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).

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.

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.

Iranian Spicy Fish and Herb Braise (Ghaliyeh Mahi)

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Ghalieyh mahi is something I only heard about growing up but never tasted until recently. “What’s southern Iranian food like?” I’d ask. One answer popped up more than others, no matter who I’d ask in the community: ghaliyeh mahi.

One of the most popular dishes from the south, ghaliyeh mahi is a fish braise that makes ample use of fenugreek (making this dish faintly reminiscent of ghormeh sabzi for those who grew up with it, like me) as well as cilantro and hot peppers. Served over rice, I can easily see why it’s so popular.

Ghalieh mahi

Ingredients:

For the herb sauce:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 cups roughly chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 serrano chili, chopped
3 tablespoons rice flour
2 teaspoons tamarind dissolved in 3 cups water and drained through a fine-mesh sieve
1 teaspoon date molasses

For the dusting:

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground dried ginger

For the fish:

2 pounds halibut fillets, skins and bones removed, cut into 3-inch lengths
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. To make the herb sauce: In a food processor, place all the ingredients for the sauce except for the tamarind and date molasses and pulse until you have a smooth consistency.

2. To cook the braise: Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a medium saucepan over low heat and saute the sauce for 10 minutes until it is aromatic.

3. Add the tamarind water and date molasses. Mix and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

4. To cook the fish: In a small bowl, mix the dusting ingredients. Dust both sides of the fish fillets and set aside.

5. In a wide nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high until hot. Sear the fish fillets on both sides until golden.

6. Add the fish to the braise, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Serve with basmati rice.