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Category: Soups, Appetisers & Fingerfood

Iranian-Style Chicken & Potato Salad (Olivier Salad)

Happy Nowrouz and Spring Equinox! May this new cycle of life bring Peace to the world and happiness, health and prosperity to you all! I know I’ve been missing in action since February but here I am again with a delicious olovieh salad recipe which I hope you will make and enjoy this spring. 

Salad olovieh is our version of the Russian salad also known as Olivier salad. Many countries have a version of this salad created in 1860s by Belgian Lucien Olivier, the chef of the Hermitage, one of Moscow’s grandest restaurants, and so does Iran. The Iranian version, like all of the other versions of Olivier’s grand creation, isn’t even remotely similar to the original. The salad served as the Hermitage included smoked duck, crayfish, veal tongue, grouse and even caviar.

olivier-salad-recipe
Ingredients for the Iranian version of Olivier salad.

The first time I had this delicious salad was at a birthday party when I was about ten years old. For some reason it has become a standard children’s birthday party dish but it’s very popular with grown-ups too. You are likely to find olovieh salad on almost every buffet table and very often on picnic spreads. One can almost say it has been naturalised on Iranian soil but the history of olovieh salad in Iran is probably just a little over sixty or seventy years long.  

olivier-salad-recipe
This recipe for the Iranian version of the Russian salad (aka Olivier salad) includes chicken.

Sālād olovieh sounds like a very old-fashioned dish, and it is, but it’s really moreish and versatile. You can serve it at brunch or for a BBQ party or as sandwich filling. I think using herby, slightly tart fermented cucumber pickles is what makes the salad taste much fresher than a regular mayonnaise-based potato salad. Use shop-bought Iranian khiyar shoor or any Middle-Eastern, Turkish or Polish whole cucumber/gherkin pickles made without sugar. Polish cucumber pickles are the best. And do shred the chicken breast instead of chopping it because shredded chicken gives a very nice texture to the salad. 

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1 rotisserie chicken breast, skinned and shredded
  • 2 medium baking potatoes
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 150g pickled cucumbers, preferably Iranian
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 100g cooked peas
  • 5 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice or ½ tbsp white wine vinegar
  • White pepper
  1. Boil the potatoes (in their jackets) and the carrot in salted water. Allow to cool completely.
  2. Peel and dice or grate the potatoes. Dice the carrot, pickles and eggs. Mix well with the shredded chicken and peas.
  3. Mix the mayonnaise with the lemon juice or vinegar and white pepper and pour over the chopped ingredients. Mix well. Add more mayonnaise or some olive oil if the salad looks too dry.
  4. Chill in the fridge for at least two hours. Serve piled in a bowl or on a lettuce-lined plate and decorate with more mayonnaise, peas or pickles if you wish. Enjoy!

Meatball Soup with Pasta & Herbs (Cheat’s Gushbara) – updated

This meatballs and pasta soup recipe is probably very different from any you’ve ever tried so get yourself prepared for a whole new flavour combination! There is a lot of coriander, garlic and mint in the broth for this soup that give it it’s fabulous aroma and set it apart from other meatball and pasta soups.

This is my cheat’s version of a moreish soup called by a myriad of names all over Iran, Central Asia and the Caucasus.  Each one of these soups is a bit different from the others but they are all made with pasta shaped like tortellini or ravioli. My version is close to one made in northwest Iran and the neighbouring Azerbaijan.

meatballs-and-pasta-soup-recipe
Same soup with different type of pasta

I learnt to make the original version of gushbara from my mother-in-law who is a fabulous cook. Her skill in making pasta dough, rolling the dough and filling small dumplings for the soup has always fascinated me. Hers is finger-licking delicious but takes a lot of time to prepare. But I loved this soup and had to find a way to make something that tasted similar but was easier to make so I came up with this recipe.

