If you grew up in an Iranian household, chances are that kabab maitabei is comfort food. It’s an easy weeknight dish: kabab without the grill, kabab without the 24-hour marinade. Soaked in its tomatoey juices and served with rice and a platter of fresh herbs, it’s supremely satisfying.
This dish is a riff on that comfort food. Think of this as kabab maitabei, reinvented. Sumac, grape molasses, onions, and garlic flavor the lamb, and fried potatoes soak up the juices. Basically I’m trying to sneak some iteration of French fries into everything.
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the lamb, onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, turmeric, sumac, red pepper, and grape molasses. Knead lightly, using your hands, to mix thoroughly.
2. Coat 1 tablespoon oil on a heavy 10-inch skillet. Shape the lamb mixture into a large meatball and place it in the center of the skillet. Press down with a spatula so the meat covers the entire skillet. Raise the meat around the edges of the skillet by 1 inch to form a well.
3. Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Cut the meat into four wedges. Arrange the tomato slices on top, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and drizzle 1 tablespoon oil on top. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes longer.
4. In the meantime, heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat and saute the potatoes on both sides until golden brown and cooked through.
5. To serve, arrange the potatoes on a platter. Arrange the kabab on top, drizzling the pan juices over. Serve with sabzi khordan.
This lamb shawarma isn’t traditional, but it’s delicious. The secret ingredient lies in pomegranate molasses, which tenderizes the meat while lending a tangy, complex flavor. Tossed with plenty of grilled red onions and mint and tucked into pita bread, it’s a crowd pleaser.
1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 2 to 3-inch pieces and skewered
1 red onion, sliced into thick wedges and skewered
For the tahini dressing:
5 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup mint leaves, torn
4 pita breads, cut in half and warmed
3 cups chopped lettuce
1. Make the marinade: in a bowl, whisk together olive oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, minced garlic, ground cumin, salt, and pepper.
2. Put marinade and lamb in a resealable plastic bag, seal, and squish to mix. Chill for 24 hours.
3. Make the tahini dressing: in a bowl, whisk together tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, water, parsley, garlic, salt, and cayenne.
4. Heat a grill to high (about 450F degrees). Grill lamb and onion wedges, turning once, until onions are slightly softened and charred and lamb is medium (cut to test), about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a board and let rest 5 minutes. Roughly chop onions. Thinly slice meat.
5. In a bowl, combine lamb and any juices, onions, and the mint. Set out a platter with lamb, pita, lettuce, and tahini dressing, and serve.
Kashk is an Iranian dairy product similar to sour cream, made from the leftovers of cheese making. It’s tart and creamy, providing a welcome contrast to rich, meaty dishes. Its essential in dishes like ash-e reshteh and also boz ghormeh, a regional specialty of Kerman in south-central Iran.
In this #uglydelicious meal-in-a-bowl soup, goat is braised with chickpeas, a hearty serving of seasoned kashk and topped with garlicy, tarragon-inflected croutons made from Iranian naan-e sangak flatbread. In a pinch, you can substitute the goat for leg of lamb and you can substitute the sangak with lavash or pita.
For the goat:
3/4 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in water with 1/2 teaspoon baking soda overnight, drained, and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, sliced, plus 1 or 2 cloves garlic, grated
1/3 cup tarragon leaves, chopped, or 1 tablespoon dried tarragon
1 1/2 cups liquid kashk
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
For the croutons:
1 sangak bread cut into 1-inch squares
1 clove garlic, grated
1/2 cup tarragon leaves
2 teaspoons olive oil
1. To cook the goat: Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium heat and saute the onions until beginning to turn golden. Add the goat and continue to saute until onions are golden brown. Add salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin, 3 cloves of sliced garlic, tarragon, chickpeas, and saute for 2 minutes.
2. Pour in 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally until the meat and chickpeas are tender.
3. In a small saucepan over low heat, add the kashk, remaining 1 clove grated garlic, and saffron water, and give it a stir. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, taking care not to let the kashk come to a boil.
4. Once the goat and chickpeas have finished cooking, add the kashk mixture to the dutch oven. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.
5. To make the croutons: Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Spread sangkak on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and add the garlic and tarragon. Drizzle oil over the bread and toss to coat. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, until the bread is toasted.
6. Serve the soup in individual bowls and top with a few croutons. You can also serve this soup with a fresh herb platter of sabzi khordan on the side.
