at last, a reprieve
This weekend, I took a micro-vacation to visit my aunt and uncle in Indiana. Before heading out there, I received a challenge:
It is your job to plan (and assist cooking) our meal for the Saturday evening you are here. The requirements are vegetarian only, no eggplant, keep it simple.
Vegetarian food (by the by, I added a vegetarian tag for my posts…). How would I plan a menu without relying on pasta? Or veggie burgers? Wait, no eggplant?
In any case, I began scouring the blogs I most frequently turn to when in need of something easy, impressive, and adaptable. I also did some consulting (thank you, Alex), and decided I would throw together my take on Iranian food.
Nearly the minute after I got to my aunt and uncle’s house, the cooking began. I began by making Mast o Khiar, which is just yogurt, cucumbers, and mint. We didn’t have any mint, so I substituted with dill. Really, though, you could use whatever herb you have on hand if mint eludes you. It’s probably one of the easiest side dishes to make. All I did was add one English cucumber (the long, seedless variety) to one 16oz tub of plain greek yogurt. I chopped up as much dill as I thought necessary, sprinkled a little salt and pepper, and threw it in the refrigerator to chill for an hour or so. Initially, I was a little skeptical about using greek yogurt out of fear it would be too thick, but it loosens some with the liquid from the cucumber. I would only use greek yogurt for this recipe because I really dislike thin, soupy yogurt. This dish is cool, refreshing, light, and perfect for hot and humid days. With mint, it would have been even better because it’s such a bright herb. I’d even recommend adding a teaspoon of rosewater to add a wonderful aromatic component. Rosewater is wonderful on super hot days.
Up next was my take on a Shirazi salad.
Again, we had no mint, so I switched things up a bit. This is another insanely easy dish to make, and is something you can prepare about an hour or so ahead of time. It calls for cucumber, tomato, red onion, lime juice, a little bit of olive oil, and mint. I won’t bother giving you measurements, because it’ll depend on how many cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions you plan to use. Because we didn’t have mint, I just added salt, pepper, and garlic. (I had to sneak some garlic in somewhere.) Personally, I should have used more lime juice. All in all, it was quite comparable to a salsa. While I wasn’t as enthusiastic about this side dish, fresh vegetables are always an awesome addition to any meal.
And finally, for our main meal, I attempted kuku sabzi. Kuku sabzi is essentially an intensely-herbed frittata. Really, the eggs are more or less a vehicle for the herbs. For about 6 eggs, you should use a cup of fresh: parsley, cilantro, dill, and chives. You can add in about 1/3 cup of walnuts, if you want, and you must also add 1 tsp of baking powder. The baking powder makes the eggs fluffy and sponge-like.
(I promise, the other side of the kuku sabzi was much more herb-dense. The herbs floated to the top of the mix while cooking, which is to be expected.)
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine 6 eggs, salt, pepper, and baking powder. Whisk to combine.
2. Add your chopped herbs and walnuts to the mixture and whisk again.
3. To a medium nonstick skillet, add some olive oil over medium-low heat. Once the oil is hot, add the egg mix and cook for approximately 20 minutes over medium-low heat. Check the bottom of the egg every once and a while to ensure nothing is burning. It should get to be a nice brownish color.
4. Now. You have two options. You can get out two spatulas and try to flip this thing yourself, or you can cut it into quarters and carefully flip each piece. I opted for the two spatula method, with my aunt holding the skillet. After three or so flip attempts, the kuku sabzi flipped with no spillage. Cook the other side for another 20 minutes over medium low. (I got impatient, as I often do, and cranked up the heat so it would cook faster.)
Cut into pieces and serve.
The kuku sabzi was really cool, actually. It was light and airy, and really flavorful because of the herbs. The herbs are the star of this show, so I resisted the urge to add any sort of spices like turmeric or something. Salt and pepper do the job well, allowing the herbs to stand their ground. While some lemon zest would’ve been a nice accompaniment, why mess with tradition (especially on the first time making it)?
As another side dish, I attempted to make hummus without tahini. Word to the wise (or perhaps the not so wise), this doesn’t work. Don’t even.
Before I began my marathon dinner preparation, my aunt and I made this awesome bunt cake a la Betty Crocker.
It came out sooooo good. While I’m not a confident baker, this cake was rather easy to make. It used sour cream, and we put this awesome cinnamon-sugar-walnut mixture between layers of batter. And who doesn’t love gooey cinnamon sugar in their cake?
So, what did we learn today? Vegetarian food doesn’t always have to involve pasta, eggplant, or processed soy. It can be bright, inventive, flavorful, and best of all, simple.