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.

Chicken Tikka Masala

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My chicken tikka masala isn’t traditional. You see, growing up with all manner of khoreshs, one of my favorite things to do was to pour the khoresh on top of tahdig, the golden crispy bottom-of-the-pot part of Iranian-style rice.

As an adult, I do the same thing not only with khoresh, but with curries too. So what’s better than tikka masala? Tikka masala on top of tahdig, of course! And with a side of torshi and fresh sabzi, even. Iran and India share so much in common that these dishes pair together perfectly.

Chicken tikka masala

Ingredients:

For the marinade:
1 cup plain yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt and pepper

For the chicken:
2 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed
Salt and pepper pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup almonds
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons garam masala
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
One 30-ounce can chopped tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
1 cup heavy cream

1. For the marinade: In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cayenne and turmeric. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Using a knife, make a few shallow slashes in each piece of chicken. Add the chicken to the marinade, turn to coat and refrigerate overnight.

3. Remove the chicken from the marinade; scrape the marinade. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and transfer to a cutting board and cut the chicken into 2-inch pieces.

4. Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium-low. Add the almonds and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a plate and let cool. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until finely ground.

5. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garam masala, chile powder and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with their juices and the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Cover partially and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Add the cream and ground almonds and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 8 minutes longer. Stir in the chicken; simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve with basmati rice, tahdig, torshi, and fresh sabzi khordan.

Roasted Chicken with Date Molasses

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I made this sheet pan-roasted chicken when I was craving something savory and sweet. Influenced by the flavors of Persian Gulf cooking, this dish makes genius use of date molasses, a popular syrup in southern Iran, as well as in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

Serve this with basmati rice and pickled vegetables for a vinegary contrast.

Roast chicken with date molasses

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 chicken, cut into pieces
1 cup walnuts
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled, plus 1 clove garlic, grated
3 teaspoons sumac
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 cup pitted dates, halved
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup olive or avocado oil
3 tablespoons date molasses

1. Make the dry rub: Place 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and the turmeric in a small bowl and mix. Rub the chicken pieces with the dry rub and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 425F degrees.

3. Make the wet rub: In a food processor, combine the walnuts, onion, 4 peeled garlic cloves, remaining teaspoon salt, remaining teaspoon pepper, sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, dates, lime juice, and 1/4 cup oil, and pulse until you have a grainy, chopped mixture. Rub the chicken pieces with the wet rub and push some under the skin. Arrange the chicken pieces on a baking sheet.

4. Cover loosely with foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour.

5. In a small saucepan, mix the ingredients remaining 1 clove grated garlic, the remaining 1/4 cup oil, the date molasses, and 1 tablespoon water. Bring to a simmer over low heat, turn off, and set aside to keep warm.

6. Uncover the foil from the chicken and continue to bake for another 20 minutes.

7. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, baste the chicken with the date molasses mixture, and serve.

Khoresh-e Gheymeh (Iranian Lamb and Chana Dal Braise)

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Khoresh-e gheymeh, or Iranian channa dal and lamb braise is one of the most popular (and mercifully easiest) khoreshes to make. Khoreshes are Iranian braises that are served with basmati rice, and this one in particular is the perfect example of cross-cultural evolution: high five to the genius who decided that French fries would become a required part of this dish.

Make sure to seek out limoo omani (dried limes) here, as their flavor is essential to the success of khoresh-e gheymeh.

Khoresh-e gheymeh

Ingredients:

For the braise:

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 pound leg of lamb, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 dried limoo omani (Persian limes), pierced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoons ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
1/4 cup yellow split peas (chana dal)

For the French fries:

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into thick matchsticks, and soaked in cold water
1 cup vegetable oil for shallow frying
Salt to taste

1. To make the braise: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute the onions until beginning to brown and then add the lamb, continuing to saute until the onions are golden brown and the juice has been absorbed. Add the dried limes, salt, pepper, and turmeric, and saute for 3 minutes.

2. Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the tomato, sugar, and saffron water. Cover and cook over low heat for 35 minutes.

4. In a saucepan, cook the yellow split peas in 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt for 30 minutes. Drain, rinse, and add to the pot with the lamb. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

5. To make the French fries: Drain and dry the potatoes. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the potatoes, and shallow fry until golden and cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to remove the potatoes and place on paper towels. Season with salt.

6. To serve, place the braise in a serving bowl and top with the French fries. Serve with basmati rice (and Iranian pickles and a fresh herb platter of sabzi khordan, if desired).