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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.

Izakaya Kitaru

Where: 212 Western Ave. Petaluma

When: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Wednesday.-Saturday, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday-Monday and Wednesday-Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Contact: 707-789-9068, kitarupetaluma.business.site

Cuisine: Japanese

Price: Moderate, entrées $14-$19

Stars: ★★½

Summary: Authentic izakaya fare tempts the adventurous soul with excellent Japanese pub food.

Working quickly, gently run a spoon gently through the egg yolks, so they just barely begin to ooze. Season them with salt and pepper, cover the dish and cook 1 minute more.

Remove from the heat and let rest a minute or two. Uncover, sprinkle with the green onions and enjoy right away.


In recent weeks, we’ve had California dates offered at some of our farmers markets; they are perfect to use in this sweet-savory salad, also from Persia. It’s delicious alongside the vaavishkaa.

Red Cabbage, Beet and Date Salad

Serves 4 to 6

2 medium raw red beets, peeled and grated

2 cups finely sliced red cabbage

1/3 cups Medjool dates, pitted and chopped

1 small bunch of Italian parsley, chopped (large stems discarded)

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put the grated beets, sliced cabbage, chopped dates and chopped parsley into a wide, shallow serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently.

Put the olive oil and lemon juice into a small bowl, whisk together gently, season with salt and pepper, and pour over the salt. Toss gently and enjoy right away.


The tomatoes that we are seeing at farmers markets right now are good enough for this salad, and there have been Middle Eastern cucumbers for a few weeks already. The salad makes a refreshing side dish and is best when everything is cut as uniformly as possible. If you aren’t certain what 1/8-inch dice looks like — many people aren’t — pull out a ruler so that you can envision it. The small uniform dice is essential.

Salad Bandari

Serves 4 to 6

3 small Middle Eastern cucumbers, trimmed and cut into 1/8-inch dice

3 tomatoes, halved through their equators, seeded and cut into 1/8-inch dice

1 small red onion, cut into 1/8-inch dice

4 radishes, cut into 1/8-inch dice

1-2 serranos, stemmed, seeded, and cut into very small dice

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

—— Black pepper in a mill

1 teaspoon dried mint, crumbled, or 2 teaspoons fresh mint, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put the diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, radishes, serranos and cilantro into a wide shallow bowl, season lightly with salt and pepper and toss gently. Set aside.

Put the mint, olive oil and lemon juice into a small bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk together.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables, toss gently, taste, correct for salt and acid, and enjoy right away.

This makes an excellent side dish and, like raitas and chutneys, is a delicious condiment with rich stews and soups.

Yogurt with Spinach and Garlic

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound small spinach leaves, rinsed but not dried

2 cups whole milk yogurt, such as Straus

— Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

Put the spinach into a large saucepan or wok set over high heat; there should be enough moisture clinging to the leaves that you needn’t add more. Cook, turning with tongs all the while, until the spinach wilts, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and tip into a colander.

Let the spinach cool and then gently squeeze out any water.

Meanwhile, put the yogurt, lemon zest and garlic into a medium bowl and stir well. Add the spinach and stir again. Season with salt and pepper, stir, taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.

Cover and let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Michele Anna Jordan has written more than 20 books to date, including “California Home Cooking.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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