My sweet, sweet friend Yuko touched base with me last week from her current post in Amman Jordan where she currently lives with her husband who works for the Japanese embassy. She is a true food ambassador and practices what she calls "Food Diplomacy" as she travels around the world. One of the most cherished meals I have ever had was prepared by her as a going away (cleaning out her fridge/freezer) get together, given at their condo in DC before they moved back to Japan for a time.
We met and became friends through a series of cooking classes that I was giving in our neighborhood. She was a relentless questioner, always curious about all ingredients I was using, and never afraid to taste, ask, and contribute to the subject. It is clear to me how the globe-trotting life of diplomatic employees suits them, and how food is a language that Yuko uses to connect with the people of the world. Yuko hosts Japanese food tasting parties to share her cuisine with those she meets in Jordan, and works as a food stylist in Japan. She keeps her friends and family updated on new culinary experiences, recipes, and food-ways from her new home in the middle east/ arabian peninsula via social media. Living in a region with such a vast, rich, and ancient mingling culinary traditions, she will have plenty to learn and share before their next post.
Wouldn't you love to zip off on an impromptu culinary tour of the middle-east? I would, but for now I am satisfied with research, inspiration, and rooting out an authentic Persian restaurant in my area. The recipe for my current inspiration is Kuku Sabzi, a traditional Persian dish centering mainly around herbs, vegetables, walnuts, eggs, a blend of spices. Some versions include ground lamb. It is normally cooked as a fritatta would be, in a hot saute pan which is then finished in the oven to bake through. I thought the combination of eggs, heaps of finely minced herbs, and walnuts sounded irresistible. Being deeply interested in food history, this recipe brought to mind baked egg recipes and savory pies common in medieval European cookery, which was strongly influenced by the middle east especially after the crusades.
I have chosen to bake the eggs, which simplifies the preparation, not that the original is difficult, though this does not lead to the crisp bottom that the "fritatta method" produces. A pan/skillet cooked Kuku Sabzi is inverted after cooking, presenting the crisp bottom as the top, whereas my recipe produces a soft, delicious, quiche-like baked egg dish. I have also omitted the yogurt often called for simply as an alteration to fit the tastes of my family members, who sample my recipes first, but it's good to know that the result is wonderful without the dairy. This dish is often garnished with pomegranate seeds, so, pomegranates being out of season, I paired it with greens dressed in a tart, fruity pomegranate vinaigrette. The content of the salad is more or less up to you, and this dressing will compliment many greens.
The appeals of this dish are many. The herb ratio is out of control, and I personally view herbs as greens, not just pretty accents or garnishes. Little bites of sweet, soft date help to balance out a slight bitterness from the walnuts, and that some might perceive from the herbs. The eggs and walnuts bring protein to the table and satisfy. Then, of course, a beautiful spice blend complimented by just a splash of rosewater. It's a harmonious compilation of some of my favorite things.
White or yellow onions can be used instead of scallions, as well as shallots, but I opted to continue with the green theme and use scallions/green onions. The onions are just sauteed until slightly soft along with the dates. Then the spices are added to the onions. Everything eventually goes into the beaten eggs. The combination of nuts and eggs was a new idea for me and I love it. A well oiled pie plate makes a great baking dish and produces nice, wedge shaped servings.
Garnishing each serving with a intact half walnut is a nice touch. Apparently, it's just what you do!
Now For the Dressing
This pomegranate molasses vinaigrette is nice and tart. It can be just the pop you need for so many things! Roasted veggies, broiled asparagus, any tender salad greens, grilled veggies, pasta and veggie salads too. And it's quick. Pomegranate molasses is a perfect pantry item with many uses. Made from reduced pomegranate juice, and usually sugar too, it makes a great drizzle just by itself, contributes to beautiful marinade and dressings, and is a traditional souring agent for mediterranean and middle eastern stews.
Whisk together this basic vinaigrette, dress some beautiful greens, and nestle portions of Kuku Sabzi right onto that salad. Feel free to add a dollop of yogurt or soft sheep or goat cheese to the plate. This would make a nice addition, but i left it dairy free. Enjoy!
Baked Kuku Sabzi with Greens and Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette
- Heaping 1/2 C walnuts plus six intact halves
- 1/2 C Lightly packed, minced parsley
- 1/2 C Lightly packed, minced dill
- 1/2 C Lightly packed, minced cilantro
- 1/2 C Thinly sliced green onion (about 3 to 5 onions)
- 1 Large, soft, medjool date
- 1/4 Tsp cumin
- 1/4 Tsp coriander
- 1/4 Tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 Tsp cardamom
- 1/8 Tsp black pepper
- 2 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 6 Large eggs
- 1/2 Tsp Sea salt
- 2 Tbsp almond milk (or desired milk)
- 1 Tsp Rose water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set aside the six intact walnut halves and place the rest on a sheet pan and toast in the oven until they are fragrant and slightly browning, about 8 minutes. Allow the walnuts to cool and pulse them in a food processor until they are ground to a sandy consistency. Wash and dry the herbs and onions well. Mince the leafy herbs and slice the green onion into thin rings. Remove the pit of the date and mince it as small as possible. It will stick together.
In a small cup, combine the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper. Saute the onion and date with 1 Tbsp olive oil until the onion has just softened. Add the spices and saute 1 minute more. Set the onion mixture aside and allow to cool a little.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, salt, milk, and rose water, making sure the eggs are well beaten. Whisk in the onion, date, and spice mixture and then the minced herbs. Prepare a 9 inch glass pie plate or 9 x 9 glass baking dish by coating the bottom and sides with 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil. The baking time given for this recipe works for a glass dish where the egg mixture is about 3/4 inch deep. If you use a baking dish of a different size, resulting in the egg mixture being either deeper or more shallow, adjust the baking time to make sure the Kuku Sabzi is cooked through or not over-cooked.
Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and nestle the six walnut halves into the mixture, evenly marking six portions. Bake for 25 minutes in the middle rack, and check the center by pushing gently to see if it is set. After 25 minutes, check every two minutes until the center just springs back when gently touched. Do not over bake. My dish took exactly 28 minutes each time.
For the Vinaigrette and Greens:
- 4 Tbsp Pomegranate molasses
- 3 Tbsp Lemon juice
- 1/4 Tsp Salt
- 1/2 Tsp Whole grain mustard
- Grated garlic the size of a pea
- 4 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
- Your choice of greens and salad items (I used red leaf lettuce, onions, and grapes)
In a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, salt, mustard, and grated garlic. Drizzle the olive oil in a little at a time while whisking. This dressing will naturally separate so simply shake/mix before using.
Create a small bed of greens with your desired salad elements and dress with the vinaigrette. Slice the Kuku Sabzi into six pieces and serve warm with the salad and enjoy!
Yield: Six servings of Kuku Sabzi and 3/4 C Vinaigrette.
*NOTE: The Kuku Sabzi is delicious at any temperature. If reheating, please reheat gently.