Lamb and White Bean Braise with Dill Rice, Kashani Style

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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.

Lamb and white bean braise with dill rice, Kashani style

Ingredients:

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.

Shaking Beef with Arugula

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This is one of those weeknight meals that looks fancier than it really is. It’s a spin on the Vietnamese classic and requires no rice — instead, well-marbled rib-eye is served on a bed of peppery arugula. Healthy, easy, and delicious: the perfect cooking trifecta.

Shaking beef with arugula

Ingredients:

1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon fish sauce

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 garlic clove, smashed
1 1/2 pounds boneless rib eye steak or New York strip steak, trimmed and cut into 3/4- to 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion or shallot
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt

5 cups baby arugula
1/4 cup fresh mint or basil, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Marinade the beef: Stir together oyster sauce, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, cornstarch, fish sauce, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and garlic in a medium bowl. Add beef, toss to coat, and let marinate 30 minutes at room temperature.

2. Make the salad: Rinse onions in a strainer under cold running waters; set aside. Whisk together 2 tablespoons water, vinegar, remaining 1/2 teaspoon sugar, salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add onion; top with arugula and herbs and toss to combine.

3. Heat a large skillet over high and add oil. When oil is shimmering, add beef in a single layer. Cook, shaking pan every 30 to 60 seconds, until seared on all sides and meat is cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes for medium. Remove from heat. Transfer salad to a platter and arrange cooked beef and juices on salad, and serve immediately.

Curry Puffs

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I was sort of obsessed with eating all the things when I visited Singapore a few years ago. I mean, it’s the best food city on earth (don’t @ me). When it was time to leave, I realized I hadn’t yet tried one of the most Singaporean of snacks, curry puffs! Think curried chicken and potatoes in a deep-fried pastry shell. Yeah. I hurriedly bought one at Changi Airport right as we were boarding and savored the carby, meaty, buttery goodness right before saying goodbye.

I can’t find curry puffs in the Bay Area, but I can make them with relative ease at home. I take a shortcut with puff pastry and I oven bake them so they’re a bit healthier, but they’re just as delicious.

Curry puffs

Ingredients:

1 small potato, boiled, peeled, and cut into cubes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1/2 onion, chopped
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped
2 tablespoons curry powder (I used a blend of Madras curry powder and homemade Jaffna curry powder)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

1. Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add oil, then add ginger, onion, and green onions, and stir-fry for 5 minutes, until onion begins to brown. Add chicken and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Stir in potato, curry powder, and soy sauce. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and lightly mash with a potato ricer.

2. Preheat oven to 375F degrees. In the meantime, on a floured board, roll out puff pastry to a thickness of about 1/4 inch; cut into 4-inch circles. Place 1 tablespoon filling on each circle. Brush edges with egg wash, fold dough to make half-moons, and press edges to seal.

3. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Brush tops with remaining egg wash. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Serve warm.

Egg and Lamb Sausage Wraps

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When I was a kid I used to take lavash bread, stuff it with leftovers like kababs or goosht koobideh, add some Iranian pickles and Tapatio to the wrap and call it an Iranian burrito. I am, after all, a hyphenated Californian-Iranian.

This wrap is the grown up version: a griddled whole wheat tortilla takes the place of lavash, a garlicy yogurt sauce replaces the tapatio, and the filling is all sabzi khordan, egg, and sausage. They’re easy to make and even easier to eat.

Egg and lamb sausage wraps

Ingredients:

8 eggs
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, grated
Salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound lamb sausage, preferably merguez, casings removed
4 large whole-wheat flour tortillas
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
8 Iranian pickled cucumbers, thinly sliced crosswise on the diagonal
3 cups basil and/or mint leaves

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add eggs and cook 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water with a slotted spoon; let cool. Peel eggs, then slice each crosswise into 4 pieces.

2. In the meantime, mix yogurt, lemon juice, and garlic in a small bowl; season with salt.

3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add sausage and press down on it with a wooden spoon to flatten; cook, undisturbed, until browned underneath, about 5 minutes. Turn sausage over; break into smaller pieces with spoon. Cook until cooked through and crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer sausage to a bowl. Reserve skillet.

4. Lay out tortilla on a work surface. Spread 1/4 cup yogurt sauce over each, leaving a border. Top with sausage, dividing evenly. Top each with 8 egg slices in a single layer, then with red onion, pickles, and mint. Fold in 2 sides of tortilla and starting at an unfolded edge, roll up tightly.

5. Set reserved skillet over medium heat and cook 2 wraps until golden brown and starting to crisp underneath, about 3 minutes. Turn over and cook until golden brown on the other side. Transfer to a cutting board. Repeat with remaining wraps. Cut wraps in half crosswise and serve.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs

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I swore to myself as I made these spaghetti and meatballs that I’d never attempt them again. I mean, this recipe is labor-intensive and time-consuming. But then I cut into a meatball and I slurped some of the noodles and sauce and you know what? These are the best spaghetti and meatballs I’ve ever made, so uh, looks like this recipe is a keeper. And the leftovers last for days — if you can keep yourself from taking seconds. And thirds.

Classic spaghetti and meatballs

Ingredients:

For the tomato sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 sprigs basil
2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
Salt and pepper

For the meatballs:

1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten to blend
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup whole-milk ricotta
1/4 cup finely chopped prosciutto
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound ground beef, preferably 20% fat
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound spaghetti

1. Make the tomato sauce: heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-low. Cook garlic, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add basil sprigs and stir to wilt. Add tomatoes, crushing with your hands, and their juices; season with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-high; bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and flavors have concentrated, about 1 hour.

2. Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix the bread crumbs with the eggs, garlic, ricotta, prosciutto, parsley, and 1/3 cup Parmesan. Add fennel to bread mixture along with oregano, nutmeg, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix well. Add beef and break up into small pieces. Mix gently with your hands until smooth and ingredients are evenly incorporated; be careful not to over-mix.

3. Lightly oil your hands. Working one at a time, scoop out 1/4 cup portions of meat mixture; roll gently between your hands into balls. Arrange on a baking sheet.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium. Add half of the meatballs and cook, turning and rolling occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Add meatballs to warm sauce. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and remaining meatballs.

5. Cook meatballs in sauce (they should be mostly submerged) at a gentle simmer, gently scraping bottom of pot and adding a splash of water if sauce begins to stick, until meatballs are cooked through and tender, about 40 minutes.

6. Transfer meatballs to a clean baking sheet; cover with foil to keep warm. Pluck out and discard basil from sauce. Use an immersion blender to break up any large pieces of tomato and smooth out sauce.

7. Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Using tongs, transfer to pot with sauce. Stir, adding a little bit of pasta cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Transfer spaghetti to a serving dish and top with meatballs and any reserved sauce. Sprinkle with more Parmesan and serve.