this is a page for

Category: Soups, Appetisers & Fingerfood

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!

Dolmeh: Persian-Style Stuffed Chard Leaves (Vegan)

This Swiss chard recipe came as a substitute for dolmeh, our favourite stuffed grape-vine leaves but turned out so good I’d be making them again and again. It was that time of year when I had woken up from my winter slumber and started craving food from the garden. One of my favourite spring foods is dolmeh (stuffed leaves or veggies). I usually make it with freshly picked grape leaves if I’m lucky to find a good vine with slightly sour, tender and nicely round leaves. But here in the UK I don’t get that lucky too often.  Most grape varieties grown here have thicker, downy leaves or the leaves have deep cuts that makes them hard to stuff. Most brined grape leaves I’ve tried were quite tough too. But there are other leaves that can be stuffed to make dolmeh, right?

I grow lots of Swiss chard and beets in my garden. They are the easiest vegetables to grow and if the frosts don’t bite too hard they keep their leaves even through winter. I always thought it was a shame to discard the leaves after using the rainbow chard stems that come in bright red, yellow and green so used the leaves much as I would use spinach. But one day it occurred to me to substitute them for grape leaves. It worked, much much better than I thought.

making-dolmeh-Swiss-chard
Swiss chard leaves are very tender and nutritious.

Stuffed leaves and vegetables, appear in most Middle Eastern cuisines. Every country has its own version and so does Iran. The Persian name (dolmeh) derives from a Turkish root meaning to stuff. Armenian tolma and Greek dolmas are other variants of the same name.

The flavour of the stuffed leaves hugely varies from place to place. Iran has several variants of stuffed grape leaves (dolmeh barg mo) from lightly sour, to sour as well as a sweet and sour version. Some are vegetarian, others made with meat. Some are flavoured with herbs, others with spices. some are made with rice, others with bulghur or a mixture of the two.

Beet-leaves-dolmeh
Beet leaves are not as tender as chard leaves but still very good for making dolmeh.

My title says Persian-style and that’s what these gorgeous bundles of flavour and goodness are. Persian dolmeh are different in several ways including shape. They are shaped like little square parcels rather than rolls like everywhere else. I felt more comfortable rolling the chard leaves like spring rolls but the taste is very very Persian because of the herbs that I’ve used to flavour these.

Persian-grape-vine-leaf-dolmeh
A huge pot of stuffed vine leaves with garlic and gooseberries (substituted for gojeh sabz).

Persian rice is very hard to come by here and I don’t like the texture and look of basmati, the most often used substitute, in dolmeh. I used arborio rice for making my dolmeh. It’s the kind of rice used for making risotto and very tasty. I’ve made it with Thai Jasmine and it works really well too.

As you can see in the picture below the rice for the stuffing is only half-cooked. it will complete its cooking with the rest of the stuffing ingredients inside the leaves so it can absorb all the lovely flavours from other the herbs and spices without getting too mushy.

dolmeh-ingredients
Put all the stuffing ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

In Iran dolmeh are usually made with yellow lentils (split peas). I was feeling a bit adventurous so I went for red kidney beans. I’m glad I did because they looked and tasted great, not to say anything of their protein content.

Did you know there’s a gadget for rolling stuffed grape leaves? It’s a wonderful thing to have if you are making huge quantities and want all your stuffed leaves to be all uniform in shape and size. Here’s a video that demonstrates how the gadget works.  In the pictures below you can see how I roll mine by hand. Not that hard really.

dolmeh-stuffing
Stage one: When lightly steamed chard leaves become soft and easy to fill and roll into shape. Spread a leaf and patch up if necessary, then place a small amount of the filling near the end.
dolma-chard
Stage two: Fold in the end facing you and then sides over the stuffing.
dolmeh-dolma-dolmades
Stage three: Carefully roll each leaf into shape and arrange in a prepared saucepan in layers.

I can’t really tell you how much leaves you need for making enough of these parcels of deliciousness. It all depends on how big or small you roll your dolmeh. Let’s say you need about thirty big leaves. Any remaining leaves can be used for other things, like stirring into yoghurt with some mashed garlic and seasoning for a healthy dip. This recipe will make generous appetiser portions for four people.

ingredients:

  • 30 largish but tender chard, beet or vine leaves
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 200g Arborio or Thai Jasmine rice
  • 15g parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 10g tarragon leaves, finely chopped (or substitute with fresh mint)
  • 11/2 tbsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp dried dill (or 10g fresh dill, chopped)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 can of red kidney beans
  • Juice of one medium lemon

Method:

