Zereshk Polo ba Morgh (Barberry Rice with Saffron Chicken)

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This is comfort food for every diaspora Iranian kid growing up. Fragrant rice and tart barberries become more the sum of its parts. The best part? Spooning the lime and caramelized onion-inflected chicken sauce over the rice and letting all of the sweet-sour-salty flavors meld.

Dried barberries can be hard to find, but they’re worth seeking out as any Iranian grocer will carry them. Try to use aged basmati rice here, which will produce a fluffier, more aromatic dish.

Zereshk polo ba morgh

Ingredients:

For the saffron chicken:

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 cup lime juice
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water

For the rice:

3 cups basmati rice
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons yogurt
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup slivered pistachios

For the barberry mixture:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups dried barberries, picked over, washed, and drained
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water

1. To cook the chicken: In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and saute until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the chicken cook, turning, once, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, give the pan a stir, and cover. Cook over low heat for about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

2. To cook the rice: Wash the rice in a large container and cover it with water. Agitate gently and pour off water, repeating 3 or 4 times until the water is clear. Bring 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large pot. Add the rice and boil briskly for about 6 to 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times to loosen any grains that may have stuck together or to the bottom of the pot. When the rice feels just al dente, it is ready to be drained. Drain the rice in a fine-mesh colander and rinse with cold water.

3. In a large bowl, whisk 1/4 cup oil 1/4 water, yogurt, a few drops of saffron water, and 3 spatulas of rice. Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the pot.

4. Arrange the remaining rice in a pyramid shape in the pot, adding one spatula of rice at a time. Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat.

5. Mix the remaining oil with 1/2 cup water and pour over the rice. Pour the remaining saffron water over the rice. Add the pistachios and almonds on top. Wrap the lid of the pot with a thin, clean dish towel and cover firmly to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 60 to 70 minutes longer over low heat.

6. To cook the barberries: In a skillet, combine the oil, barberries, sugar, water, and saffron water. Saute over medium heat for 5 minutes, watching carefully to make sure the barberries don’t burn. Set aside.

7. Remove the rice from the heat and carefully pour run the outside of the bottom of the pot under cold water. This helps to release the tahdig, or crust, from the bottom of the pot. Allow pot to cool, covered, for 5 minutes.

8. To assemble the rice, take 1 spatula full of rice and place it on a serving platter in alternating layers with the barberry mixture. Arrange the chicken around or next to the platter. Detach the tahdig and serve on the side.

Naan Khamei (Iranian Cream Puffs)

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Raise your hand if you grew up salivating over these at every mehmooni. These cream puffs are giant to the max and fluffy to the max, with just a hint of fragrant rosewater.

Be patient mixing the dough on this — it’ll look like it’ll never come together, but it will. And the wait will be worth it, I promise.

These cream puffs are best eaten fresh the day of.

Naan khamei

Ingredients:

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
7 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon rose water
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the dough:

1 cup cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced into cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon rose water
1 cup flour, sifted
4 room temperature eggs

For the dusting:

1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1. To prepare the filling: In a large bowl, combine the cream, sugar, rose water, and vanilla, and whip at high speed until soft peaks form. Cover and chill in the refrigerator.

2. To make the dough: Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 425F degrees.

3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, salt, and butter, and bring to a boil, stirring well with a wooden spoon. Add the vanilla and rose water. Reduce heat to very low and add the flour, all at once, stirring constantly (3 to 5 minutes), until you have a stiff paste.

4. Remove the dough from the heat and continue to stir for 4 or 5 minutes to help the dough cool down.

5. Make sure the temperature of the dough is around 150F degrees at this time and add 1 egg to the dough and stir for 1 minute. The dough should become glossy and silky. Continue to stir for another minute until the egg has been absorbed and the dough is no longer glossy. Continue adding the eggs, 1 at a time, stirring each time an egg is added until the dough is no longer glossy. The dough should be light, smooth, and airy.

6. Bake the cream puffs: Use an ice cream scoop to drop 12 equal portions of the dough onto the 2 prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between each dollop. Bake for 20 minutes.

7. Without opening the oven door, reduce the heat to 350F degrees and continue to bake for another 20 to 25 minutes or until the puff pastries are golden.

8. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

9. Just before serving, use a serrated knife to cut through the pastries crosswise. Use a pastry bag to squeeze the chilled filling into the pastry, dividing between the 12 pastries. Dust the tops with powdered sugar and serve.

Torshi Tareh (Iranian Chive and Herb Braise)

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Torshi tareh is the dish I never knew existed but always wanted. Hailing from Iran’s Caspian Sea area, it’s a regional speciality much like saag paneer — but with eggs instead of cheese. Chock-full of greens, it’s worth seeking out the namesake tareh in this recipe. Tareh are Persian chives (also called Persian leeks). If you can’t find these, a mix of green onions and garlic chives make a reasonable substitute.

Torshi tareh

Ingredients:

For the braise:

2 cups spinach, roughly chopped
2 cups parsley, roughly chopped
2 cups cilantro, roughly chopped
2 cups Persian chives (or substitute with green onions and garlic chives), roughly chopped
1/2 cup mint, roughly chopped
1/2 cup basil, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons rice flour dissolved in 1 cup water

For the eggs:

3 teaspoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
6 eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup lime juice

1. To make the braise: Place all of the herbs and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

2. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in an enameled cast-iron pot. Transfer the herb mixture to the pot and saute over medium heat for a few minutes.

3. Add salt, turmeric, 1 1/2 cups water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 25 minutes. Add the diluted rice flour and give it a stir. Cover, reduce heat to low, and allow to simmer for another 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

4. Make the eggs: Heat the remaining 3 teaspoons oil in a skillet over low heat until hot. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds, until lightly golden.

