did you say veg·e·tar·i·an? a simple {green} dinner for a gathering of friends: curried vegetable rice & fire roasted eggplant salad

peppers stuffed with mozzarella

recipe at the bottom of this post

recently i found myself planning yet another vegetarian menu for a small gathering of friends. in an effort not to be predictably boring (falling back on the usual options), i decided against the mushroom ragout, quinoa lentil salad, orzo with roasted vegetables and pesto, couscous with grilled vegetables, or the very delicious vegetarian lasagna and instead opted for a very spicy curried vegetable

liquid amber in san diego

the famous liquid amber tree outside my house

steamed rice (much like my spicy shrimp rice sans shrimp), a delicious grilled eggplant and tomato salad (russian style according to my dad who’s recipe it is), small marinated yellow peppers stuffed with mozzarella, and a huge bib & blue salad with lots of fresh dill. dessert was chewy crunchy meringue topped with whipped crème fraîche & lots of pomegranate seeds. as usual, by the time dessert rolled around (and i’d consumed a glass of vino or two), i forgot to take pictures of the dessert. yet again. next time. as i write this i’m sitting by my window looking out at the liquid amber tree (only tree in this area that actually loses its leaves, i think)-it is quite a sight to see! a few old brownish leaves desperately clinging on to dear life among the oh-so beautiful fresh bright green leaves just coming in-and all i can think of is yipeeeee!!! spring is coming! a fresh start. a new beginning. admittedly, we’re very lucky weather-wise in California-so no complaining on that front! having said that, the coming of spring still means that longer days are just around the corner. we are happily springing forward, and for that, i am grateful on this beautiful day.

for spicy persian style spiced vegetable steamed rice (4-6 good portions)spicy persian saffron rice

  • 2-3 cups basmati rice, rinsed in water several times until the water runs clear
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes (or 3-4 roma tomatoes), finely cubed
  • 1 medium onion, finely cubed (or 2-3 leeks)
  • 1 cup peas (frozen or fresh)
  • 1 cup mushrooms cut in small cubes
  • 1 cup red bell pepper cut in small cubes
  • 1 cup eggplant (or zucchini) cut in small cubes
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup vegetable oil (avocado)
  • 3-4 tsp of my grandma’s spice mixture: equal parts cinnamon, toasted cumin seeds, rose petals (gol-e-sorkh)
  • 1-2 tsp finely ground saffron
  • cayenne pepper (to taste for spiciness) or a jalapeño pepper, very finely chopped (remember the curry powder is typically spicy)
  • 3-4 tsp good curry powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric



  1. in a deep (non-stick) pot, bring salted water to a boil, then add the cleaned rice and boil (rolling boil) for about 7-9 minutes until the rice looks just tender. drain the rice in a mesh colander, then run cold water over it and allow it to drain.
  2. heat 2 tbs of vegetable oil in a skillet, then add onions and fry for 2-3 minutes on high heat. add the other vegetables (except tomatoes), curry powder, turmeric, cayenne, sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste and stir fry on high heat until vegetable are browned and softened (about 5-8 minutes or so). taste and adjust seasoning. set aside.
  3. add 2 tbs vegetable oil, 1/2 tsp ground saffron, and 2 tbs water to bottom of the pot and heat them together briefly (1-2 minutes on high). remove from heat. start with a few large spoonfuls of rice at the bottom, followed by a thin layering of the vegetables (carefully mix it up a little with a spatula), a  layering of freshly cubed tomatoes, and a sprinkle of spice mixture. keep building a pyramid with your ingredient in the same order (fire roasted eggplant saladwider at the bottom and rounder at the top) until you have used up all the ingredients.
  4. poke 2-3 holes into the rice pyramid you have created with the handle of the spatula. sprinkle the remaining saffron over the very top of the rice dome evenly. pour 2-3 tbs of vegetable oil (or melted butter) over the rice evenly (using a squirt bottle or slotted spoon helps). pour about 3-4 tbs of water into the holes you’ve created. close the lid tightly over a clean kitchen towel or paper towel. put the pot on the stove on high heat for about 5-7 minutes (this will help with the tah-deeg or crispy rice at the bottom). do not move away from the stove! after about 7 minutes, reduce the heat to med/low and allow the rice to steam for about 45 minutes to an hour. The rice and crispy delightful tag-deeg bottom are ready to be served!

fire roasted eggplant & tomato salad for 4-6:

rosemary crostini

  • 6-7 medium to large talian eggplants
  • 3 large rip tomatoes (or 4-5 roma tomatoes)
  • 1 small shallot, very finely minced (or 4-5 scallions, thinly sliced)
  • 1-2 tbs sherry vinegar (or red wine)
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • red pepper flakes (optional to taste)
  • 3-4 tbs good quality extra virgin olive oil
  1. put the eggplants and tomatoes directly on the grill (can be done inside on a gas burner) and allow them to roast  while occasionally turning when necessary until the skins are almost burned and flaky but the insides are soft and cooked through. set aside and allow them to cool off.
  2. carefully remove the roasted eggplant and tomatoes from the outer skins and add to a bowl (mush the eggplants and tomatoes up with a fork creating a smooth consistency) with very finely minced shallots (1-2 tsp), olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and vinegar. taste and adjust seasoning. (add a touch of fresh lemon juice if you’d like it to taste more citrusy).
  3. refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to serving. drizzle with olive oil. serve with oven roasted homemade rosemary crostini : thinly sliced baguette, olive oil, sea salt, chopped fresh rosemary, good parmesan cheese-in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes (keep an eye on them).

mozzarella stuffed small yellow peppers:

  • about 12 marinated yellow (or red) small peppers (buy them at the store usually near the olives)
  • 12 small fresh mozzarella balls (or cut a larger one to small bites)
  • a small bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt & red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon zest

combine parsley, garlic, sea salt & pepper, lemon zest, and olive oil in a bowl. add mozzarella cheese, allow it to marinate for at least 1 hour, and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. stuff the drained peppers carefully with the marinated cheese balls just before serving.



