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.

Creamed Swiss Chard with Tahini

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Let’s get one thing out of the way: I can’t stand creamed spinach: to me, it tastes bland. Its one redeeming quality? A lovely, velvety texture. So when I experimented with this Swiss chard side dish, I wanted something that evoked the texture of creamed spinach but with lots more flavor, and healthier too.

Sure, there’s no actual cream in this “creamed” Swiss chard, but you won’t miss it anyway. Serve this as a side dish or as a dip alongside crackers and crudites.

Creamed Swiss chard with tahini

2 bunches green-stemmed Swiss chard (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup tahini
1/3 cup lemon juice
Salt

1. Remove ribs and stems from Swiss chard leaves and finely chop. Tear leaves into small pieces. Set stems and leaves aside separately.

2. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large pot over medium-low. Cook reserved ribs and stems, stirring often and adding a splash of water if they start to brown, until tender, about 7 minutes. Add garlic; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add reserved chard; cook, tossing, until all the leaves are wilted and tender, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Squeeze excess liquid from mixture into a measuring glass. (You should have about 1/2 cup liquid.)

3. Place Swiss chard mixture and 1 tablespoon cooking liquid in a food processor and add tahini, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup oil. Season with salt and process, adding more cooking liquid if needed, until dip is creamy. Season with more salt if needed.

4. Serve as a side dish or as a dip alongside crackers.

Lamb Shawarma

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This lamb shawarma isn’t traditional, but it’s delicious. The secret ingredient lies in pomegranate molasses, which tenderizes the meat while lending a tangy, complex flavor. Tossed with plenty of grilled red onions and mint and tucked into pita bread, it’s a crowd pleaser.

Lamb shawarma

Ingredients:

For the pomegranate marinade:

3 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 2 to 3-inch pieces and skewered
1 red onion, sliced into thick wedges and skewered

For the tahini dressing:

5 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 cup mint leaves, torn
4 pita breads, cut in half and warmed
3 cups chopped lettuce

1. Make the marinade: in a bowl, whisk together olive oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, minced garlic, ground cumin, salt, and pepper.

2. Put marinade and lamb in a resealable plastic bag, seal, and squish to mix. Chill for 24 hours.

3. Make the tahini dressing: in a bowl, whisk together tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, water, parsley, garlic, salt, and cayenne.

4. Heat a grill to high (about 450F degrees). Grill lamb and onion wedges, turning once, until onions are slightly softened and charred and lamb is medium (cut to test), about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a board and let rest 5 minutes. Roughly chop onions. Thinly slice meat.

5. In a bowl, combine lamb and any juices, onions, and the mint. Set out a platter with lamb, pita, lettuce, and tahini dressing, and serve.

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.