Iranian Tomato and Eggplant Frittata (Varagheh)

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Iranian cuisine has all manners of frittata, which are typically called kuku: herb kuku, potato kuku, eggplant kuku — you get the picture. But I’d never had varagheh growing up, which is basically kuku’s cousin: an herby, garlicy egg dish layered with stacks of eggplant and tomato. In other words, a Persian summer in a cast-iron skillet.

Adapted from Naz Deravian’s Bottom of the Pot cookbook, this northern Iranian dish has become one of my favorite Iranian recipes. You can make this ahead of time, cut it into wedges, and serve it at room temperature, but be careful: these go fast.

Varagheh

Ingredients:

1 pound Japanese eggplant, sliced into 1⁄2-inch-thick rounds
1⁄4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
7 eggs
2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste
1 heaping tablespoon minced tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tomatoes, sliced into 1⁄4-inch rounds

1. Preheat oven to 425F degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.

2. Toss eggplant with 1/4 cup oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt, then spread out on baking sheet. Roast until tender, turning once halfway through, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, then lower heat to 400F degrees.

3. While eggplant roasts, beat eggs with garlic, tarragon, capers, remaining 1 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper.

4. Heat a 12-inch ovenproof skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium-high heat. Add butter and remaining 1 tbsp. oil. When sizzling, add half of tomatoes in a layer (overlapping if needed), and layer with half of eggplant. Repeat with remaining tomatoes and eggplant. Pour in eggs.

5. Bake until set and edges are slightly browned, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve.

Shallot and Yogurt Dip (Mast-o Musir)

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Yogurt-based dips and side dishes factor in heavily in Iranian cuisine and none is more ubiquitous than mast-o khiar, or cucumber and mint yogurt dip. But mast-o musir (yogurt with dried shallots) is just as delicious and honestly? Nothing beats this as a potato chip dip.

Mast-o musir

Ingredients:

1/2 cup dried Iranian shallots (musir)
2 cups yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1. Place dried shallots in a medium bowl and cover with hot water. Let soak until softened, at least 2 hours. Drain, rinse, and pat dry. Chop the shallots finely.

2. Combine the shallots with yogurt, salt, and pepper. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve as an appetizer with potato chips, pita chips, or lavash bread, or serve as a side dish alongside your entree.

Hoisin-Chicken Nachos with Avocado

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Okay, so these aren’t really nachos. They’re more like vegetable chips plus chili-sake-tomato-avocado guacamole plus roast chicken plus a generous drizzle of hoisin. I can’t tell you if the leftovers keep well because we ate the whole thing in one sitting.

The first time I made these, I used roast duck, but leftover roast chicken is easier to come by and works just as brilliantly.

Hoisin-chicken nachos with avocado

Ingredients:

2 ripe but firm avocados, peeled, pitted, and diced
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tomato, diced
3 green onions, thinly sliced, divided
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
3 teaspoons sake
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced roast chicken
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
2 bags Terra chips or similar vegetable chips

1. Mix the avocados, onion, tomato, half of the green onions, ginger, cilantro, sake, lime juice, vegetable oil, chili garlic sauce, and salt in a medium bowl, without mashing the avocado. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly to the surface and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Arrange the vegetable chips on a large platter. Dot spoonfuls of the avocado mixture across the chips evenly. Evenly scatter the roast chicken onto the chips next. Drizzle with hoisin sauce and garnish with the remaining green onion slices. Serve immediately.

Persian Gulf-Style Fish Kotlet (Kotlet-e Mahi)

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I grew up with the standard beef or lamb and potato kotlet, which is popular throughout Iran and has Russian origins (Iran long shared a border with the USSR). But I wonder about the origins of these fish kotlets. They’re more like Sri Lankan fish cutlets: spicy, crispy, and pillowy in the middle. Between fish kotlets, sambouseh, and dal adas in the Persian Gulf region, these dishes point to a South Asian culinary exchange. And that’s what I love about Iranian food: there are influences from our neighbors in so many of our meals.

Make sure to seek out the date molasses, as it’s a key ingredient in the sweet and sour glaze that adorns these kotlets. Date molasses can be found at most Middle Eastern grocers.

Persian Gulf-style fish kotlet

Ingredients:

1 potato, boiled, peeled, and cut into quarters
1 pound boneless, skinless fish fillets (such as tuna, salmon, or catfish), cut into small pieces
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 serrano pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 green onions, chopped
3/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons dried fenugreek
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tamarind dissolved in 2 tablespoons warm water, strained through a fine-mesh sieve
1/2 cup date molasses
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. In a food processor, pulse the potato until grainy. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

2. Place the fish, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper, serrano pepper, turmeric, cumin, baking powder, green onions, cilantro, fenugreek, and chickpea flour in the food processor and pulse until the mixture is combined. Transfer the mixture to the mixing bowl with the potatoes, add the eggs, and mix well. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes and up to 8 hours.

3. Scoop up the fish mixture with a spoon and using oiled hands, mold 12 walnut-sized balls. Gently flatten each ball into patties.

4. In a wide skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until hot. Fry the patties on both sides until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes for each side.

5. In the meantime, make the glaze: in a small saucepan, combine the tamarind paste, date molasses, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cinnamon. Stir well and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Set aside until ready to serve.

6. To serve, arrange patties on a serving platter and drizzle with the glaze. Serve with flatbread or lettuce leaves and a platter of sabzi khordan to make wraps. I also like to serve these with South Indian-style Meyer lemon pickles.

Creamed Swiss Chard with Tahini

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Let’s get one thing out of the way: I can’t stand creamed spinach: to me, it tastes bland. Its one redeeming quality? A lovely, velvety texture. So when I experimented with this Swiss chard side dish, I wanted something that evoked the texture of creamed spinach but with lots more flavor, and healthier too.

Sure, there’s no actual cream in this “creamed” Swiss chard, but you won’t miss it anyway. Serve this as a side dish or as a dip alongside crackers and crudites.

Creamed Swiss chard with tahini

2 bunches green-stemmed Swiss chard (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup tahini
1/3 cup lemon juice
Salt

1. Remove ribs and stems from Swiss chard leaves and finely chop. Tear leaves into small pieces. Set stems and leaves aside separately.

2. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large pot over medium-low. Cook reserved ribs and stems, stirring often and adding a splash of water if they start to brown, until tender, about 7 minutes. Add garlic; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add reserved chard; cook, tossing, until all the leaves are wilted and tender, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Squeeze excess liquid from mixture into a measuring glass. (You should have about 1/2 cup liquid.)

3. Place Swiss chard mixture and 1 tablespoon cooking liquid in a food processor and add tahini, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup oil. Season with salt and process, adding more cooking liquid if needed, until dip is creamy. Season with more salt if needed.

4. Serve as a side dish or as a dip alongside crackers.