Kotlet (Iranian Cutlet)

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Kotlet, or Persian minced meat and potato croquettes, are an ubiquitous picnic meal in Iranian households. Growing up, I’d look forward to these in warm lavash sandwiches for lunch and now that I’m older, I prepare them as an appetizer or light meal. Kotlet are easy to make and can be frozen for reheating later on.

Serve these with pickled vegetables and sliced tomatoes, or simply on their own. Lightly spiced and crispy on the outside, it’s nearly impossible to eat just one kotlet.

Kotlet

Ingredients:

2 potatoes, cooked, peeled, and grated
1 pound ground lamb, veal, or beef
1 onion, peeled and grated
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup vegetable oil, for frying
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced, for garnish
4 Persian pickled cucumbers, sliced, for garnish
Lavash bread

1. In a bowl, combine meat, onion, eggs, potato, salt, pepper, coriander, cumin, saffron water, and turmeric. Knead for 5 minutes to form a smooth mixture.

2. Using damp hands, shape the meat mixture into lumps the size of eggs. Flatten them into oval patties. Brown the patties on both side in hot oil over medium heat until browned on each side and cooked through. Add more oil if necessary.

3. Arrange the patties on a serving platter. Serve with tomatoes, pickles, and lavash bread.

Joojeh Kabab (Iranian Grilled Saffron Chicken)

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Ask an Iranian what their favorite dish is and they’ll invariably reply with “kabab.” Joojeh (chicken) kabab, kabob koobideh (ground meat), kabab barg (steak filet) — we’ve got kabab down on lock. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I actually learned how to prepare joojeh kabab on my own. Najmieh Batmanglij’s New Food of Life cookbook and a couple phone calls to the parentals ensured me I was on the right track.

Don’t skimp on the onion in the marinade. Despite the volume, it’s not overpowering after the chicken is grilled. Also, you can try this with different kinds of poultry — in fact, those are cornish game hens pictured below. Lastly, try to get your hands on these flat steel skewers at a Middle Eastern grocer, as they make for much easier turning over a flame.

Joojeh kabab on the grill

Ingredients:

1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 onions, grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons Middle Eastern or Greek-style yogurt
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
4 pounds of skinless chicken pieces (preferably legs and thighs)
5 tomatoes, halved (preferably Roma tomatoes)
Accompaniments: lavash bread, fresh herbs, and cooked, buttered basmati rice

1. In a large bowl, combine the saffron water and the lime juice, olive oil, onions, garlic, yogurt, salt and pepper. Add the pieces of chicken and toss well with the marinade. Cover and marinate for at least 8 hours and up to 1 day in the refrigerator. Turn the chicken once during this period.

2. Start a bed of charcoal 30 minutes before you want to cook and let it burn until the coals glow evenly.

3. Skewer the tomatoes.

4. Spear chicken pieces onto different skewers. (Try to group chicken parts together as they each require different cooking times.)

5. Grill the chicken and tomatoes about 15 minutes, until done. Turn frequently.

6. To serve traditionally, spread a whole lavash bread on a serving platter. Remove the grilled chicken from skewers and arrange the pieces on the bread. Serve alongside the grilled tomatoes, fresh herbs, and warm basmati rice.

Gai pad gra pow

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I first tasted gai pad gra pow this past spring (late pass, I know), when my friend Natasha offered me a bite of her dish at a Thai restaurant in San Francisco. I was hooked, and I had to learn how to cook it.

Since then, this basil-inflected chicken stir-fry has become one of my favorites. Spicy and full of protein, it pairs perfectly with a cooling cucumber salad and steamed rice.

Gai pad gra pow

Ingredients:

5 cloves garlic, minced
3 bird’s eye (Thai) chiles, stemmed and minced
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cleaned and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup Thai basil leaves

1. Place a wok over high heat. Add the oil, garlic, and chiles and stir-fry for 30 seconds, or until the garlic is slightly golden. Add the chicken and stir-fry for 5 minutes, or until the chicken has cooked throughout, using a spatula to press the meat against the hot wok.

2. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and pepper and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the basil and stir-fry until wilted, about 1 minute, then turn out onto a serving dish. Serve warm.

Kimchi Fried Rice

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I guess kimchi fried rice has officially arrived since I noticed last week that Trader Joe’s now sells it, prepared and frozen. But why?! I thought to myself. Kimchi fried rice is so easy to cook!

Kimchi is one of my favorite foods (at the moment I have three jars sitting in the fridge), and this is one of my go-to dinners. If you already have day old rice, putting this dish together takes only minutes. There are endless variations, but don’t substitute the butter. A little goes a long way here. Lastly, use overripe kimchi. If you have a jar that’s at least a couple of weeks old, the flavor will be perfect for fried rice.

Kimchi fried rice

Ingredients

1 cup overripe kimchi, cut into bite size pieces
2 cups day-old rice, chilled
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon gochujang, or Korean red pepper paste
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1/2 green onion, thinly sliced
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon shredded nori seaweed, for garnish

1. Heat a frying pan or wok on medium heat and add butter. Add the kimchi and fry for 5 minutes, until it is slightly browned. Add gochujang and stir. Remove kimchi from pan and set aside.

2. Add 1 tablespoon cooking oil to pan and fry 1 egg, stirring to break up into bite-sized pieces until cooked through, about 2 minutes. Add kimchi mixture back to pan.

3. Add the rice to pan and mix thoroughly. Add soy sauce and sesame oil and mix again. Turn off heat and the rice mixture aside.

4. Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in a small frying pan over medium heat and crack remaining egg in pan. Cover the pan and cook until the egg white is solid, about one minute.

5. To serve, put the rice mixture in a serving bowl, and top with the fried egg and shredded nori.

Ma Po Tofu

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Ma po tofu is ubiquitous on Chinese restaurant menus, but I never sampled the fiery, peppery dish until last year. It was mouth-numbingly hot, and it’s since become one of my favorite all-time dishes. As if to make up for lost time, I’ve spent the past few months eating ma po tofu constantly in restaurants and more recently, at home.

This homemade version of ma po tofu is just as delicious as what I’ve eaten from professional kitchens, and easy to cook. Ma po tofu is traditionally cooked with ground pork, but I substitute with chicken or turkey at home. The Sichuan peppercorns, however, are important to seek out as they’ll lend this dish that extra heat. It’s worth the pain (and slightly numb lips).

Ma po tofu

Ingredients:

3 dried shiitake mushrooms
6 ounces ground turkey
3 teaspoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons hot bean paste
1/4 teaspoon toasted Sichuan peppercorns, ground
1/4 cup chopped water chestnuts
3 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 14-ounce package soft tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1. Pour enough warm water over the mushrooms in bowl to cover them completely. Soak until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain, discard the stems, and coarsely chop the caps.

2. Marinate the turkey: stir the ground turkey, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch together until evenly mixed. Let stand for 10 minutes.

3. Prepare the sauce:: stir the water, remaining two teaspoons soy sauce, and sesame oil together in a small bowl.

4. Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the oil and swirl to coat the sides. Add the garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the turkey, hot bean paste, and Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry until the turkey is crumbly, about 3 minutes.

5. Pour the sauce into the work, then stir in the mushrooms, water chestnuts and green onions. Slide the tofu into the work and stir gently to coat the tofu with the sauce and heat through, about 2 minutes.

6. In a small bowl, dissolve the remaining 2 teaspoons cornstarch in 2 teaspoons water. Pour the dissolved cornstarch into the wok and cook gently, stirring, until the sauce boils and thickens, about 1 minute. Spoon the tofu and sauce onto a serving platter and serve hot, alongside cooked rice.