For my recent Thrive Kitchen class, Eat Your Greens!, I presented several ways to enjoy leafy green vegetables. I also introduced the concept of eating herbs as vegetables, not just as garnish. It happened that my class schedule coincided with Nowruz, Persian New Year, so I thought about how I could incorporate a Persian recipe into the class. Turns out, it’s a perfect fit. Persian cuisine uses herbs generously, both raw and cooked. In fact, I read in an article that in Iran, herbs are sold by the kilogram, as opposed to by the bunch, as we do here. Sabzi khordan is the plate of fresh herbs, lavash, walnuts, radishes and feta which is served as a starter and accompaniment to every meal. I recall being a bit bewildered when presented with this for the first time—what to do with those bunches of herbs?– but quickly loved the idea of grabbing bunches of herbs, especially piquant tarragon, stuffing them into a piece of lavash and devouring. We enjoyed many meals like this with a Persian friend of ours who sadly passed away two years ago. He didn’t cook any of this himself, but often bought Persian food to serve at home for comfort or for celebration.
One outstanding homemade Persian meal in my memory was prepared by the wife of a former colleague at a previous job. It was in early days when my colleague was still a friend and coworker and not yet my boss (power changes people, let’s just say), but his wife was always lovely. The details are fuzzy for much of that afternoon and evening, because I was still in the early days/daze of new motherhood with my first baby, but I still recall the care that went into planning what was a true feast. There was enough food for a dozen, even though it was just two couples and a couple of non-solids eating babies. One of the dishes which stood out, because it was new to me, was kuku sabzi,which gets translated as Persian herb frittata. I remember being presented with elegant squares of kuku sabzi, dense with bright green herbs. They were served alongside fresh radishes and the most delicate almonds and walnuts I had tasted. No detail was left behind—the nuts has been soaked the night before, then peeled, one by one, by my hostess and her mother.
In memory of that spectacular meal and as a way to showcase a variety of herbs, I included kuku sabzi on the Eat Your Greens! menu. This version is cooked on the stovetop, but alternatively, you can cook one side on the stove, then finish it under a broiler, which will leave the top an even more vibrant green. The recipe is based upon a handful that I read, researched, tested and adjusted. I tried to get advice from a new Persian colleague, but she told me she had never made it, because it’s something that people’s mothers and grandmothers make. She did very helpfully procure zereshk, or dried barberries, which she said makes this version fancy-schmancy, restaurant worthy, which is how we do things in the Thrive Kitchen. I also added turmeric for color and a hmm what’s in this?subtle undertone. Enjoy it and happy spring!
Kuku Sabzi (Persian Herb Frittata)
Kuku sabzi is one of the dishes made during Nowruz, or Persian New Year. The green herbs symbolize rebirth, and the eggs, fertility and happiness for the year to come. Walnuts and barberries are optional. Barberries or zereshk, the Persian name for the dried fruit, are tart berries available online or in Middle Eastern markets. They can be substituted with dried cranberries, currants, or chopped sour cherries.
Serves : 8
Canola or other vegetable oil, for frying
1 bunch scallions, sliced thinly
1 ½ cups fresh parsley, leaves and small stems, finely chopped
1 ½ cups fresh cilantro, leaves and small stems, finely chopped
1 ½ cups fresh dill or mint leaves, finely chopped
1 T dried fenugreek leaves, crushed
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine Kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground turmeric
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped finely
1-2 tbsp dried barberries, cranberries, currants or chopped dried sour cherries, soaked in water until soft, then drained
Optional garnishes: fresh herbs, sliced radishes, additional barberries, walnuts.
- Whisk together eggs, fenugreek, baking powder, salt, pepper and turmeric in a large bowl. Fold in chopped herbs, walnuts and barberries, if using.
- Warm a non-stick pan with 2T-4T oil (enough to cover bottom of pan) over low heat. Pour in the egg mixture, then flatten the top with a spatula to distribute the herbs evenly. Cook, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the bottom is set (check by lifting the edge with a spatula).
- Use the edge of a spatula to cut the kuku into four pieces* and carefully flip each piece using two spatulas. Cook for another 5 to10 minutes, uncovered , until kuku is cooked through.
- Cut into 8 wedges and place on a serving platter.
- Garnish with fresh herbs, radishes, barberries.
*Ideally, you can invert the kuku without cutting if you have a plate slightly larger than the diameter of your pan. Place the plate over the top of the pan, invert it (so that the cooked bottom is now on top), then slide the inverted kuku back into the pan to cook the other side.
Alternatively, the kuku can be finished under a broiler for a few minutes until just set.
Nutrition Info: Cal 89, Fat 6 g, Protein 6 g, Sodium 105 mg, Sugar 1 g
For more Persian recipes:
Fesenjan (pomegranate and walnut stew)
Bademjan (eggplant stew)
You’re invited to join my healthy eating community on Facebook, www.Facebook.com/TheDoctorsSpicebox! And if you’d like to cook with me, visit the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Health Education webpage for information about the Thrive Kitchen and to register for a class.