As I mentioned in my last post, we recently had some of our friends over for a Persian meal – it was the Friday night before G’s birthday and we had so much fun and enjoyed the food so much we actually recreated a lot of the meal for a couple of friends the next weekend (the recreation was in no way related to my failure to take photos of much of the food – no relation whatsoever). G’s birthday meal was really lovely (followed by more festivities the next day – frankly a birthday weekend is wonderfully extravagant and the only way to go!). I must admit though, putting the meal on a Friday after work definitely makes it a little tougher to cook all the food as you only have an hour or so before everyone arrives, so I definitely had to plan ahead.
Luckily, many of my friends are noted wastrels who never turn up on time so I’ve always got an extra half an hour up my sleeves whilst they’re texting me telling how surprised they are they will be a little late…again. That’s doubly useful when you realise as you’re coming home from work you’ve forgotten to buy the herbs for your kuku-ye sabzi (persian soft herb omelette). The last minute trip to the supermarket is always an interesting moment! Almost as interesting is the moment you decide (spurred on by a glass of red wine) to refer to some of the dishes by their Persian name (feeling very smug), notice the interesting look on your Iranian friend’s face and realise he’s far too well-mannered to inform you that you’ve said every single word incorrectly. Including most of the English words.
It was, however, all redeemed by the fact that the same Iranian friend complimented the food profusely and that I was able to enjoy everyone’s company without popping up every moment to check on this dish or another. Middle Eastern food is fantastic that way, not so focused on courses so you really can place things in the middle of the table and sit back to enjoy the slightly less authentically Persian parts of the meal – the celebratory bubbles and red wine.
I gave some thought to what I was going to serve because I knew I wouldn’t have much time on the day, but at the same time I really wanted to make as many dishes as possible from the beautiful Persian cookbook (Saraban by Greg and Lucy Malouf) which my Dad had bought for me, and which inspired the theme of the evening in the first place – honestly not only are the recipes in this book fantastic (although I’ve ended up tweaking them slightly) but it’s such a lovingly written travel book with beautiful photos that more than anything I’d like to go to Iran.
In the end I settled on a variety of dishes which I cooked throughout the week when I had a moment after work, with almost none of the work done on the day (recipe posts to follow and I’ll update the links as I go):
- Kuku-ye sabzi: A soft herb Persian omelette studded with cranberries cooked in the oven, honestly delicious and something I will make again and again as it’s not too difficult or time consuming but tastes like nothing else
- Aubergine puree: I posted about this previously and I thoroughly love it
- Sumac and saffron mayonnaise: I love homemade mayonnaises and this one works excellently with the bread and the omelette
- Persian Salad: A great mix of parsley, pomegranate, cucumber, tomatoes, onion and olive oil – a staple in our house
- Homemade Barberi bread: I did three different types, sesame seed with pomegranate molasses, zaatar and ras-el-hanout with honey (great tip below for cutting done the stress of making bread!)
- 72 hour spiced honey and orange beef short ribs: This one needs a sous-vide but you end up with medium rare, meltingly tender beef ribs
- Duck Fesenjun: Fesenjun is a rich pomegranate and walnut reduction sauce which was one of our guests favourite and you can make the sauce ahead!
- Tah’deeg: This is a method of cooking rice which leaves the rice soft and fluffy with a crispy crust on the bottom (which when turned out becomes the top)
- Honey and Cardamom panna cotta: I love this flavour combination and whilst the pannacotta isn’t hugely Persian it echoes a lot of Persian flavours
In order to get all this done with only 45 minutes after I got home and without being in the kitchen the whole time, I had to do most of the work in advance, in fact I ended up spreading the work throughout the week like this:
- Monday: I spiced the ribs and placed in the sous vide for three days. I also made the Aubergine puree (it keeps very well)
- Wednesday: I made the mayonnaise, made the fesenjun sauce (I almost always do sauces ahead!), made the panna cottas (to do all three took at most 30 minutes)
- Thursday: I made the bread dough and left in the fridge to prove. Many recipes will say leave in a warm place to prove for an hour – this works well but you can actually leave in a cold place (i.e., the fridge) for up to three days to prove and you’ll simply have a more intense flavour. It also means you don’t have to stress about putting aside a whole day to make bread!
- Friday (before people arrive): In the 45 minutes before the guests arrived I shaped and baked the bread, cut the vegetables for the salad, placed the rice on to cook (it takes 30-40 minutes on a low heat but can also then stand happily with the lid on for up to an hour or two, you can reheat gently in ten minutes with no loss of flavour), made the kuku (omelette) mixture
- Friday (after they’ve arrived): All that was left for me to do was cook the duck breasts, reheat the ribs in the oven, put the kuku in the oven and dress the salad, essentially this meant putting some things in the oven and sitting down with the guests to enjoy some bubbles and the bread/dips/salad/omelette and then, once we’ve eaten our fill of them, bring out the meat and rice.
I’ll make sure to post the individual recipes over the next few days but meanwhile I’d love to hear any comments you guys have about the meal or any other time you guys have cooked this kind of food!