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.

Sholeh Zard (Iranian Saffron Rice Pudding)

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Happy Norooz! Last week ushered in the two week-long Iranian new year, a time for celebration, time spent around loved ones, and sweets. Lots of sweets. Most Iranian sweets are too strong for my taste, but I can never say no to sholeh zard. Traditionally prepared as alms during religious festivals in Iran, this dish takes me back to my (Californian) childhood. Whenever a holiday rolled around, my mom and family friends would spend an afternoon making huge pots of the fragrant, rosewater-flecked rice pudding. They would garnish the finished dish with beautiful Persian calligraphy using cinnamon.

I’ve since learned to make sholeh zard on my own, though my calligraphy skills are sorely lacking. This rich dessert is otherwise easy to make, but requires some attention. Just remember to check the pot frequently. You want your finished dish to have a thin pudding-like consistency, as it’ll thicken when it cools down.

Sholeh zard

Ingredients:

1 cup basmati rice
7 cups or more water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsalted slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup rosewater

Garnish:

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons slivered almonds
2 teaspoons slivered pistachios

1. Clean and wash the rice, changing the water several times. Drain.

2. Combine the rice with 4 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil, skimming the foam as it rises. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes over medium heat until the rice is soft.

3. Add 3 more cups of warm water and sugar, cook for 25 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the butter, almonds, saffron water, cardamom, and rosewater. Mix well. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and cook over low heat, uncovered, for another 20 minutes or until the mixture is cooked and has thickened to a pudding.

4. Spoon the pudding into individual serving dishes or a large bowl. Decorate with cinnamon, almonds, and pistachios. Serve the pudding cold or room temperature.

Kashk-e Bademjaan (Iranian Eggplant Dip)

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Note: This entry also appeared at my friend Sherisa de Groot’s blog, L’élephant Rose. L’élephant Rose is a collection of jewelry designed by Sherisa, based in Amsterdam. It’s also the name of her blog about design, music, green living, food, and fashion.

It’s eggplant season! Eggplant is ubiquitous in Iranian cuisine, and luckily for me, it’s in season in the Bay Area right now. I’ve been buying pounds and pounds of it to cook kashk-e bademjaan. A favorite at Persian gatherings, this dip is garlicy, minty, and slightly piquant, thanks to kashk, a thick condiment similar to whey that’s used in Persian cooking. Served with naan or a similar flatbread, kashk-e bademjaan is the perfect way to make use of the eggplant bounty.

This recipe is adapted from two sources: my mom’s guidance over the phone as I hurriedly cooked this the first time for a dinner party, and Najmieh Batmanglij’s definitive English-language cookbook on Iranian cuisine: Food of Life. (Sidenote: Batmanglij’s son, Rostam, is a member of Vampire Weekend and Discovery. Guess what I listen to when I’m cooking from Najmieh’s cookbook?)

Kashk-e bademjaan

Ingredients:

2 medium eggplants
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup liquid whey (kashk)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the garnish:
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons dried mint
2 tablespoons liquid whey (kashk)
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

1. Peel eggplants and cut into 4 slices lengthwise. Place in a colander and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt to remove bitterness and excess moisture. Let stand for 30 minutes, then pat dry.

2. Brown the eggplants in a non-stick skillet with 1/4 cup of oil. Add onions and garlic and brown for an additional two minutes, adding another tablespoon of oil if needed. Add 1 cup of water, cover, and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and mash in a food processor. Add 1/2 cup of whey, salt, and pepper, and mix well.

3. Just before serving, saute minced garlic in remaining 2 tablespoons oil at low heat, until golden. Remove skillet from heat, add dried mint, and mix well.

4. Place the eggplant in a serving bowl and garnish with 2 tablespoons whey, the garlic and mint mixture, and a few drops of saffron water. Serve with flatbread and fresh herbs.