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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
For the topping:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.