No shopping list delights me more than the one I write when I’m planning to cook Persian food. Aubergines and walnuts, pomegranate seeds and rose water; saffron, turmeric, lemons; the four ground Cs – cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom; great bunches of fresh herbs (dill, parsley, mint); and thick, tangy yoghurt. It’s a roll call of the most delicious things. Add chicken and beans, and factor in time and friends, and it’s a list that absolutely never fails to satisfy and delight.
Fesenjoon chicken kabobs (pictured top)
A plate of Persian food is so often the perfect balance of perfume and spice, sweetness and sour, and fesenjoon, a classic, nutty, chicken stew, is just that. It’s typically served as a stew, but I use it here as a sauce to coat gently spiced chicken. Serve with rice or flatbreads.
Prep 20 min
Marinate 30 min+
Cook 1 hr 50 min
700g skinless and boneless chicken thighs (about 8), cut into 3cm pieces
2 tbsp ghee, melted
For the spice mix
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1½ tbsp ground cumin
3 tbsp rose petals, finely ground in a mortar
½ tsp caster sugar
For the fesenjoon
45ml olive oil
2 onions (320g), peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 carrots (160g), grated
125g walnut halves, toasted and finely blitzed
500ml chicken stock
75ml pomegranate molasses
1½ tsp caster sugar
For the shirazi salad
½ cucumber (160g), halved, deseeded and cut into ½cm cubes
½ red onion (80g), peeled and finely chopped
200g cherry tomatoes, quartered
60g pomegranate seeds
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp mint leaves, roughly chopped
First, marinate the chicken. Put all the spices in a small frying pan and toast on medium-high heat for one to two minutes, until fragrant. Tip into a medium bowl, add the chicken and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt, toss to coat and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes (or overnight in the fridge).
For the fesenjoon, put two tablespoons of oil, the onions and carrots in a medium saucepan on a medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes, until softened and starting to caramelise. Add the remaining oil and the walnuts, and cook for another two minutes, stirring so the mix doesn’t catch. Pour in the stock, molasses, sugar and half a teaspoon of salt, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 30-35 minutes, until thickened. Take off the heat and set aside.
Divide the chicken equally between eight skewers (presoaked if using wooden ones) and brush all over with ghee. Put a large griddle pan on a medium-high heat and, once hot, turn the heat to medium and grill the chicken in two batches for three minutes on each side, brushing with more ghee when turning them over. Remove from the pan and set aside for five minutes.
For the salad, mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl with an eighth of a teaspoon of salt, and divide between four plates. Arrange two chicken skewers on each plate and serve with the warm fesenjoon sauce spooned on top.
Kashke bademjan aubergine dip
This classic Persian aubergine dip makes a great side dish on warm summer days. You can also make it with whole roast or charred aubergines. Serve with plenty of pitta.
Prep 20 min
Cook 50 min
Serves 4, as a dip
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
105ml olive oil
2 aubergines, peeled and each cut into 6 long wedges (780g)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
¼ tsp ground turmeric
Fine sea salt and black pepper
100g soured cream, plus 1 tbsp extra
1 lemon, zested, to get 1 tsp, then juiced, to get 4 tsp
1 tsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed in a mortar
½ tsp dried mint
⅛ tsp saffron threads, lightly crushed and steeped in 1 tsp hot water
20g walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
First, make the caramelised onions. Put a large saute pan for which you have a lid on a medium-high heat, add the onions and two tablespoons of the oil, and cook, stirring frequently, for 25-30 minutes, until deeply golden. Transfer the onions to a plate lined with kitchen paper and return the pan to the medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, put the aubergines in a large bowl with 45ml olive oil, then toss to coat. Working in two or three batches, arrange a single layer of the aubergines in the hot pan and cook for three to four minutes on each side, until slightly golden and softened. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining aubergines.
Put all the cooked aubergine in the pan, turn down the heat to medium, stir in half of the garlic, the turmeric, 200ml water, three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Cover the pan and cook the aubergines, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed and the aubergines have softened. Take off the lid, add half the caramelised onions and cook for another two to three minutes, to get rid of any excess moisture. Use a spoon to break up the aubergines, so they’re all mashed up. Off the heat, stir in a tablespoon of soured cream and a teaspoon of lemon juice, then set aside.
Put the remaining soured cream in a bowl with the lemon zest and remaining juice, add a pinch of salt, mix well, then chill.
Put a small frying pan on a medium heat, add the last two tablespoons of oil and, when it’s hot, stir in the remaining garlic and the cumin, and fry for 30 seconds to a minute, until fragrant. Take off the heat, stir in the mint and a pinch of salt, and set aside.
To assemble the dish, spoon the warm aubergine on to a lipped platter, followed by the soured cream. Drizzle the mint and cumin oil over the top, repeat with the saffron and its water, and serve scattered with the remaining onions and walnuts.
Cannellini beans with dill, yoghurt and cumin burnt butter
This is inspired by baghali ghatog, a Persian bean stew, though the lemon yoghurt and cumin burnt butter are my twist. Serve with crusty bread for a great breakfast (or lunch or supper).
Prep 25 min
Cook 35 min
1 tbsp olive oil
30g unsalted butter
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ tsp demerara sugar
Sea salt and black pepper
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
40g dill, roughly chopped, plus ½ tbsp picked fronds
40g parsley, roughly chopped
¼ tsp ground turmeric
400ml chicken or vegetable stock
2 x 400g tins cannellini beans, drained
8 medium eggs
150g podded broad beans, skins removed (100g)
For the cumin burnt butter
50g unsalted butter
1½ tsp cumin seeds, roughly ground in a mortar
For the seasoned yoghurt
200g Greek yoghurt
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely crushed
2 lemons, zested, to get 1 tsp, then juiced, to get 2½ tbsp
Put the olive oil, butter, onions, demerara sugar, and a teaspoon of salt in a large saute pan for which you have a lid and turn on the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes, until soft and lightly caramelised, then stir in the garlic, herbs and turmeric, and cook for two to three minutes more, until softened. Pour in the stock, bring to a simmer, then stir in the cannellini beans, cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the mix has thickened and the liquid reduced by half.
Take off the heat and, using a spoon, make eight wells in the bean mixture. Crack an egg into each one, sprinkle over an eighth of a teaspoon of salt and crack some black pepper on top. Cover the pan, return it to a medium-high heat and leave to cook for three to four minutes, until the egg whites are just set and the yolks are runny (if you prefer fudgy yolks, give them a minute or two longer). Take the pan off the heat and remove the lid.
To make the cumin burnt butter, put the butter in a small saucepan on a medium heat and cook for three to four minutes, until browned and nutty, then stir in the cumin seeds and take off the heat.
Put the yoghurt in a small bowl with the garlic, lemon zest, a tablespoon of lemon juice and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, mix well and set aside.
Just before serving (so they don’t lose their vibrant colour), put the peeled broad beans in a small bowl with the remaining lemon juice and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt, mix well and set aside.
To assemble, dollop a third of the yoghurt on top of the cannellini beans and eggs, scatter the broad beans on top and spoon on half the cumin butter. Scatter the dill fronds over the top and serve warm with the remaining yoghurt and butter on the side.