Persian Cuisine and Beyond

Photo | Submitted Georgian Walnut and Eggplant Rolls

Photo | Submitted
Georgian Walnut and Eggplant Rolls

Persian cuisine is ancient, and it adapted as well as inspired the cuisines of many ancient countries and cultures. It borrowed spices and recipes from India, ancient Greece and Rome, and influenced recipes of Turkish and Iranian dishes. At times, it is hard to tell who borrowed from whom and where (due to the trade that took place along the ancient trade routes).

The following books will give you great recipes and lots of interesting stories and information about Persian cuisine and beyond.

Maryam Sinajee, who was born in Tehran and learned to cook from her mother and extended family, takes us through a full year in the Persian kitchen with her book, From the Land of Nightingales & Roses: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen published by Interlink Books. Each seasonal chapter offers up delicious recipes alongside insights into the festivals, traditions and rituals that color day-to-day life in this region.

Green Bean and Potato Frittata Kuku-ye Lubiya Sabz

Recipe copyright © Maryam Sinaiee 2018.

“Iranians make a lot of food when they are entertaining guests—usually enough to feed a large crowd even if only one or two people are invited. Whenever we had guests over for dinner my mom would always make at least two types of rice—one plain and another layered—and two types of stew, soup, and a few vegetable dishes including this one. Our leftovers keep very well and are sometimes even more delicious the next day, so nothing is ever wasted. I love to eat this cold, rolled into bread with sabzi khordan.”

Serves 6–8

6 tablespoons oil
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 lb 5 oz green beans, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
Chives, to garnish (optional)

Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat and cook the potato cubes for around 10 minutes until golden brown, stirring from time to time. Remove from the oil, drain on paper towels and set aside. Fry the beans and carrots in the same oil for about 10 minutes or until they begin to brown around the edges. Leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Mix the salt, baking powder and spices into the flour. In a separate bowl, combine the cooked vegetables with the eggs and mix well. Sprinkle in the flour and spice mixture and stir to combine.

Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons oil into a pie or flan dish (about 9 inches in diameter) and brush around the sides. Place
the dish in the hot oven for 4 minutes, or until a little of the mixture dropped in the oil starts bubbling right away. Pour the mixture into the hot oil. Shake the dish and level the top with a spatula. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the top is golden. Remove from the oven and cool a little before cutting into wedges. Decorate with whole chives, if desired.

Persian Bejeweled Rice/Morassa Polow

Recipe copyright © Sabrina Ghayour 2014; from “Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond” published by Interlink Books.

Traditionally, this dish is served at weddings. The word morassa literally means “jewel,” reflecting the colorful ingredients. The slightly unconventional addition of sugar sweetens the rice (which counters the fiercely sour barberries and the tangy orange zest). This opulent dish epitomizes the Persian tradition for incorporating fruit and nuts into savory cooking.

Serves 6

2 1/2 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
10 1/2 tablespoons salted butter, divided
Sea salt
1 3/4 ounces slivered pistachios
1 3/4 ounces slivered almonds
1 3/4 ounces dried barberries
1 1/2 ounces dried, chopped sour orange peel (available from Middle Eastern shops)
Scant 2/3 cup superfine sugar

Fill a large saucepan with boiling water and place over medium-high heat. Add the rice and boil for 8 minutes. Drain the rice and rinse it immediately under cold running water for a couple of minutes until it is cool, to wash off all the excess starch. Drain the rice again and shake off as much excess water as possible.

Reduce the heat to the lowest setting. If your pan is not nonstick, line its base with parchment paper that you scrunch up and smooth out. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and about one-third of the butter as well as a generous sprinkling of crushed sea salt, then gently scatter in the rice. Pile it up so that the rice forms a raised peak in the middle.

Wrap the pan lid in a dish towel (to lock in the steam and make for a secure, tight seal), cover the pan, and cook the rice for around 1 hour. Because all stoves differ, check the rice during this time to see if all the grains right up to the very top are
steamed, fluffy and white. If the top grains look solid and opaque rather than fluffy and white, replace the lid and steam for
longer. Once cooked, turn off the heat. Place a large frying pan over high heat, add the remaining butter and oil and all the nuts, barberries, orange peel, and sugar and stir thoroughly and quickly. Keep mixing until the sugar and butter have dissolved into the nut mixture, then reduce the heat to low and cook until the berries are soft but not colored.

Once the rice is cooked, fill a large mixing bowl with two-thirds of the rice and stir in the nut-and-berry mixture. Carefully mix it through and season with salt as desired. The rice left at the bottom of the pan (tahdig) will have a golden crust underneath, so peel away the parchment paper and enjoy!

Georgian Walnut and Eggplant Rolls/Badrijani

Recipe copyright © Sally Butcher, 2017; from “Persepolis: Vegetarian Recipes from Persia and Beyond” by Sally Butcher,  published by Interlink Books.

“Persepolis: Vegetarian Recipes from Persia and Beyond” by Sally Butcher offers 150 fantastic new vegetarian recipe ideas
from around the world, including more gluten-free options and vegan recipes. Sally has a vegetarian cafe in her London shop,
Persepolis, and has seen an explosion of interest in her Middle Eastern-influenced vegetarian dishes.

Feeds 6 as an appetizer

2 small (but not mini) eggplants
Oil, for frying
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups shelled walnuts
3 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons khmeli suneli or use 2 teaspoons coriander seeds plus 1 teaspoon dill, and 1 teaspoon fenugreek leaves ground together in a mortar and pestle
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
handful of fresh cilantro
freshly ground black pepper

To serve:
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
Red pepper flakes
Pomegranate seeds, optional
Warm bread

Slice the eggplants fairly thinly and salt them lightly before sandwiching the slices between 2 sheets of paper towel. After 20 minutes, wipe the salt off and fry the slices in a splash of hot oil until they are soft and golden in color. Set aside on more paper towels to cool and drain while you make the filling.

Fry the onion in the same pan, then blend it with the walnuts, garlic, spices, vinegar and cilantro until the texture is of crunchy
peanut butter, rather than a perfectly homogenized paste. Add salt sparingly (the eggplant will still be a little salty even though you wiped it), and pepper to taste.

Spread each slice of eggplant with the nut mixture and roll up, before arranging on a platter.

Mix the mayonnaise, pomegranate molasses, and the pepper flakes together to make a dipping sauce and place it in a bowl on your platter. Scatter with the pomegranate seeds, if using, and serve with warm bread.

Top walnut tips: Buy top notch ones—the cheaper ones are often bitter. Soaking them in water with a little lemon juice for a few hours removes most of the bitterness and will allow you to flake the skin off.