one heavenly meal: chelo-kabob {persian style steamed basmati rice with grilled beef kabobs & tomatoes}

kabobs on the grill (manghal)

chelo kabob tablechelo-kabob (probably iran’s semi-official national dish)  is single handedly responsible for bringing me back from being a vegetarian to (mildly) eating meat again. years ago, shortly before i left home for college a good friend of my parents shared a book with me that changed the way i ate and looked at food forever. i don’t really remember the details, but reading it made me acutely aware of how our food consumption directly affects our health and well being. much to my parents amusement, i became a vegetarian, began questioning the quality and source of the foods we were eating, and consumed a lot of the lentil patties my mom made in order to add enough protein to my diet-moms are the best.tomatoes and peppers on the grill

because of where we came from, we’d never been big fans of processed and packaged foods, and in france we were surrounded by an abundance of seasonally fresh produce in the local markets-oh how we loved those morning farmers markets! my sister and i spent more time than you’d expect from a teenager wandering through the stalls (especially in the summer months) taking it all in-smelling the cheeses, melons, and oh-those-peaches, biting into warm chocolate croissants still oozing with soft chocolate, pinching the tops off of the baguettes our mom ordered (yes, we ate those, too), eventually carrying our heavy basket loads back home. i was a vegetarian for about two years until i could take it no more-grilled kabobs

the smell of the grill at my uncle’s (after my grandma, the best kabob-maker i know) house in los angeles finally did me in! watching the family dig in while i “enjoyed” my rice, grilled tomatoes, and salad, and realizing i could never really give up chelo-kabob for good-it was too much a part of me. i feel like i grew up with the smell of grilling kabob in my nostrils-it still takes me right back to my childhood and makes me feel so warm inside, reminding me of lovely family gatherings at my grandmas, the beautifully set round table, yellow slices of butter neatly lined up, bowls of sumac and fresh herbs, raw egg yolks in their half shells, all waiting for the piping hot fragrant steamed rice (see recipe-omit all spices but saffron) and glistening kabobs my grandma had so lovingly prepared.taking kabobs off the skewer with lavash bread

it was one of my favorite thing to do-watching her skewer the tender beef with her skilled hands, then line them up in perfect rows on trays going out to the grill, or “manghal” (more of a charcoal tray than a grill-the meat should not sit on the grill, but directly above the fire) as we call it. i could’nt be happier when my sister sent a text this past sunday saying “last minute chelo-kabob at our house-moms coming to help-be there at 1:30”. i got dressed quickly, grabbed my camera, and practically ran out the door-i wanted to be there for the preparation, of course!

a nice plate of chelo-kabob!

a disclaimer of sorts: my mom and sister weren’t too happy i’d picked this particular day to take pictures for a post about chelo-kabob…they had decided to do it all very “last minute” and weren’t happy with the look of things-the filet kabob was not the typical “barg” (translates to leaf) flattened style we make but more of a “chengeh” or chunky style, and the koobideh (ground beef kabobs) were not as perfectly lined up (as in matching and all pretty looking) as my mom would have liked due to lack of time-but let me tell youdeliciously grilled kabob koobideh-it really didn’t matter…it was all way beyond delicious! we had quite a feast. the perfectly spicy  drinks my sister served while we waited? i’ll have to ask her for the recipe. {click on (CONTINUE READING) for recipes & inspiration…}

Leili's bloody mary

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kookoo {vegetarian herb omelette or frittata}

kookoo

we’ve been enjoying kookoo (i know, bit of a funny name) or the persian version of  a frittata-omelette-quiche in my family ever since I can remember. when i say we, i have to admit that for years I only observed it being made (there are all kinds of variations of kookoo) and eaten by others. starting off in life as a bit of a picky eater, i eventually learned to appreciate a good kookoo (among other things) as i discovered what (real  food) eating was all about. i can still see my grandma’s skillful hands meticulously chopping the herbs, then ever so care carefully pouring the green “batter” in to the pan. herb (green) kookoo is best in the spring when all the fresh herbs it calls for are in  abundance. as i prepare my shopping list for our upcoming (persian) new year’s celebration (no rouz -spring equinox), it becomes clear that herb kookoo contains a  perfectly healthy and good for you combination of ingredients-a rarity for such deliciousness! it is a great vegetarian option, and can be served warm as a side (such as during no rouz where it is served alongside the traditional herbed rice & fish dish, sabzi polo mahi), or as an appetizer (at room temperature) served with yogurt and flat bread. i left this beautiful one whole, and served it sliced like a pie with a yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce.  it was a big hit.

 

kookoo recipe: 

finely clean and chop (herbs should be chopped finely so that they can mix well with the other ingredients) one large organic bunch (1 cup chopped) each of: 

– cilantro, flat leaf parsley, and spinach (about 1 to 1 and 1/2 cup each chopped)

– 2 bunches sliced green onions or chives.

     combine the herbs in a bowl with:

  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3-4 organic eggs
  • 2-3 tbs flour  
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • a touch of cinnamon-about 1 tsp (if you like it)
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tbs barberries (optional)

1. heat 2-3 tbs vegetable oil in a deep skillet, then carefully pour in the egg mixture and pat it down tightly with a spatula and allow  it cook on one side on med/low heat for about 20-25 minutes (with the lid on).
2. carefully flip the kookoo with the help of a round platter (this can be tricky, but is doable-trust me), and cook the other side for another 20-25. flip the kookoo (it should be crisp on the outside) out on to a platter, and let it sit a few minutes prior to serving. you can also cut the kookoo  in to small sized squares and serve as an appetizer with a side of yogurt. 

