. This may take as long as fifteen minutes but the slower you cook the onion, the better it will be.
  2. Add the turmeric and stir. Cook, stirring, until you can smell the turmeric.
  3. Add the boiling water and all the rest of the ingredients (except the topping ingredients) to the saucepan. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the rice is completely cooked and thickened the soup and the lentils are soft. Stir from time to time so it doesn’t catch in the bottom.
  4. This soup should be medium thick. If necessary, add a little boiling water to dilute or simmer the soup longer to make it thicker. Adjust the seasoning and if the soup is too sour for your liking, add a pinch of sugar. Let the soup simmer while you are preparing the topping.
  5. Heat the oil in the smallest saucepan that you have over medium low heat. Throw in the dried mint and stir. Cook for a few seconds or until the mint becomes fragrant. Dried mint burns very quickly so remove from the heat as soon as it’s fragrant.
  6. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and add a little fried mint to each serving. Enjoy!

How to Use Saffron, the King of Spices

Do you know how to use saffron to draw out the maximum flavour, colour and aroma from a tiny amount? My social media friends often point out that saffron is too expensive when I recommend using it in a recipe. My answer is “It isn’t, If you know how to use saffron.” One such comment from a twitter friend today inspired me to write this post I should have written long ago.

Saffron is the most expensive spice on this planet and more expensive than gold by weight. So very true. But have you asked yourself how Persian cooks manage to use it in so many recipes, both sweet and savoury? Are we really that rich to put something more expensive than gold in our food almost everyday? The answer is no. We just know how to use a tiny amount of saffron for maximum impact.

Persian-saffron-ice-cream
Persian ice cream is often flavoured with saffron. I’ve used a few soaked whole threads as decoration.

The list of the dishes we make with saffron is endless. Take our beloved saffron rice pudding (sholeh zard) for instance, or our savoury rice cake (tahchin). The deep yellow colour, the sweet hay-like aroma and the flavour of saffron gives these dishes their unique character. Without saffron they would never be what they are. But in many other dishes like most of our stews (curry-like dishes) the use of saffron is optional, just to add more flavour, aroma.

sholeh-zard
Persian saffron rice pudding (sholeh zard). This decadent saffron and cardamom flavoured sweet pudding is decorated with cinnamon, sliced almonds and pistachios. Sholeh zard is often made in huge quantities for religious ceremonies during which it is distributed to the poor as alms.

Is saffron cheap in Iran where more than 90 per cent of the world crop is grown? No, not really. But we get the best for our money. Iranian saffron is really potent. Our saffron comes in various grades. The best are negin and then sargol respectively (from the tip of the stigmas). These are the strongest. What remains after separating the tip of the stigmas (the barely yellow end side of the threads) is the cheapest. It doesn’t have much colour but still has some aroma.

zereshk-polo-ba-morgh
A small amount of saffron can easily make everyday rice and chicken an indulgent, festive meal. The use of saffron in zereshk polo ba morgh (barberry rice with chicken) is optional.

So let me tell you a bit about the plant that produces this most expensive spice before we get to how to prepare and use saffron. Saffron comes from crocus sativus. The plant is related to spring and autumn-flowering garden crocus and blooms in autumn. In the picture below you can see the three dark orange stigmas. These stigmas are our “edible gold”.

saffron-flower
Bee enjoying the nectar from a saffron flower.

The stigmas have to be picked by hand. This is a very labour-intensive job so it’s no wonder saffron is so expensive. Moreover, the plant likes warm and sunny climates so it doesn’t grow well in many places. But a gram of good saffron will see you through quite a few dishes. Yes, one gram only! It’s probably cheaper than many commercially packed spice mixes given its potency.

joojeh-kabab-zaferani
Chargrilled skewered chicken flavoured with saffron (joojeh kabab zaferani) can be found on the menu of almost every restaurant in Iran. It’s served with rice or bread with a side of  chargrilled whole tomatoes and long peppers.

There are different methods for preparing saffron. Persian cooks always grind saffron threads to a fine powder. This way even a small pinch will release enough colour and aroma to make an everyday dish look very indulgent.

So if you like to use saffron more often invest in a small stone, ceramic or metal mortar and pestle with a rather rough surface on the inside. It’s best never to use the mortar and pestle for grinding other spices or to wash it.

saffron-grinding
Persian cooks grind saffron threads in a small mortar with a pestle to a fine powder. The grade of saffron in the mortar is sargol  (the stigma tips only).

In humid weather it may be a little difficult to grind saffron threads. A pinch of coarse sugar is often added to saffron threads to make grinding easier. Damp threads can also be dried in a microwave oven for 20-30 seconds on a piece of kitchen paper before grinding. Keeping your stash of saffron in a tightly covered small jar in a cool, dark place helps keep it dry.

The next step in preparation of saffron is “brewing” it to make saffron liquid. There are two methods for brewing saffron. Both work really well. Any leftover saffron liquid will keep in a tightly covered jar in the fridge for more than a week. Ground saffron will also keep well in a cool, dry place for at least a month. Saffron liquid is deep red but will turn yellow when mixed with food.

  • Brewing in boiling water: Put 1/4 teaspoon of saffron powder in a tiny jar. Add one tablespoon freshly boiled water that you have allowed to cool for a few seconds. Cover the jar with the lid and put it in a warm place. I often let my saffron brew on the lid of a simmering pot or kettle and use the liquid (and the grinds) after ten or fifteen minutes. This method produces a deeper colour.
  • Brewing with ice: Put 1/4 teaspoon saffron in a small bowl or cup. Add an ice cube (crushed ice is best). Leave to infuse for about ten minutes or until the ice has completely melted. The gradual melting of the ice will bring out the colour and aroma of saffron very nicely. Use the liquid as required.

Now that you know how to use saffron you might want to try some saffron recipes. How about starting with one the following?

One word of caution: Saffron is not just a spice. It has been proven to elevate mood and has been used since ancient times, both in the East and the West, as medicine. Like any other medicine excessive use of saffron can be harmful. The small amounts used to flavour food are generally safe for everybody. Large amounts (like in strong saffron brews and sherbets) can be harmful to pregnant women.