Our guest this week is Azita Mehran, an Iranian-American blogger and cook who writes about Persian cuisine at Turmeric & Saffron. On her blog, Azita combines stories of her childhood in Iran with food lore, mouth-watering photos, and recipes she learned from her mother. She shares one of her grandmother’s treasured recipes with us today on Novel Adventurers.
Summer is officially here. For many years, this season signaled the beginning of our family's traditional summer trips to Tehran to visit my maternal grandmother, Khanoum Tehrani, a nickname that was given to her by my elder siblings based on her residential location. While these summer vacations offered major relief from the extremely hot summer days in my southern hometown, it was difficult not to have access to a nice pool, play outdoor games with friends, ride my bicycle freely, or hang out outside without my mother constantly calling me back into the house.
The first few weeks were always fun. I got to do things that I normally didn’t get to do in my small hometown: watching television late at night, scrapbooking with my uncle's array of foreign magazines such as Spiegel, Paris Match, and Life, visiting new places, shopping in big stores with my mother, and having ice cream or cafe glace with my older sister in some fancy uptown cafe in the evening.
However, soon the boredom would set in and we could hardly wait to pack our things and go back home. That was usually when I would turn to my grandmother for comfort and entertainment. She had a calm demeanor and a beautiful way of speaking and giving advice that to this day I find useful.
Khanoum Tehrani's house was very different from ours. The entrance to her old, three-story, brick house was through a long and narrow dalan (hallway), with two rooms on the right connected by a large folding glass door. There were a few steps down into the hayat (courtyard) with a howz (small pool) in the center and the ashpazkhaneh (kitchen) and hamam (bath) on the other side of the yard. Even though the house was small, the layout was extremely inconvenient for my grandmother, who had been suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis for many years. She could hardly walk without assistance, and since her movements were limited, everything she ever needed was arranged and placed all around her bedroom/living room/kitchen.
One thing that she could still manage to do was expertly prepare meals in a meticulous manner and with a lot of patience. There were no faucets, running water, or a kitchen sink in the room. Her stove was a portable Aladdin kerosene heater. Her spices were placed on the built-in brick taghcheh (shelf) next to a large radio. I vividly remember the turmeric container with the yellow dusting around the edges and her cherished jar of ginger. There was a large leather chair in the room that she would use while graciously making tea or cooking. She prepared food with such joy and passion as if cooking for her family was her way of artistically expressing love and care at a time when it was one of the few things that she was still able to do.
This recipe is my tribute to my grandmother and all those warm days of summer that she made me feel welcomed and happy.
Makes about 15 koofteh
1 1/2 cups rice
2/3 cup yellow split peas
1 pound lean ground lamb or beef
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh flat leaf parsley, washed and finely chopped (1 cup packed)
1 bunch fresh dill, washed and finely chopped
1 bunch fresh chives or scallions (green parts only), washed and finely chopped
1 bunch fresh tarragon, washed and finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons chickpea flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste *optional
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron dissolved in 2-3 tablespoons of hot water
Salt and pepper to taste
For the filling:
Barberries, raisins, fried onion, walnuts
In a large pot bring 4 cups of water to a boil on medium heat, add in the rice and 2 tablespoons of salt and boil for about 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Place yellow split peas and 4 cups of water in a medium-sized pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook for about 30 minutes on medium heat. If there's any liquid left, drain and set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl combine the rice, peas, ground meat, chopped vegetables, chickpea flour, 1 teaspoon turmeric powder, liquid saffron, salt and pepper to taste.
In a small bowl whisk the eggs and blend in well together with the rest of the ingredients. Take a handful or 1/4 of a cup of the mixture and shape into a ball. You may make a hole in the middle and stuff some barberries, raisins, walnuts and fried onions inside.
In a large pot, sauté sliced onions in 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. When transparent, add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric and minced garlic and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Add in the tomato paste, stir well.
Pour 4-5 cups of water and bring to a gentle boil and one by one place each koofteh into the pot and cook for 50 minutes on medium to low heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning and add more water if necessary. Do not cover the pot with the lid. You may place a colander upside down over the top.
Serve in a deep platter with yogurt, pickles, sabzi khordan (fresh herbs), and bread.