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.

Watermelon Agua Fresca

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Autumn may be in full swing, but lately I’ve been craving summer foods. One can only eat so many yams and butternut squash, right? I want melons. Watermelons, to be exact. I made this agua fresca a few times this past summer, and even though it’s cold out now, there’s really no wrong time to make this drink. It’s healthy, refreshing, and takes only minutes to blend.

Watermelon agua fresca

Ingredients:

1/2 watermelon
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup lime juice
10 mint leaves
2 1/2 cups water

1. Cut off and discard the watermelon rind. Cut the watermelon into large cubes, removing any seeds.

2. Put half of the watermelon in a blender, along with half the sugar, half the lime juice, half the mint leaves, and half the water. Blend until you have a smooth puree. Transfer the puree to another container and repeat with the remaining watermelon, sugar, lime juice, mint leaves, and water.

3. Strain the puree over a pitcher, discarding the solids. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Truffled Mashed Potatoes

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Truffle oil is so misunderstood. I know, I know, it’s not even made with real truffles. Fair enough, Internet, but it’s delicious and there’s no denying it. I drank the truffle oil Kool-Aid and I’m putting it in everything: pasta, popcorn, and my favorite: mashed potatoes.

With (American) Thanksgiving right around the corner, this mascarpone-flecked dish is one of my favorite holiday sides. Just be sure to go heavy on the truffle oil. And for a decadent treat, add a few shavings of the real thing on top.

Truffled mashed potatoes

Ingredients:

3 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
whole milk
3 teaspoons truffle oil

1. Cook potatoes in pot of boiling water until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain, cool slightly, and peel potatoes. Return potatoes to same pot. Add butter and mascarpone cheese; mash until smooth. Mix in enough milk to thin to desired consistency. Mix in truffle oil and season with salt and pepper.

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.