This Iranian-inspired main is the perfect dish for when you want something like kabab koobideh but don’t have the patience to fire up the grill. Lightly spiced and easy to put together, this lamb kofta kabab comes together in under an hour. It reminds me of kabab maytabaiyee, a skillet kabab dish that mimics the grilled version but without that charcoal kiss.
Use a light hand with the pomegranate molasses: too much and the koftas won’t hold their shape when heated. And a word about kofta versus kabab: in Persian, kabab refers to grilled meat dishes and kofta refers to meatballs. So this is sort of both. This dish isn’t traditional, but rather an amalgamation of distinctly Iranian spices and ingredients.
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1/2 cup chopped mint
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons grated onion
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Combine lamb, mint, pomegranate molasses, paprika, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl; mix well. Using clean hands, shape lamb mixture into 1 1/2-inch-thick oval patties. Refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.
2. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high and add olive oil. Add patties to the pan and cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 5-8 minutes, turning every few minutes for even cooking. Transfer to a platter and serve with yogurt alongside rice or flatbread.
What do you get if you take the mast (yogurt) away from the mast-o-khiar (Iranian yogurt and cucumber) and replace it with a generous drizzle of olive oil and lime? You get this super refreshing, complex salad that’s sort of Iranian and sort of not. The next time you’re preparing a khoresh or some kabab, make this on the side. Trust me, it works.
Smashing the cucumbers is key, as it ensures the craggy surface absorbs all of the flavorful dressing.
5 Persian cucumbers
1 garlic clove, lightly smashed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons dried mint
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons lime juice
1. Gently smash cucumbers with a rolling pin or the back of a heavy knife just to break open. Tear into irregular 2-inch pieces and place in a bowl; season with salt. Let sit at least 5 minutes and up to 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, cook garlic and oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, turning garlic once, until golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add dried mint and sesame seeds and remove from heat. Let cool until warm and stir in lime juice; season dressing with salt. Transfer to a serving bowl.
Drain cucumbers, discarding any liquid they have released. Add to bowl with dressing and toss several times to coat. Serve at room temperature.
Growing up, one of my favorite after-school snacks was halvah rolled up with lavash flatbread: simple, sweet, and satisfying. Called halvardeh in Persian, Middle Eastern halvah is ubiquitous these days in well-stocked American grocery stores. But when I was a kid, halvah was precious: we’d make semi-monthly drives from Santa Rosa to San Jose to stock up on Iranian favorites, including halvah, sour cherry jam, lavashak (sour fruit roll ups), and spices and herbs for days.
This halvah-stuffed challah is a grown-up version of my childhood snack and make no mistake about it: this is a weekend project. Adapted from a Food and Wine recipe, this takes the better part of an afternoon to make, and the results are well worth it. This recipe makes two loaves so make like me and freeze one for eating later, when the craving strikes.
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup tahini
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 cups chopped halvah
Sesame seeds and more sugar, for sprinkling
1. Make the dough: In a small bowl, whisk the water with the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes, until foamy.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk 4 of the eggs with the oil and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, pinch of salt, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cardamom and the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar. Mix to blend. Add the egg and yeast mixtures and knead until the dough comes together, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl, about 3 minutes. Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and knead until smooth and slightly sticky, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to an oiled large bowl and cover with wax paper and a towel on top.
3. Make the filling and topping: In a medium bowl, stir the tahini with 1/3 cup of the honey, the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and 2 tablespoons of water until smooth. In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg with the remaining 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 tablespoon of water.
4. Preheat the oven to 375F degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Transfer 1 piece to a lightly floured work surface and keep the other piece covered with a damp kitchen towel. Divide the dough on the work surface into 3 equal pieces. Using a rolling pin, roll out 1 piece into a 14-by-6-inch rectangle. Spread 1/4 cup of the tahini mixture on top, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the halvah over the tahini in an even layer. With a long side facing you, tightly roll up the dough into a log, pressing the seam and ends together to seal in the filling. Repeat with the other 2 pieces of dough, 1/2 cup of the tahini mixture and 1/2 cup of the halvah. Arrange the 3 logs on one of the prepared sheets and braid them together. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds and sugar. Repeat with the second piece of dough and the remaining filling, egg wash and toppings. Bake the challahs for about 25-30 minutes on the middle and bottom racks of the oven, shifting and rotating halfway through, until deep golden. Transfer to racks to cool.
What surprised me most about Turkish cuisine when I visited Istanbul several years ago was how spicy it could be. I thought the food would be more like its Iranian counterpart: herbaceous and drizzled with saffron and turmeric at every turn. And while Turkish cuisine incorporates similar flavors, it’s also laden with peppers, both mild and hot. I loved it. Redolent with fresh vegetables, flatbreads, yogurt, lamb, and ingredients similar to the Iranian palate I’d grown up with, Turkish food was at the same time familiar but not.
One of my favorite dishes were these poached eggs. No one does breakfast like the Turks. The silky sauce is garlicy, yogurty, and has just enough heat so that you can’t stop sopping it up with bread, yolks and all. You can serve this with any flatbread, but I prefer this with some good-quality slices of toasted sourdough. Iranian barbari is delicious too.
1/2 cup plain whole-milk Turkish or Greek yogurt
1 small garlic clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper or Turkish red chile flakes
2 large cold eggs
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
2 thick sourdough slices or pieces of barbari bread, toasted
1. Fill a large skillet with water to a depth of 2 inches. Bring to a simmer over medium.
2. Place yogurt in a small saucepan and slowly warm over low heat. Stir in garlic and salt. Cook, stirring, until yogurt mixture is the consistency of lightly whipped cream, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to turn brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in oil and Aleppo pepper.
4. Crack 1 egg into a ramekin or small bowl. Add 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Repeat with remaining egg and remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice in another ramekin or small bowl.
5. Gently slide eggs, 1 on each side of the large skillet, into the simmering water. Reduce heat so there is no movement in the water, and poach eggs until whites are set and yolks are still runny, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the eggs to a plate.
6. Divide the warm creamy yogurt mixture between 2 shallow bowls. Top each with a poached egg, and pour the peppery butter around and slightly over the yogurt. Serve with bread.
For the uninitiated, khoresh is a general term for stews and curries in Iranian cuisine that are served alongside basmati rice, fresh sabzi (herbs), and torshi (pickled vegetables). From eggplant to fenugreek to split peas to pomegranates, there are countless varieties of khoresh and at gatherings you’ll see at least two types served alongside other dishes.
My favorite khoresh, though, is a less common one: khoresh-e bamieh. This okra stew hails from southern Iran and although both of my parents are from Tehran, my mom’s family grew up eating this. She introduced it to my dad when they were married, who counts it among his favorites too. And me? Well, I go crazy for this stuff. Luckily for me (and you), it’s easy to make. It’s not quite as good as my mom’s, but I’m getting there.
Like most khoreshs, it can be made vegetarian by simply omitting the meat. You can also substitute the chicken for leg of lamb that’s been cut into 2-inch cubes. Just be sure to adjust the cooking time and water accordingly.
2 onions, peeled and chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 pounds skinless chicken legs and thighs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tomato, chopped
juice of 1 lime
1 pound fresh or frozen okra
1. In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, brown onion, garlic, and chicken in the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and turmeric. Add the tomato paste and tomato. Pour in 1 1/2 cups water, cover, and simmer over low heat for 1/2 hour until the chicken is tender, stirring occasionally.
2. When the chicken is tender, add lime juice and okra. Simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes over low heat. Check to see if okra is tender. Taste the stew and adjust the seasoning if needed. Serve warm with chelo (Iranian-style rice).