Recipes: With or without meat, Persian dishes can dazzle

Plated dishes (from top left to bottom right) at Persian Basket Kitchen & Bar in Johns Creek: Koko Shevid Baghali (Fava Bean and Dill Frittata), Morasa Rice (Jeweled Rice) and Kashke Bademjaan (Roasted Eggplant). Styling by executive chef Ermiya Rezai / Chris Hunt/FOR THE AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Atlanta has its share of Persian restaurants, beloved for their rice dishes, flatbreads, platters of herbs and cheese, and kebabs. When Max Lotfi and his wife, Arezoo Armaghan, were ready to open Persian Basket Kitchen & Bar in Johns Creek, they knew they wanted to do something different. They wanted to offer dishes more typical of the stews and other braised dishes that would be served in a Persian home.

Make no mistake, there are many rice dishes available, and a number of appetite teasers such as local goat cheese plates served with quince jam and naan, but hearty dishes of succulent meats are a menu mainstay.

The menu is the creation of Lotfi and his wife, working with his longtime chef de cuisine, Peyman Rostmi, and Homa Ghasemi, the general manager and pastry chef who is responsible for the restaurant’s jams, ice creams, pastries and fruit-based drinks.

Shown at Persian Basket Kitchen & Bar are (from left) owners and wife and husband, Arezoo Armaghan and Max Lotfi, with Ermiya Rezai (executive chef), Farid Mehrab (front of house manager), Homa Ghasemi (general manager) and Nicholas Vitry (bar manager). Chris Hunt/FOR THE AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

“Most homes don’t have a grill. When we want to have kebabs, we go to a restaurant. At home, we would saute meat, then put it in the oven to braise,” said Lotfi. And so the menu includes Ghormeh Sabzi, a stew of lamb and red kidney beans served over basmati rice, and beef stroganoff. Yes, beef stroganoff.

Lotfi says the stroganoff reflects the crossroads culture of Iraq, a country sitting between Syria and Jordan to the west, Iran to the east, Saudi Arabia to the south, and Turkey and the former states of the Soviet Union to the north.

“We prepare a dish from northern Iran, Akbar Joojeh, which we describe on our menu as ‘duck confit’ since that’s a preparation our clients may be familiar with. But it’s served with a pomegranate reduction.”

There’s braised lamb shank on the menu because in the Persian home kitchen, the meats would always be cooked bone-in. “Stews are always made with bone-in meat and especially with lamb shanks, many people like to eat the bone marrow because it’s cooked so well. It’s part of our culture.”

He reflects on the combination of Arabic, Israeli, Indian and Asian influences on Persian cuisine. “I think there’s more Asian influence than many people think. The Chinese, the Moguls, the influence of the Ottoman Empire and the Romans, from Europe to the Mediterranean coast.”

Lotfi offered our readers adaptations of three dishes that are staples of the Persian Basket Kitchen & Bar menu. Kashke Bademjaan is a mash of roasted eggplant that differs from the familiar baba ghanoush with the way it’s prepared and the addition of mint to the eggplant.

Morasa Rice is an example of the high art of Persian rice cookery with its fluffy grains of rice studded with dried fruit and nuts and garnished with a saffron and rose water-flavored rice topping.

Koko Shevid Baghali is a simple frittata that gets its richness from creamy fresh fava beans beaten in with the eggs.

If you’re concerned about finding ingredients for these Persian dishes, Lotfi and Armaghan established an online store, persianbasket.com. There they sell more than a dozen varieties of rice, 40 varieties of pickles, nuts of every description including fresh raw walnuts, and yogurt products including yogurt soda. Just browsing the online shelves is a virtual tour of Persia and the countries that have influenced its food.

RECIPES

Max Lotfi of Persian Basket Kitchen & Bar offers three recipes that represent some of the most typical dishes you’d find in an Iranian kitchen. All are meatless and perfect for a late summer/early fall lunch or dinner.

Morasa Rice (Jeweled Rice) requires extra attention to how you cook the rice. Styling by executive chef Ermiya Rezai / Chris Hunt/FOR THE AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Morasa Rice

This dish is also known as jeweled rice for its brilliant yellow rice garnish and the bits of dried fruit and nuts. Lotfi says the barberries are a non-negotiable ingredient, essential for the tartness they provide. If using saffron threads, he says be sure to crush them to make a powder before stirring them into the boiling water.

Cooking rice is an art form in Persia with a process that results in rice in which every grain is separated and is light and fluffy. It’s worth following this method precisely to get the best results.

