Spinach Borani

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No Iranian meal is complete without a yogurt-based side dish of some sort. The cucumber and mint-flecked mast-o khiar is most common (and a close cousin to Indian raita and Greek tzatziki). Spinach borani flies under the radar, despite it being just as delicious.

More substantial than its cucumber counterpart, spinach borani is a simple but perfect side dish alongside an Iranian khoresh but it’s just at home next to curry (and if you’re like me, straight out of the bowl as a standalone snack). Borani keeps for a few days in the fridge, so it’s perfect with leftovers.

Spinach borani

Ingredients:

1 pound spinach (about 1 bunch), washed
2 to 3 cups Persian or Greek-style yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper

1. Blanch the spinach: bring a pot of water to a boil; add spinach, and blanch for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and drain spinach in a colander, rinsing under cold water. Squeeze spinach to remove excess liquid and coarsely chop.

2. In a serving bowl, thoroughly mix yogurt, spinach, garlic, adding salt and pepper to taste.

3. Chill the bowl in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving, allowing the flavors to set. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Khiar Shoor (Pickled Cucumbers)

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Khiar shoor literally translates from Persian to English as “salty cucumbers,” but it is so much more than that. Shoor are a category of Iranian pickled vegetables, be they cucumbers or cauliflower or carrots or nearly any other vegetable. There’s also torshi, but that’s a whole other classification of pickled vegetables that we’ll save for another post.

Every summer while I was growing up, my mom and all the Iranian aunties would gather in someone’s home and spend the day peeling vegetables and peppers and onions, making the next year’s batch of shoor and torshi. The air would be ripe with the smell of vinegar and garlic and the kids would be enlisted to help. The shoor would be ready to eat a few weeks later; the torshi would need to wait months, sometimes even years.

Nowadays you can buy shoor or torshi at any Middle Eastern market but nothing comes close to the homemade version. I made this version when I found myself with too many Armenian cucumbers from my parents’ garden. Once ready, these cucumbers go wonderfully with sandwiches or kotlet.

Pickled Armenian cucumbers

Ingredients:

2 red or green chili peppers
2 pounds Persian or Armenian cucumbers
5 cloves garlic, peeled
7 sprigs tarragon
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
kosher salt

1. Wash, clean and drain the vegetables and herbs. Sterilize canning jars, drain and dry thoroughly.

2. Fill each jar almost to the top with cucumbers, garlic, tarragon, and bay leaves.

3. Bring 6 tablespoons salt, 12 cups water, peppercorns, sugar, vinegar, and chili peppers to a boil. Remove from heat and fill each jar within 1/2 inch of the top with this hot liquid. Let cool and seal jars. Store the jars in the refrigerator for at least 10 days before using.

Adas Polo (Iranian Rice and Lentils)

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Adas polo is comfort food. Simple to cook and customizable to taste, nearly every Iranian kid grew up with this lentil and rice dish. Like your adas polo sweet? Top with a sprinkling of fried raisins. Prefer it savory? Add extra fried onions. Craving a hit of tartness? Eat with a dollop of Middle Eastern yogurt.

Adas polo

This recipe comes courtesy of my mom, who always made me extra tahdig (the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot) to go with my adas polo. Now that’s love.

Ingredients:

3 cups basmati rice
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
8 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
3 1/2 cups water
2 cups lentils
1/2 cup raisins
Iranian or Greek yogurt, to serve

1. Clean and wash 3 cups of rice 3 times in cold water.

2. In an electric rice cooker, combine 3 1/2 cups water, washed and drained rice, 1 tablespoon salt, and 4 tablespoons oil. Start the rice cooker. Cover and let cook for 15 minutes.

3. In the meantime, clean and wash lentils and boil in a pot of water and 1/2 teaspoon salt for 15 minutes over high heat. Drain.

4. Hollow out the middle of the rice mound and add the lentils. Cover and continue cooking for 60 minutes longer, then unplug cooker and let stand for 10 minutes without uncovering it.

5. Meanwhile, in a skillet, brown the onion in remaining 4 tablespoons oil. Using a slotted spoon, remove onions and place on a serving plate. Reserve oil in skillet.

6. Reheat skillet with oil and brown raisins until slightly plump, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove raisins and place on another serving plate.

7. Remove rice cooker lid and place a large serving dish on top of the rice cooker mold. Grasp them together firmly and turn pot upside down to unmold tahdig and rice onto the dish. Cut into wedges and serve with onions, raisins, and yogurt.

Mast-o-Khiar (Persian Yogurt with Cucumber and Mint)

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Call it Greek tzatziki, Turkish cacik, or Indian raita, but to me, it’ll always be mast-o-khiar. It’s part of nearly every Iranian meal and couldn’t be easier to prepare. English translations will often call it a dip, and while it can be (raise your hand if you dipped your potato chips into mast-o-khiar while growing up), it’s really eaten as a side dish alongside a complete meal.

Mast-o-khiar can include variations like dried rose petals (how Persian, I know) or dried shallots (in which case it becomes mast-o-musir), but my favorite is this classic version, garnished with a light sprinkling of walnuts.

Mast-o-khiar

Ingredients:

2 cups Middle Eastern or Greek-style yogurt, plain
2 or 3 Persian cucumbers, finely chopped or grated
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons ground dried mint
2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl, reserving half a tablespoon of walnuts for garnish. Chill and serve cold.

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.