5. In a large bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and add the salt, pepper, turmeric, and cinnamon until just blended.

6. Just before serving. Add the egg mixture to the garlic in the skillet and saute for a few minutes, stirring until you have soft scrambled eggs.

7. Add the eggs and the lime juice to the braise in the pot and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Serve warm with rice.

Lamb and White Bean Braise with Dill Rice, Kashani Style

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I’ve always been curious about regional Iranian cuisine. My parents are from Tehran and while I love Tehrani-style food, there’s so much to Iran’s diverse cultures: garlicy eggplant mirza ghasemi from the Caspian to okra-laden khoresh-e bamiyeh near the Persian Gulf. These dishes are mainstream — most Iranian households have at least heard of them, regardless of what part of Iran they’re from.

But what about what’s off the beaten path? What’s Kurdish Iranian food like? What do folks eat on Qeshm Island? Or in Khorasan? I worry that these less well-known food traditions will be lost forever, especially among the Iranian diaspora. When I learned that author Najmieh Batmanglij had published Cooking in Iran, a compendium of regional Iranian cooking, I was so excited — and grateful. Since I got the cookbook, I’ve been tinkering with and riffing off of some of her recipes. This lamb and white bean braise with dill rice is popular in Kashan. I didn’t grow up with this dish, but the flavors are all too familiar: the dill rice reminds me of baghali polo (a popular fava bean and dill pilaf), the lamb is stewed with that familiar lime-turmeric-onion combination, and the fried potatoes put the whole thing over the top.

This dish is labor-intensive, but it’s a showstopper.

Lamb and white bean braise with dill rice, Kashani style

Ingredients:

For the braise:

1 cup white beans, soaked overnight and drained
2 teaspoons oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 to 1 1/2 pounds boned leg of lamb, cut into 3-inch pieces
1/3 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 dried Persian limes, pierced
4 cups water
1/4 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon salt

For the potatoes:

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes and soaked in cold water for 20 minutes, drained and patted dry
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the rice:

2 cups aged basmati rice
1 1/2 cups chopped dill
1/4 cup oil
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1/4 cup water

1. To make the braise: Heat oil in a laminated cast-iron pot over medium heat and saute the onions, garlic, and lamb until golden brown. Add the beans, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, and dried limes, and saute for 1 minute.

2. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the lamb and beans are tender.

3. Add the salt and lime juice, give it a stir, and adjust seasoning to taste. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

4. Cook the potatoes: In a large skillet, heat the oil until hot and saute the potatoes over medium heat until golden brown and crispy. Sprinkle the turmeric and salt over the potatoes and stir. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

5. To cook the rice: Wash the rice by placing it in a large bowl, cover with water, agitate gently with your hands, then pour off the water. Repeat at least 3 times until the water is clear.

6. In a large pot, bring 8 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add the rice and boil for about 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Bite a couple of grains — if the rice feels al dente soft, it is ready to be drained. Drain rice in a fine-mesh colander and rinse with water. Set aside.

7. Place 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons water in the pot and ruse a spatula to mix. Place 2 spatulas full of rice in the pot and 1 spatula of dill and potatoes. Repeat, alternating layers and mound in the shape of a pyramid.

8. Pour the remaining oil and 1/2 cup of broth from the lamb braise over the rice. Drizzle the saffron water over the top. Wrap the lid of the pot with a clean dish towel and cover the pot firmly to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes longer. Keep warm until ready to serve.

9. To serve, on a serving platter, gently mound the rice. Arrange the lamb and beans on top with the broth in a bowl on the side. Alternatively, you may serve the lamb, beans, and accompanying broth on the side in a separate serving bowl.

Cashew Baklava

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It’s Norooz (Iranian New Year) season, so there’s lots of sweets everywhere I go these days. Norooz begins on the spring equinox and lasts for two weeks, and during this time, it’s customary to visit loved ones. Naturally, these visits are filled with sugary treats. Kind of like Thanksgiving and Christmas, Iranian style.

I usually make these cashew baklava to celebrate the arrival of Norooz. Much like our household, I make them a little bit Iranian and a little bit Sri Lankan. These aren’t traditional baklava. Cashews take the place of walnuts, and I add some coconut sugar to the mix. Lastly, I add both orange blossom water and Meyer lemon zest to the syrup.

The best part? These are easier to make than they look. Norooz mobarak!

Cashew baklava

Ingredients:

1/2 stick plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup cashews
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons coconut sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of 1⁄2 Meyer lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
10 (16-by-13-inch) sheets phyllo

1. Heat the oven to 350F degrees. In a food processor, combine 5 tablespoons butter with the cashews, brown sugar, coconut sugar, cinnamon, and salt and pulse until the filling is finely chopped.

2. In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar with 1⁄3 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat, stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice juice, and orange blossom water and set aside.

3. Grease a foil-lined rimmed metal baking sheet with some of the remaining melted butter. On a work surface, lay 1 sheet of phyllo dough so the short sides are parallel to you. Brush the sheet with some butter and place the second sheet over the first. Brush the phyllo with butter and cover with the third sheet. Repeat until you have 5 sheets but do not brush the last sheet with butter. Arrange 3 tablespoons of the cashew filling in a line along the long edge of the stacked phyllo sheets. Roll the phyllo around the filling into a long, narrow log. Using a serrated knife, cut the log into 2-inch pieces and and place the pieces in the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining filling and phyllo sheets, arranging each filled piece of baklava against the others so they fit snuggly in a single layer in the baking sheet.

3. Brush the remaining melted butter over the top of the baklava and bake until light brown and crisp, about 35 minutes. Remove the baking pan from the oven, pour the cooled syrup over the baklava, and let cool to room temperature before serving.