Friday, June 24, 2011

Off The Beaten Track: Persian Koofteh Berenji - Rice Kufta

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
3 eggs
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.



  1. What I love so much in Persian cuisine is the generous use of all kinds of herbs! This recipe is one I tried once and would love to make myself at home soon/ wonderful tribute to your grandmother.

  2. Yummy! I love Kufteh berenji. This is one of my favorite dishes and I have never made it myself. Thanks for sharing the recipe.:-)

  3. Azita, what a delicious post! I love old family stories and enjoyed this beautiful tribute to your grandmother--what an amazing person. I think I've tasted this dish before but the one I tried had either dates or prunes in the middle. It was delicious, and I'm so excited to be able to try making it on my own. Thanks so much for sharing and for blogging with us this week!

  4. Forgot to mention--mouthwatering pictures!

  5. I copied the recipe and will try it. I have a few Persian recipes from an Iranian friend I've lost contact with. I loved the food at their house. Lots of apricots and nuts mixed in.
    Your story was lovely. Thank you for posting it. Such memories stay with us. I remember my grandmother in the kitchen with good smells drifting out.

  6. Loved this post! I'll save the recipe.

  7. Thanks for sharing this recipe and the lovely memory of your grandmother with us, Azita. I'm with Taste of Beirut - the many herbs used in Persian cooking are part of what makes the cuisine so delicious. I've long be fascinated by the way herbs are treated as vegetables and not just a flavoring or garnish.

  8. Taste of Beirut, thank you. Not only do we use a generous amount of vegetables in our cooking we also usually serve a platter of fresh herbs with lunch and dinner as well.
    Visda, thanks so much. I hope you give it a try.
    Supriya, thank you and I am happy for the opportunity to blog with you all. Most likely the filling of the dish you had was dried prunes.
    Ellis, thank you for your kind words and I hope you give this recipe a try.
    Marilyn, thank you so much.
    Heidi, thank you so very much. It was my pleasure to write a post for your wonderful blog.

  9. This recipe seems even more delicious because of the wonderful memories of your grandmother. I love the way food is entwined with memories, especially those from our childhood. Thank you so much for sharing!

  10. Middle-Eastern cuisine is one of my absolute favorites, but even in New York it’s not easy to find a Persian restaurant; we settle for Turkish. This was definitely a unique recipe, Turkish kofte doesn’t have all these ingredients and is a much simpler dish. I must admit as much as I would have loved it, I don’t know if I can get it right – it sounds absolutely delicious but complicated! Maybe one day, I’ll set aside enough time to do it slowly and meticulously.
    Thank you so much for the recipe!

  11. I'm British American with a daughter recently married to a Persian. I want to embrace the Iranian culture of my new family. I read your lovely tale of family and will enjoy making your recipe, Many thanks