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.

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.