This morning as I was puttering around the kitchen I had a sudden craving for a salad of tender shoots of wild tumble thistle and yoghurt (kangar mast). We’ve just returned from a holiday and have not done our vegetable shopping yet. Even if we had, wild tumble thistle shoots would obviously not be available anywhere here.
I opened the fridge and stared at the quite empty vegetable drawers.There were a few fennel bulbs in the bottom drawer. It occurred to me to use the fennel to make something similar to what I was craving for and this caramelised fennel salad recipe which will definitely be a keeper with me was born. Necessity is the mother of invention as the saying goes…
Fennel is not a vegetable commonly grown in Iran. Once in a while if I were lucky I would find a few small bulbs at the exotic fruit and veg stalls of my favourite market in Tehran. Living in the UK now I often have some in the fridge for making my Tomato & Fennel Salad with Vegan Pistachio Pesto or my favourite fennel, orange and olive salad with balsamic vinegar dressing.
Tumble thistle (kangar in Persian, akkoub in Arabic, kenger in Turkish, kereng in Kurdish) grows all over the place in the Middle East and is widely used in Persian, Armenian, Kurdish, Turkish and Levantine cuisines. This plant is related to artichoke and cardoon. While the edible part of the artichoke plant is its flower bud, cardoons are grown for the celery-like leaf stalks. Kangar, however, is the young shoot of the plant that has barely reached the ground level. The grown plant is very thorny and inedible.
This amazing seasonal wild vegetable is quite neutral in flavour but becomes very tasty with cooking. It’s also believed to have lots of health benefits. I must admit that the flavour of cooked fennel wasn’t the same as kangar but I’m so happy I trusted my instincts because the combination of caramelised fennel and yoghurt turned out really delicious. It’s the kind of flavour Iranians like very much. A dish of cooked vegetables with yoghurt, often with garlic too, is called
A dish of cooked vegetables with yoghurt, often with garlic but very lightly spiced, is called borani or burani in Persian. The most common are spinach (borani esfenaj) and aubergine/eggplant borani (borani bademjan). My 16th-century cookbook also mentions truffle borani and wild asparagus borani. More on borani in future posts hopefully.
This salad keeps well in the fridge for several days and gets even better as flavours mix. Now it’s time for the recipe:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This curious pasta soup has a long and interesting history too. There are many versions known as gushbara, jushpara, jushbara, tushbera, 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: