A new book, “The Saffron Tales: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen” (Bloomsbury, $35, 2017), explores the foods and culinary traditions of the country we know today as Iran but has a long history as Persia.
Its cuisine is among the most delicious, colorful and sophisticated in the world. It is a home-based cuisine, not one sprung from the minds of chefs in elaborate kitchens.
Author Yasmin Khan offers readers a warm, gentle and in-depth look inside the Persian home kitchen. Recipes are accessible and manageable for home cooks, and even if you know a lot about the region’s cuisine, there are surprises, like pistachio soup; saffron and cardamom vermicelli with a fried egg; and rhubarb cardamom cheesecake.
It is much easier to cook this style of food today than it was even 15 or 20 years ago. Pomegranate molasses, a foundational ingredient, is easy to find now, as are herbs like sumac and za’atar, rose water and saffron.
If you enjoy spending hours in the kitchen, exploring new flavors and new techniques, this book makes an ideal playmate. Today’s recipes are from the book, with just a few changes to reflect the format of “Seasonal Pantry.” These four dishes, served together, make a wonderful feast; all you need is some steamed rice alongside and maybe some strawberries for dessert. Each dish works on its own, too, and with other foods.
This flavorful dish has many things in common with picadillo — ground meat with vegetables, herbs, and spices — as well as with shakshuka, in which eggs are poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It is somewhere between the two, when it comes to final results. The technique here is counterintuitive to most Americans; we would typically cook the meat and onions in a bit of fat first, before adding liquid. Here, the meat and onions are cooked in water before adding other ingredients. For authentic flavors and textures, it is important to use recommended techniques.
Vaavishkaa (Spiced Beef with Eggs and Spring Onions)
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound ground beef, preferably grass fed
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
— Kosher salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
— Black pepper in a mill
4 tomatoes, peeled, cored and diced
2 tablespoons tomato puree or tomato paste
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 farm eggs
2 green onions, trimmed, and cut into very thin rounds
Put the meat and onions into a medium wide saucepan, breaking the meat up a bit. Season with salt and pour in 1¾ cup cold water. Stir in the turmeric and several turns of black pepper, set over low heat, cover, and cook gently for 20 minutes.
Uncover, stir in the tomatoes, the tomato purée or paste, the cayenne and the oil. Stir, cover and cook 15 minutes more, stirring now and then. Uncover and cook until the sauce thickens somewhat, about 5 minutes.
Push aside some of the meat mixture on one side of the pan and break an egg into the center of the space; repeat on the other side of the pan. Let cook for about 90 seconds without disturbing the eggs.