Herby soups are part and parcel of Persian cooking. No wonder the word for cook in Persian (ashpaz) is derived from the word for soup (ash, a is pronounced as in art). So a cook is one who makes soups! There are literally hundreds of types of soups with all kinds of flavours, from savoury to sweet and sour, completely vegetarian or with different kinds of meat. Some are thickened with flour, others with noodles, rice, whole grains like wheat and barley or bulgur.

Persian-tomato-soup
A sample of herby Persian soups made with loads of fresh tomatoes.

There are also some soups that are made with pieces of pasta dough like the one from which I’ve taken the inspiration for my cheat’s gushbara. Gushbara translates to “earring” or “like ear lobes” in Persian, because of the shape of the tiny dumplings in the original version.

You may call my gushbara a “deconstructed” version of the real thing. I make it with shop-bought Italian pasta shapes like orecchiette, creste di gallo, farfalle or cappelletti but any kind of pasta shape or even little squares of homemade pasta dough can be used instead. Using dry pasta cuts the preparation time but flavour-wise the end result is quite similar to the original. Critic No 1 (my lovely son and my best food critic) approves of my cheat’s version and is always begging me to make it for him. He is quite a soup expert!

Ingredients for the tiny meatballs
Ingredients for the tiny meatballs
Tiny meatballs ready to be fried
Tiny meatballs ready to be fried
Meatballs almost ready to cook in the broth
Meatballs almost ready to cook in the broth

This curious pasta soup has a long and interesting history too. There are many versions known as gushbarajushpara, jushbaratushbera, dushbara and chuchvara in some regions of Iran, former soviet republics of Central Asia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Afghanistan. A friend from Jordan told me her grandmother made jushbara too but had no idea where it came from.

I’m not going to debate the origins of the dish. My best guess is that it was brought to Iran and all adjacent countries by nomadic Turkic tribes centuries ago and they may have adopted that from an earlier Chinese version. I found a recipe in a 16th century Persian cookbook but the book doesn’t say where the soup originated. It’s fascinating how the dish evolved over the centuries in all these places and how each nation now has claims to its origins.

Today many versions are enjoyed in various parts of Iran where the fillings and flavourings can vary hugely. In some places the pasta parcels are filled with lamb, in others with lentils. Some are made with broth, others with sauce, much like ravioli. I made one recently from eastern regions of Iran with spinach and walnut dumplings. If there could be a cheat’s version of that I’d make it all the time.

In our family gushbara is served with torshi (chopped vegetables pickled in vinegar and spices). When there isn’t any torshi we use lime/lemon juice or good wine vinegar flavoured with garlic paste.

To serve four persons you will need the following ingredients:

  • 250g lean beef mince
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tbsp dried mint
  • 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper or mild chilli flakes
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, grated
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 20g butter (or 4 tbsp of olive oil)
  • 1 1/2 litre boiling water or stock (beef, lamb or chicken)
  • 150g pasta (creste di gallo, farfalle, cappelletti, orecchiette or other pasta shape)
  • 50g coriander, roughly chopped (or more if you love coriander like I do)

Method: 

  1. Squeeze the grated onion with the back of a spoon to extract most of the juices. Discard the onion juice.
  2. Put the mince, spices, salt, mint, grated onion and grated garlic in a bowl. Mix and knead for a couple of minutes. Take small pieces of the mixture and shape into small meatballs.
  3. Melt the butter in a medium-sized frying pan over medium high heat and add the meatballs. Fry the meatballs until lightly browned.
  4. Transfer the meatballs to a medium-sized saucepan. Deglaze the frying pan with some of the boiling water (or stock) and add the juices to the meatballs. Top up with the rest of the water or stock. Bring to the boil. Taste and add salt if required.
  5. Add all the pasta and stir. Cook for at least 15 minutes. Forget about al dente, the pasta should become very soft and thicken the broth a little. Taste and adjust the seasoning again. If there is too little broth to your liking dilute the soup with a little more boiling water or stock.
  6. Add the chopped coriander and cook for a couple of minutes until the coriander is a little wilted. Serve immediately with lime/lemon wedges or vinegar and more chopped coriander if you wish. Enjoy!

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!