Morasa Rice
  • 2 cups white basmati rice
  • 4 cups water plus 2 1/2 tablespoons water, divided, plus water to soak rice
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup slivered pistachios
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup glazed orange peel, diced
  • 1/2 cup barberries
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron or crushed saffron threads
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon rose water, optional
  • In a large bowl, cover the rice with cold water. Stir rice and drain. Repeat three times to remove the loose starch from the rice. Drain and set aside.
  • In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups water and the salt to a boil. Add wet rice and stir. Cook 5 or 6 minutes and then begin testing the texture of the rice. Take a grain and try to smash it between your fingers. The goal is to stop the cooking just as the rice is soft enough to smash. Once the rice begins to soften, check the texture every 20 to 30 seconds. When it’s done, drain it into a strainer or colander and rinse with cold water to bring it to room temperature. Do not let the rice overcook.
  • In the large saucepan, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons water. Add drained rice. Over medium heat, heat the rice, being careful not to go too fast and burn the rice. Once the olive oil and water start to steam, reduce the heat to low, cover the saucepan and steam the rice 20 to 30 minutes or until completely tender and fluffy.
  • While rice is steaming, in a large skillet, heat remaining 1/2 teaspoon olive oil. Add almonds and pistachios and saute over low heat for 2 minutes. Stir in turmeric and pepper, then add orange peel, barberries and raisins. Saute for 2 minutes.
  • Heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon water to a boil. Stir in saffron and let sit 1 minute. If using, add sugar and rose water.
  • When rice is ready, move 1 cup of rice to a small bowl and stir in saffron water. Add a few tablespoons of the sauteed nuts and fruit.
  • Arrange the remaining rice on a serving platter. Top with the saffron-tinted rice and then cover with the remaining nut and fruit mixture. Makes 6 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 1/2 cup: 185 calories (percent of calories from fat, 24), 3 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 241 milligrams sodium.
Koko Shevid Baghali (Fava Bean and Dill Frittata) starts with fresh fava beans in the pod. Styling by executive chef Ermiya Rezai. Chris Hunt/FOR THE AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Koko Shevid Baghali (Fava Beans and Dill Frittata)

Fava beans may not be the easiest beans to find, but they are essential to this dish. And preparing them is truly a labor of love. First the beans are released from their pods, then each individual bean must be peeled to remove the lighter green outer peel. Now you’re ready to prepare them. We found that 1 pound of fresh fava beans in the pod yielded only 3/4 cup of beans. But when cooked, the delicious creamy beans are worth the effort.

Fresh fava beans are available from persianbasket.com with a 3-pound minimum order, and generally in season nine months out of the year. You may also find them at other large international markets.

Koko Shevid Baghali (Fava Beans and Dill Frittata)
  • 1 pound fresh fava beans in the pod
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Chopped fresh herbs, for garnish, such as a mix of basil, tarragon, parsley and cilantro
  • Shell the fava beans by removing the beans from the pods, then peeling the shell around each bean. You should end up with about 3/4 cup of beans.
  • Bring a large pot of lighted salted water to a boil and cook beans until they are tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  • While the beans are cooking, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
  • When beans are done, in a large bowl, mix eggs with baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir in sauteed onions and garlic, beans and dill. Mix well.
  • In a large skillet, melt butter over low heat. Pour in fava bean mixture and spread evenly. Cover pan and cook 12 minutes or until mixture firms up. As the mixture firms, use a butter knife to divide the mixture into four quarters. When the bottom is golden brown, turn each quarter and cook on the other side 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm, topped with chopped herbs, if desired. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 295 calories (percent of calories from fat, 51), 16 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fiber, 18 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 201 milligrams cholesterol, 147 milligrams sodium.

milligrams sodium.

Kashke Bademjaan (Roasted Eggplant) differs from baba ghanoush with the way it’s prepared and the addition of mint to the eggplant. Styling by executive chef Ermiya Rezai. Chris Hunt/FOR THE AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Kashke Bademjaan (Eggplant Dip)

This is a recipe that’s easy to scale up if you have more guests to feed.

The kashk is available at persianbasket.com but Lotfi says you could substitute strained fat-free Greek yogurt if you prefer.

Kashke Bademjaan (Eggplant Dip)
  • 2 medium Japanese eggplants (about 1/2 pound each)
  • Enough olive oil to cover bottom of skillet
  • 1 medium white onion, sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint, fresh or dried
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup kashk (liquid whey)
  • Peel eggplants and slice in half lengthwise.
  • In a large skillet, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the skillet. Add eggplant and saute over low heat until the first side is golden, about 5 minutes. Turn and continue cooking until second side is golden and eggplant is soft, about 5 minutes. Remove eggplant from skillet and set aside.
  • Add more olive oil if needed and saute sliced onion over low heat until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and saute 1 minute. Stir in mint, salt and turmeric. Remove from heat.
  • In a clean skillet, combine eggplant and half the onion mixture. Add water and cook until 10-15 minutes or until you can mash the mixture to a creamy texture. Transfer it to a serving plate and top with kashk. Garnish with remaining onion mixture and serve immediately. Makes 2 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 1/4 cup: 64 calories (percent of calories from fat, 54), 1 gram protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 4 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), trace carbohydrates, 487 milligrams sodium.
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