  1. Put the chard leaves in a big bowl and pour boiling water on the leaves. Cover with cling film and set aside to soften the leaves.
  2. Fry the chopped onion in two tablespoons of olive oil on medium low until golden brown. Stir from time to time so it colours evenly. Set aside.
  3. Bring 600 millilitres of water to boil in a small saucepan, add a pinch of salt and boil the rice briefly until it’s half-cooked. Drain well and put in a large bowl.
  4. Add the spices, salt, chopped garlic, herbs, beans and fried onions to the rice and mix well.
  5. Drain the chard leaves and use a couple to cover the bottom of a medium-sized lidded saucepan.
  6. Lay the leaves on a chopping board one by one and fill with a heaped tablespoon of the stuffing mixture. Patch up the leaves if they are broken or torn. Roll each leaf as shown in the pictures above. Don’t roll too tightly to allow for the further expansion of the stuffing.
  7. Arrange the stuffed leaves in the prepared saucepan snugly. Depending on the size of your saucepan you may have two or three layers of stuffed leaves.
  8. Pour enough water on the stuffed leaves to barely cover them. Add the lemon juice and the rest of the olive oil. Cover the dolmeh with a small heatproof plate. This will help keep the stuffed leaves in place. Bring to a very gentle boil on the smallest burner of your cooker and reduced the heat to very low. Cook for thirty minutes or until all the water is absorbed. If your burner is big and the water evaporates too quickly add small amounts of boiling water from time to time. The longer and slower the dolmeh cook, the tastier they will get. At the end of the cooking there shouldn’t be more than a tablespoon or two of water left.
  9. Turn off the heat, remove the plate and let the dolmeh cool a bit and settle. Carefully remove and arrange on a plate. Pour any remaining juices from the pot over the dolmeh and serve warm or cold. Enjoy!

Persian-Style Saffron, Cauliflower & Broccoli Frittata (kookoo)

Saffron is what makes the flavour of this cauliflower and broccoli frittata very unique. I call it a frittata just for the sake of convenience. To anyone who’s Persian it’s a kookoo (or kūkū). I find it a wonderful dish to serve for brunch but I’ll happily have it for lunch or even dinner any day. With a nice crispy lettuce salad of course.

Kookoo is any dish of vegetables, herbs, meat (or a mixture of these) or even nuts mixed with eggs and cooked to a golden perfection in the shape of a thin, round cake. There are numerous types of kookoo but the most popular one has to be kookoo sabzi, a very green frittata full of herbs.  Kookoo sabzi was the dish that inspired me to make my Kale and Potato Egg Muffins (see the recipe here).

Kookoo-sabzi
Kookoo sabzi (herb kookoo) is one of the most popular types of kookoo. It’s usually made with parsley, dill, Persian chives and coriander.
Another kookoo with broad beans and dill.
Another kookoo with broad beans and dill.

Broccoli became widely available in Iran only over a decade ago but its cousin, cauliflower, has been around for decades and is often used to make kookoo. My recipe combines the two vegetables but you can use either one on its own. Making this kookoo is an excellent way to use leftover steamed or roasted cauliflower and/or broccoli, too.

kookoo
Chop the steamed broccoli and cauliflower very roughly .

Kookoo is traditionally made in a round frying pan. This requires cooking it on gentle heat on one side and flipping it to cook the other side too. Many cooks now prefer to bake their frittata in the oven and use different shapes of tins. I like to bake kookoo in muffin tins (like the kookoo sabzi pictured above) to make serving easy. Sometimes I bake it in a square or rectangular cake tin so I can cut it into neat squares like this broccoli and cauliflower kookoo. Just make sure your tin is really non-stick.

kookoo cut into small cubes makes nice finger-food for parties.
kookoo cut into small cubes makes nice finger-food for parties.

Ingredients

  • 500g cauliflower
  • 250g broccoli florets
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp flour (omit for gluten-free or use gluten-free cake flour)
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil

Method:

  1. Steam or briefly boil the cauliflower and broccoli florets until they are tender. Drain well. Mash most of the cauliflower with a potato masher and and chop the broccoli and the rest of the cauliflower roughly.
  2. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F.
  3. Prepare the saffron according to the instructions in my post on How to Use Saffron, the King of Spices with 1/2 tablespoon water.
  4. Add the eggs, flour, salt, turmeric and baking powder to the saffron and beat with a whisk to incorporate the flour. Fold the chopped vegetables in the egg mixture.
  5. Drizzle the oil in a non-stick coated square cake tin (25cm X 25cm) or a similar sized non-stick ovenproof frying pan. Put the tin in the oven for four minutes or until a little of the mixture dropped in the oil starts bubbling around the edges. Pour the mixture in the hot tin carefully and immediately shake the pan to distribute the mixture. Level the top with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Bake for 20 minutes.
  6. Brush some more oil on top of the kookoo. Reduce the oven to 170C/325F. Bake for 10 minutes longer or until the top is golden. Let the kookoo cool a little in the tin.
  7. Put a slightly larger chopping board or platter on the tin or frying pan. Holding the tin or pan and the chopping board carefully with both hands invert the frittata like a cake. Cut the kookoo in wedges or squares with a bread knife. Serve warm or cold. Enjoy!