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.

Iranian Skillet Kabab (Kabab Maitabei)

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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.

Iranian skillet kabab (kakab maitabei)

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 pound ground lamb or beef
1 onion, grated
1 clove garlic, finely grated
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon sumac
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon grape molasses
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tomato, sliced
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and sliced

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.

Persian Gulf-Style Chicken and Rice (Goboli Polo)

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This Persian Gulf-style spiced chicken and basmati rice pilaf is piled high with heaps of fried onions and potatoes. And I mean let’s be real: who doesn’t love fried potatoes? I adapted this from Najmieh Batmanglij’s Cooking in Iran, her tome on the lesser-explored regional cuisines of Iran. The rice is cooked in the spiced chicken broth, giving the dish a decadently rich flavor. I didn’t grow up with this dish, but it’s becoming part of my rotation now.

Goboli polo

Ingredients:

For the chicken:

1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water with 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 pounds skinless chicken thighs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
6 cups water

For the rice:

2 cups basmati rice, soaked in water for 15 minutes, drained and rinsed at least 3 times

For the garnish:

1/3 cup olive oil
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon ground heart of dried Persian limes (limoo omani)
1/2 cup currants or raisins, soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained

1. To cook the chicken: In a large pot, place all the ingredients for the chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 45 minutes, until the chicken is tender. Place a sieve over a large bowl and drain the chicken, reserving the broth. Return the broth to the pot and set the chicken and chickpeas aside.

2. To cook the rice: Add the rice to the broth. Give it a stir with a cooking spoon and bring it back to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes until the rice is tender and the broth has been absorbed.

3. Make the garnish: In a wide skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the potatoes and saute until golden brown. Remove the potatoes from the skillet and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate.

4. Add the remaining oil to the same skillet and saute the onion over medium low heat for about 30 minutes, until golden brown. Add the salt, turmeric, dried lime, currants, and potato, and saute for another 2 minutes.

5. Just before serving, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a wide skillet over medium heat until hot. Saute the chicken and chickpeas until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes.

6. To serve: Remove the rice from the pot and transfer it to a serving platter. Arrange the chicken and garnish on top. Serve with sabzi khordan (fresh herb platter).

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.

Lamb Shawarma

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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.

Lamb shawarma

Ingredients:

For the pomegranate marinade:

3 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

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.