Khoresh-e gheymeh, or Iranian channa dal and lamb braise is one of the most popular (and mercifully easiest) khoreshes to make. Khoreshes are Iranian braises that are served with basmati rice, and this one in particular is the perfect example of cross-cultural evolution: high five to the genius who decided that French fries would become a required part of this dish.
Make sure to seek out limoo omani (dried limes) here, as their flavor is essential to the success of khoresh-e gheymeh.
For the braise:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 pound leg of lamb, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 dried limoo omani (Persian limes), pierced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoons ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
1/4 cup yellow split peas (chana dal)
For the French fries:
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into thick matchsticks, and soaked in cold water
1 cup vegetable oil for shallow frying
Salt to taste
1. To make the braise: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute the onions until beginning to brown and then add the lamb, continuing to saute until the onions are golden brown and the juice has been absorbed. Add the dried limes, salt, pepper, and turmeric, and saute for 3 minutes.
2. Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the tomato, sugar, and saffron water. Cover and cook over low heat for 35 minutes.
4. In a saucepan, cook the yellow split peas in 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt for 30 minutes. Drain, rinse, and add to the pot with the lamb. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.
5. To make the French fries: Drain and dry the potatoes. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the potatoes, and shallow fry until golden and cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to remove the potatoes and place on paper towels. Season with salt.
6. To serve, place the braise in a serving bowl and top with the French fries. Serve with basmati rice (and Iranian pickles and a fresh herb platter of sabzi khordan, if desired).
I’ve always been curious about regional Iranian cuisine. My parents are from Tehran and while I love Tehrani-style food, there’s so much to Iran’s diverse cultures: garlicy eggplant mirza ghasemi from the Caspian to okra-laden khoresh-e bamiyeh near the Persian Gulf. These dishes are mainstream — most Iranian households have at least heard of them, regardless of what part of Iran they’re from.
But what about what’s off the beaten path? What’s Kurdish Iranian food like? What do folks eat on Qeshm Island? Or in Khorasan? I worry that these less well-known food traditions will be lost forever, especially among the Iranian diaspora. When I learned that author Najmieh Batmanglij had published Cooking in Iran, a compendium of regional Iranian cooking, I was so excited — and grateful. Since I got the cookbook, I’ve been tinkering with and riffing off of some of her recipes. This lamb and white bean braise with dill rice is popular in Kashan. I didn’t grow up with this dish, but the flavors are all too familiar: the dill rice reminds me of baghali polo (a popular fava bean and dill pilaf), the lamb is stewed with that familiar lime-turmeric-onion combination, and the fried potatoes put the whole thing over the top.
This dish is labor-intensive, but it’s a showstopper.
For the braise:
1 cup white beans, soaked overnight and drained
2 teaspoons oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 to 1 1/2 pounds boned leg of lamb, cut into 3-inch pieces
1/3 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 dried Persian limes, pierced
4 cups water
1/4 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
For the potatoes:
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes and soaked in cold water for 20 minutes, drained and patted dry
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the rice:
2 cups aged basmati rice
1 1/2 cups chopped dill
1/4 cup oil
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1/4 cup water
1. To make the braise: Heat oil in a laminated cast-iron pot over medium heat and saute the onions, garlic, and lamb until golden brown. Add the beans, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, and dried limes, and saute for 1 minute.
2. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the lamb and beans are tender.
3. Add the salt and lime juice, give it a stir, and adjust seasoning to taste. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.
4. Cook the potatoes: In a large skillet, heat the oil until hot and saute the potatoes over medium heat until golden brown and crispy. Sprinkle the turmeric and salt over the potatoes and stir. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
5. To cook the rice: Wash the rice by placing it in a large bowl, cover with water, agitate gently with your hands, then pour off the water. Repeat at least 3 times until the water is clear.
6. In a large pot, bring 8 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add the rice and boil for about 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Bite a couple of grains — if the rice feels al dente soft, it is ready to be drained. Drain rice in a fine-mesh colander and rinse with water. Set aside.
7. Place 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons water in the pot and ruse a spatula to mix. Place 2 spatulas full of rice in the pot and 1 spatula of dill and potatoes. Repeat, alternating layers and mound in the shape of a pyramid.
8. Pour the remaining oil and 1/2 cup of broth from the lamb braise over the rice. Drizzle the saffron water over the top. Wrap the lid of the pot with a clean dish towel and cover the pot firmly to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes longer. Keep warm until ready to serve.
9. To serve, on a serving platter, gently mound the rice. Arrange the lamb and beans on top with the broth in a bowl on the side. Alternatively, you may serve the lamb, beans, and accompanying broth on the side in a separate serving bowl.