Our Cook the Books Club selection this time brings us to Ireland (Irlanda), yet the flavors are those of Iran (whose cuisine we savored also in a recent edition1). The novel Pomegranate Soup, by Marsha Mehran2 (zuppa di melograno), follows the adventures of the three Aminpour sisters, who escape from political turmoil in their native country to the UK and ultimately settle in the small Irish town of Ballinacroagh, where they open a small café serving dishes from their home country.
The novel's cast includes the sisters' landlady, the town's priest, a young man with a passion for astronomy and other colorful characters. The author expertly weaves past events into the present narrative, so that as the story progresses we learn what pushed the sisters to run away from their home.
Marjan, the eldest Aminpour sister, is the main force behind Babylon Café: she watches as many locals come to appreciate the dishes she creates, their appealing aromas and comforting flavors. The book mentions many dishes and includes a recipe at the end of each chapter. I was particularly intrigued by the description of "a good apple khoresh, a stew made from tart apples, chicken and split peas" (page 60 of the hardback edition), but while I was searching for a recipe for that, I read about Kuku Sabzi, a kind of herb frittata traditionally prepared for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year that is celebrated on the spring equinox. I am a lover of greens, so I decided to try this recipe. I read a number of renditions3 and below is a description of what I made.
In terms of greens, I went with what I found fresh at the farmers' market, namely spinach (spinaci) and dill (aneto). Parsley, thyme and lovage (prezzemolo, timo e levistico) come from my garden. The idea is that you can use greens and herbs you like and have available. A different combination means a different flavor, so this is a recipe that can be repeated without becoming boring.
When I tasted the first bite of my rendition, my first reaction was: why have I not tried making this before?
- 4 1/2 ounces / 130 g leek, white and light green portion, clean weight (set aside the dark green portion to make broth or stock)
- 4 tablespoons / 60 ml extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 bunches / 14 ounces / 400 g fresh spinach
- 2 cups of finely chopped fresh herbs: in my case mostly dill (thick stems removed), some sprigs of parsley, leaves of a handful of fresh thyme sprigs and 2 sprigs of lovage
- 5 large eggs from pastured poultry
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Cut the leek in half lengthwise and slice into 1/8 inch / 3 mm half-moons. Rinse well in a colander, then place in a bowl and fill it with cold water. With your hands, swirl the leek pieces to clean them well, then scoop them out of the water with a sieve or slotted spoon and drain them in a colander.
Warm up a 10-inch / 25 cm skillet over medium heat, then add 2 tablespoons / 30 ml of the olive oil. Add the leeks, stir well and cook for a couple of minutes. Cover the skillet and cook on low heat until the leeks are soft (12-15 minutes), stirring every now and then, making sure nothing burns. Transfer the leeks to a plate and clean the skillet.
Wash the spinach carefully and drain. Discard the roots and thicker stems and chop the rest finely. This is a bit tedious but it makes cooking easier, because the amount of eggs is small with respect to the amount of greens.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, the salt, pepper, and turmeric. Add the cooked leeks, the chopped spinach and herbs and mix everything well. A silicone spatula works well for this step, which requires patience.
Heat the broiler: if your oven allows it, use the low setting; otherwise, move the oven rack down one level.
Heat again the skillet and pour into it the remaining 2 tablespoons / 30 ml of the olive oil, the swirl to coat. Empty the bowl into the skillet and use the spatula to spread the mixture evenly across. Cover the skillet and cook the frittata on low heat until the bottom is just set: check it after 8 minutes and estimate the remaining cooking time.
Uncover the skillet and broil, watching carefully, until the top is set, 1-2 minutes. Let the frittata cool slightly, then slide it onto a platter and serve.
The intense green of this dish nicely points at the coming spring season. The flavor is a treat for lovers of greens.
1 My recent post featuring another Persian-inspired recipe: eggplant and yellow split pea stew
2 The book introduction on the author's website
3 Some recipes: on Bon Appetit (with useful video), the Kitchn, the Splendid Table
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the frittata persiana di verdure ed erbe audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
This is also my second contribution to the 38th edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started 12 years ago and that I continue to host.
FTC disclosure: I have received the table linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.