A heart of barberries for you and yours.
Persian New Year continues for another few days, at least it does somewhere other than our house. I took down our Haft-sin yesterday. Other than a little garbanzo filled ajil and some gorgeous bouquets of flowers, it just looks like a typical March around here- sunny one moment and stormy the next. The dog is confused and I’m just trying to keep things together.
We hosted a few friends for Persian New Year dinner last Friday. The menu was simple – as Persian New Year is a traditional meal with green rice with herbs, salmon with two different rubs and the herbed frittata, kuku sabzi, served with more herbs and feta cheese and bread. I added a carrot cardamom salad for color and a little variation from the endless onslaught of herbs that marks No Ruz dinner.
I am not adverse to the herbiness of No Ruz, in fact, I like it. It is that idea that we will base a whole meal around an amazing array of greenery that is not easily procured in Seattle at this time of year. I long for the dill, fresh parsley, chives and cilantro you can find in the California farmer’s markets. It is a classic mismatch hypothesis – need for green stuff locally and lack of green stuff locally makes for frustrated shoppers. Luckily, my mother was able to find fresh dill and other things to make dinner happen.
I would like to share with you a recipe for Kuku Sabzi, or the herbed frittata that my friend’s swoon over and I believe I have finally conquered. The Kuku (frittata) can be made with a variety of vegetables, a little bit of meat, egg, spices and flour to bind it together. The egg is much less pronounced in the Persian kuku than in the Italian frittata, which is a boon if you have egg adverse folks in your midst. The kuku sabzi is really about bringing together a lot of the tastes of spring in one dish. It is grassy, fresh, herby and oniony without being overpowering. My mom’s recipe has changed a little bit from the time she first shared it with me and I honestly think it tastes better than ever. The recipe does call for a few unusual ingredients that you may or may not be able to procure locally. One thing is the advieh, which is spice mix that consists cardamom, cloves, ginger, rose petals, cinnamon and cumin along with other things. I think quatres epices would work fine or you can skip it entirely and it would still be tasty. Barberries (zereshk) are the other thing that makes this dish a knock out. The other component is barberries which are both beautifully red and zingy and tart where you expect them to be sweet. Others have suggested using dried cranberries as a substitute or if you have fresh cranberries languishing in your freezer, thaw and use those. If you do this make sure you chop them and soak them in water to take out some of the sugar. I just checked and both are available on Amazon or at the Sadaf site (purveyors of many Middle Eastern spices). The newest addition is the salad greens, my mom is convinced that they make a world of difference, lightening up the dish just a tad without affecting the flavor. I have to agree.
The secret ingredients are not so secret anymore.
The best thing about kuku is that it is delicious served hot or cold. I like it the next day for breakfast.
The final product.
Kuku Sabzi –serves 8
The substitutions I called for should work just fine. It is a dish that is very forgiving, and begs for variations. If you have garlic scapes around, they should be fun to add. I literally added all the leftover herbs from Friday's dinner - tarragon, basil, mint to the mix and it tasted great.
2 ½ cups leeks, the green part (washed, chopped and cleaned)
1 cup cilantro (cleaned and stems removed)
1 ½ cups parsley (cleaned and stems removed)
½ cup chives or garlic chives (cleaned)
½ cup mixed herbs (really what you have lying about – I used fresh mint, dill, basil)
1 cup mixed salad greens (mesclun or lettuce, washed and torn into small pieces)
5-6 eggs (large)
¼ cup zereshk (if not available, use ¼ cup chopped dried cranberries or ½ cup fresh chopped cranberries)
½ cup walnuts (chopped) – optional
2 T butter (softened)
1 T flour (I used rice flour)
½ t baking soda
1 t salt
Pepper to taste
½ t advieh or some sort of quatres epices
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 8x8” dish or a small casserole (1.5 quart) baker. Place zereshk in boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes, drain off water and set zereshk aside. Put leeks in food processor and process until chopped, add parsley, cilantro, chives and mixed herbs until chopped fine. Remove from processor bowl and place in 3 quart bowl. Add 1 cup mixed greens, plumped up zereshk and walnuts and mix with hands to combine. Put flour, baking soda, salt, pepper and advieh into bowl and mix well.
In a separate bowl, beat five eggs until blended. Add egg mixture to herbs and mix to combine. The mixture should not be too wet nor dry , if it seems too dry, beat another egg and add it to the herb mixture. Turn mixture into greased casserole or dish and dot with remaining butter. Place in preheated oven and check after 20 minutes. The kuku should spring back when done, you want it to be cooked thoroughly, but not over cooked. Remove from heat, let cool and then cut into squares to serve.
Enjoy a few squares of Spring on me.