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ghormeh sabzi ~ persian fresh herb stew with dry omani lemons

ghormeh sabzi black eyed peas

reposting in honor of #internationalghormehsabziday 11/28/15…better get cooking!

cooking ghormeh sabzi: to celebrate our beloved grandma, my sister and i did the one thing we knew would most closely connect us to her in our sadness. we cooked. we cooked all day. we prepared many of the favorite dishes she had so lovingly made for us over the years. we stood side by side and quietly chatted while we chopped, sliced, fried, and simmered our stews. as the familiar aromas surrounded us, we remembered, and we felt the connection-to her, and to the past that is so much a part of the present and the people we have become today. the way we live, love, and feed our families. there was sadness, for sure, but there was also an incredible sense of hope and responsibility towards the next generation and the huge legacy we have to live up to. at the end of the day, we gathered with our loved ones around the table,  said our prayers, and enjoyed the foods we only know how to cook because she taught us so well. we laughed and cried, but mostly we felt enormous gratitude for having been so lucky as to call her our mommoni (grandma) for so many years.ghormeh sabzi recipe

ghormeh sabzi is my favorite persian stew by far, and i requested it pretty much every time mommon asked me what i wanted to eat. since i didn’t like stew meat, she would make tiny little peppered meatballs (with grated onions) and add them to the stew for me. to this day ghormeh (deep fried meat they preserved in oil for the winter months) sabzi (greens-or fresh herbs) does not hit the spot without the little delicious meatballs. mommon also went against general consensus and used black eyed peas instead of the typical kidney beans in her stew. obviously, i do the same thing-in this case, i forgot to take pictures after the beans were added (it was quite an emotionally difficult day), but you can use your imagination*. this is a stew that requires a good bit of time and patience to prepare, and even more time to cook (slow simmer) for the flavors to really build up to where you want them. please don’t let the time factor make you to miss out on trying it. it is worth every millisecond that you spend and more. promise. noosh-e-jan!

* i have since added the photo above with the beans…

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kələm yerkökü Āsh: a hearty and healthy winter soup with cabbage and carrots

persian cabbage soup or aashthere’s nothing like a steaming hot bowl of thick and hearty آش‎ on a cold winter day.  Āsh (persian: آش‎) is a whole meal in itself that satisfies way beyond a simple bowl of soup. this thick cabbage soup known in our family as the kalam yerkoku (cabbage and carrots in azerbaijani) was (yet another) specialty of my grandma’s and always a favorite of mine (although i never ate the carrots). looking back, i feel like my mommonee always had a bowl of warmth waiting for us when we came in from playing in her enormous backyard. when it snowed, she covered us up so much we could barely walk before sending (or rolling) us out with loads of supplies to make snowmen-carrots, beans, buttons, twigs, old scarves and hats…and while we played with our noses running and our cheecks glowing from the cold, her pot simmered softly in the kitchen creating a most delicious aroma  welcoming us back home. before we knew it we were quickly unbundled and thawing out with a bowl of deliciousness that smelled like heaven (this one was often loaded with aromatic tarragon). oh how i long for those days-which is why i so often cook these thick soups that help tie me back to her, and the safety, love, and pure familial comfort they represent.

ingredients and preparation for 6-8 servings of cabbage, barley, and carrot Āsh:

persian cabbage aash

 

  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced (for piaz dagh)
  • 2-3 tsp turmeric
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 2-3 cups organic spinach (roughly chopped)
  • 2 cups chopped organic cilantro
  • 1 cup organic chopped parsley
  • 1 cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 2 cups cabbage, cut up in chunks
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled, cut in half, then in 1 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (i’ve been using avocado oil)
  • a nice bunch of fresh tarragon leaves (or 2-3 tbs dry)
  • 2 tbs dry mint
  • 5-6 cups good (preferably home made) chicken or beef broth
  • 1/2-1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup (or more) kashk (or liquid whey)-can be substituted with sour cream
  1. presoak the garbanzo beans (6-8 hours ahead) and cook until tender, set aside (or you can use canned).
  2. in a dutch oven, brown the onions in about 1/2 of the vegetable oil with 1 tsp turmeric (see directions for making piaz dagh), remove 1/4 of the onions with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-set aside for garnish. add barley to the remaining onions with about 5 cups of broth, sea salt & pepper, 1 tsp turmeric, and several (another 5-6) cups of water. bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 45-50 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. add carrots, parsley, cilantro, scallions, and spinach, and cook for another 30 minutes. add cooked garbanzo beans and cabbage, making sure to adjust water if necessary (this is supposed to be a rather thick soup). taste and adjust seasoning. cook for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally (careful it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot). add the fresh tarragon leaves (if using dry, add with cabbage) and liquid whey, stirring enough for it to fully incorporate. simmer for another 15-20 minutes.
  4. heat remaining oil to a small saucepan, then add minced garlic and fry just long enough until golden (be careful not to burn it). remove from heat, then add dry mint (crushing it between your fingers). combine well, and allow the mixture to sit for at least a few minutes before using. Stir 1/2 of mixture into the aash.
  5. serve topped with a few drops of the remaining garlic/mint oil, some fried onions (set aside from before), and a few drops of additional whey as garnish.
  6. this is when we say: noosh-e-jan!     see garnishes below on another favorite aash, aash-e-reshteh (persian noodle soup)

garnishes for persian aash

 

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