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borani-e-esfenaj: spinach and lentils with yogurt

i had to bring a dish to my book club meeting a few nights ago, and in thinking about a good option that would travel well, i remembered one of my favorite foods from childhood: borani-e-esfenaj. this is one of those timeless recipes that are passed down in families keeping the generations connected. i called my mom for the recipe, and she began enthusiastically explaining how her grandma, bada joon, used to prepare it. i vaguely remember her (bada joon), mostly because of the way she made me feel completely loved with her warm hugs and intensely kind (beautiful almond shaped) eyes. my mom tells me that bada joon used to add good home made beef broth and celery to her borani for added flavor. “do you have celery?” she asks. “make sure to add only the most tender stalks and leaves from the middle like bada joon used to.” chopping the tender light green celery for my borani,  i smile thinking about the generations of women who have prepared this very same dish, and how much i love them all. i close my eyes and send them a big warm mental hug, near and far.

borani-e-esfenaj: ingredients for 6-8 servings:

  • 1/2-3/4 cup dry small lentils (cook the lentils in water or broth until tender)
  • 1 small onion (or shallot), finely minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 4-5 cups fresh organic spinach
  • 1 and 1/2 cup greek style or drained yogurt (2% fat is good)
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped tender celery stalks & leaves
  • 1-2 chili peppers (or 1 tsp red pepper flakes) -optional for spicy
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1. in a deep skillet fry the onions (in heated olive oil) until almost golden brown, then add the garlic and (optional) chili peppers, and fry for another 2-3 minutes until garlic is tender and just golden.

2. add the cleaned (dry) spinach to the hot skillet, and allow it to soften while you carefully stir-add sea salt and pepper to taste, then slightly reduce the heat and cover the skillet (no need to add any water) for a few minutes until the spinach is fully reduced and cooked and there is no liquid left in the skillet-you may have to remove the lid and allow the liquid to evaporate. set the cooked spinach aside to cool down.  *optionally you can also steam the spinach separately by putting in a pan on high heat for 5 minutes until wilted and draining out the liquid before adding to onions and cooking together for 2-3 minutes*

3. in a bowl combine the cooled spinach mixture, chopped raw celery, cooked lentils, and yogurt. taste and adjust for salt & pepper. you may need to add a little more yogurt. allow the borani to rest (preferably refrigerated) for at least an hour before serving. here i drizzled mine with a touch of good quality extra virgin olive oil.
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potato and cauliflower pie ~ kookoo (kuku) seebzamini va gol kalam

how to make a vegetarian potato kookoo (or kuku) in a few (rather) easy steps:

potato cauliflower pieyou know those days when you suddenly have to come up with a quick meal for unexpected company? i had one of those last sunday when i had about an hour to make a respectable (as in deliciously worthy of the company) lunch for about eight (dear) people. it was a beautiful warm and sunny day, and we were going to eat outside. without time for food shopping, i had to make do with what i had, which on this day consisted of the good old standbys: potatoes, dry pasta, tomatoes, and eggs. i was also happy to find a nice looking cauliflower and some flat leaf parsley in the refrigerator.  it was a decent start. while the potatoes were boiling (and cauliflower steaming) for the kookoo ( also see herb kookoo & chicken kookoo), i started on a quick tomato sauce to go over the penne pasta. as you can imagine, we were also in need of something raw and fresh (and not so starchy): it would be a tomato salad with feta cheese and fresh oregano-we were in business! you’d never know the meal wasn’t pre-planned, would you? this is how the beautiful kookoo came about:

potato kookoo ingredients for 6-8

making kuku

  • 3 medium potatoes, boiled until tender, peeled, and cubed
  • 4 organic eggs
  • 1/2 of a cauliflower, steamed and cut into small pieces
  • sea salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3-4 tbs cooking oil
  • small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 4-5 scallions (green onions) thinly sliced
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional for spicy)
  • 2-3 tbs organic ww flour
  1. combine all the ingredients (minus the oil) in a bowl and mix well. heat the oil in a deep (not so deep, but with an edge that comes up about 2 inches) skillet (frying pan) and pour in the mixture with a spatula. press it down lightly until evenly distributed.
  2. after about 4-5 minutes reduce the heat to medium/low, cover the skillet (partially, allowing the steam to escape), and let the kookoo (or pie) cook on one side for about 10-15 minutes or slightly more.
  3. when the edges start looking cooked and turn light brown, it is time to flip the kookoo over. carefully separate the edges from the skillet with the spatula.
  4. place a round plate slightly larger than the size of the top of the skillet over the skillet and carefully flip over so the kookoo lands cooked side up on the plate (or platter).
  5. very carefully slide the kookoo (uncooked side down) back into the skillet. cook for an additional 15-20 minutes before flipping it back onto the platter for serving.
  6. serve with yogurt on the side. may be served at room temperature.

vegetarian kookoo

for tomato salad: sliced ripe red & yellow tomatoes, cubed french feta cheese, fresh oregano, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt & pepper, turkish chili flakes. combine right before serving.

tomato saladkuku recipe


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