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Category: Soups, Appetisers & Fingerfood

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 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!