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Category: Brunch

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!

Persian-Inspired Bundt Meatloaf with Pomegranate Sauce

I’m really excited about this Persian-inspired bundt meatloaf recipe. I came up with the idea of making this dish last night and was lucky to have all the ingredients at home. I was a bit anxious about the way it was going to turn out. It would be a waste of time if it didn’t come out in one piece. It did come out in perfect shape and it was incredibly moist and scrumptious too.

There’s good reason for making food with a touch of glamour now. Many of us will be celebrating two occasions next week. There’s Christmas obviously, and Yalda, the ancient festival of Winter Solstice that Iranians celebrate on the evening of December 21st. Two celebrations in one week. Good to beat winter gloom, right? Food will be the centre of both occasions and what’s better than sharing food with loved ones in a festive environment?

stuffed-meatloaf-recipe
Filling the bundt tin with a layer of the beef mixture, then eggs, carrots (I used both orange and purple) and spinach.

We celebrate Yalda with company, food and drinks, candles, games and poetry. Pomegranates and watermelons are Yalda staples. I guess it’s because of the red colour of these fruits. Red is associated with fire and therefore with the sun and light. Yalda, the longest night of the year, is the night that the Sun goes to battle with the powers of darkness. It will win some ground on the first day of winter and gradually bring about more light and longer days and lead to the complete rebirth of nature on the day of the Spring Equinox (which we also celebrate, as our New Year).

Symbolism plays a huge role in the types of food eaten during Persian festivals. The food of New Year (Nowrouz) is usually green, like green rice, and there are plenty of growth and rebirth symbols around in the Nowrouz decorations too. According to some theories Christmas is related to ancient Winter Solstice festivals of the pagans and Mithras, the Sun God of the Romans. Whatever the origins of Christmas, it’s a great time to celebrate and be merry!

Persian-meatloaf-recipe
Cover the eggs, spinach and carrots carefully with a layer of the beef mixture and make sure there are no gaps on the sides.

Back to my meatloaf: I make meatloaf only once in a while and try to make it a bit different every time but I had never made one with pomegranate sauce. This was my first time and I’m so glad I acted on what at first seemed like one of those crazy ideas that spring up to mind when one is too tired of doing the same things over and over again.

Inspiration for this dish came from a gorgeous huge pomegranate that had been sitting on the counter for a few days. The jewel-like seeds (arils) can be sweet, sour, sweet and sour and the colour may range from pinkish white to very dark red. Whatever the colour or flavour it’s always a great thing to cook with. It had to be pomegranates in one form or another this time.

pomegranate-sauce-recipe
Pomegranate seeds, caramelised onions, pomegranate molasses and tomato purée are the main ingredients of the delicious sauce for my meatloaf.

My sauce has pomegranate molasses as well as seeds but I think the seeds were what made the dish one to remember. The scrumptious, slightly sweet and sour, pomegranate studded sauce was really wow! Drizzled on the meatloaf it made such huge change from the ordinary to the festive. Best meatloaf I’ve ever made, seen or had.

luxury-meatloaf-recipe
Luxury meatloaf dressed with the pomegranate sauce and ready to slice.

When I finally took the tin out of the oven and turned the meatloaf out I was surprised by how perfect it came out. No trouble at all. Cakes sometimes give me a hard time but this was as easy as pie! I had made the sauce while waiting for the meatloaf to bake so there was really no last minute work. I just drizzled the sauce on the meatloaf and TOOK PICTURES! I had to make the photography very quick so we could have our dinner before the meatloaf got cold. The rest is history.

Persian-inspired-meatloaf
Slice of bundt meatloaf with pomegranate sauce.

This meatloaf will serve eight people. You can always divide the quantities in half and bake the meatloaf in a loaf tin which will also look stunning when sliced. Serve with some sort of bread and a crisp, green salad. Oh, by the way, this tastes great cold too so you may want to try it on a brunch menu.

PS: Do use lean beef mince (10 to 12%). There’s so much flavour going on in this meatloaf that you really don’t need the extra fat. For loaf tin use half the amounts given below.

Ingredients:

For layering and assembling the meatloaf:

  • 3 medium red onions, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp oil (extra virgin rapeseed is best)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 250g baby spinach, washed and drained well
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2-3 small carrots, boiled and sliced lengthways
  • 4 medium eggs, boiled and peeled

For the mince mixture:

  • 1 kilo (two pounds) lean minced beef
  • 2 egg yolks and one whole egg, lightly whisked
  • 2 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed well
  • 1 1/2 tsp crushed sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp dried mint
  • 1/2 tbsp dried dill
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 large knob of butter to grease the tin

For the sauce and garnish:

  • 180g pomegranate seeds
  • 3 tbsp tomato purée
  • 20g butter
  • 400ml of boiling water or low-sodium stock
  • 4-5 tbsp pomegranate molasses (or as required)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped or slivered pistachios to garnish (optional)

Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the chopped onions with a pinch of salt on medium-low heat until caramelised. Divide in half. Remove one half from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add the spinach to the caramelised onions in the frying pan and cover. Cook until the spinach is wilted. Uncover and cook, stirring from time to time, until all the juices evaporate and the spinach looks almost dry. Leave to cool.
  3. Put all the ingredients for the mince mixture (except the butter) in a large bowl and add the pomegranate molasses and half of the reserved caramelised onions. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Preheat the oven to 260C/500F (or full whack) and grease the bundt tin with the butter.
  5. To assemble the meatloaf put less than half of the mince mixture in the tin and press down. Make four shallow holes in the mince to hold the boiled eggs. Lay the eggs in the holes and arrange slices of boiled carrots around the eggs avoiding the sides of the tin. Cover the eggs and carrots with the onion-spinach mixture, again avoiding the sides as much as possible. Fill the sides with some of the mince mixture and cover with the rest of the mince. Press the mince gently and smooth the surface. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown. This is a very high temperature meant to seal the loaf so keep an eye on it.
  6. Reduce the oven to 220C/400F and bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and there are no pink juices when you insert a skewer down the meatloaf. There will be a lot of juice from the mince mix that need to reduce. You don’t want it to dry completely or burn though so keep an eye on your lovely bundt loaf during the last ten minutes and cook longer if required. When done an instant read thermometer inserted in the loaf should register 160C.
  7. Remove the tin from the oven, cover with foil and let rest for five minutes. Drain the juices into a small bowl (shouldn’t be more than half a cup) and return the meatloaf to the oven (in the tin, covered with foil) to keep warm while you are making the sauce.
  8. Reserve some of the pomegranate seeds for garnishing and put the the rest with the remaining 1/4 of the caramelised onions in a frying pan and cook for five minutes on medium-low heat. Stir from time to time. Add the tomato purée and the butter and cook for a couple of minutes while stirring. Add the boiling water (or stock if using), the juices from the meatloaf and the pomegranate molasses. Stir and bring back to the boil. Cook until the sauce is a little reduced. Season with salt and pepper if required.
  9. To serve put a dish on top of the bundt tin and holding tight with both hands turn out the meatloaf. Use oven gloves and be very careful not to splatter juices (if not drained properly before) on yourself. Spoon the sauce over the meatloaf and garnish with the reserved pomegranate seeds and pistachios. Serve hot or cold with warmed bread and a leafy green salad.

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!