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Sunday, January 5, 2014
Mom's Persian Herb Cakes (Kuku): Merry Christmas! Again!
I won't bore you with any more history, but I will tell you more about tonight. We're off to my parents' for the traditional meal of smoked white fish, Mom's famous rice, and Persian herb cakes called kuku. My family is from Iran. The dialect we speak is different from other Armenians, as are most of the dishes we prepare. Kuku is one such souvenir we've retained from our Persian past, a light and fluffy frittata made with fresh herbs. Every mom has her special recipe, but mine prefers parsley, dill, coriander and scallions.
My parents do all the hard work. Dad's the lucky one who has to fry the fish, usually on a portable electric stove that he takes outside so the house doesn't smell fishy. The most time-consuming step is preparing the herbs.
This year, I wanted to give my parents a break. So I took on the task of making the kuku, two flavours - one with only herbs and a second with barberries and walnuts. Barberries (zereshk) are small, red tart berries quite often favoured in Persian cooking. Look for them at your local Middle Eastern stores among the dried fruits & nuts or the freezer section. If you can't find the barberries, use cranberries. They add a delicious sweet-tart flavour and sparkle like little red ornaments on a green tree.
I washed and trimmed the herbs two nights ago and last night I baked them, leaving my day free for baking cakes for dessert - blackberry bundt with lemon icing and a little tropical number made with chocolate chips, macadamia nuts and coconut. I even braved my first try at making my grandma Nina's nazook, an Armenian holiday pastry.
Making the kuku cakes was surprisingly easy. After cleaning and trimming the herbs, I used my food processor to chop them, mixed in the rest of the ingredients and fried them, one at a time in a pan like a big pancake, finished in the oven. They popped right out and will make a beautiful appearance on the dinner table tonight.
Mom's Persian Herb Cakes (Kuku)
2 bunches parsley
2 bunches coriander (cilantro)
2 bunches dill
2 bunches scallions
4 cloves garlic
1 Tb flour
1 Tb baking soda
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tb olive oil
1/2 cup barberries (optional)
1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts (optional)
1 Night Before:
Trim the tough parts of the stems off. Clean your kitchen sink and plug the drain with a stopper. Fill with cold tap water, about 3 inches deep. Immerse herbs in the cold water, pressing gently with your hands to allow the dirt and sand to loosen from the leaves and settle to the bottom of the sink.
Remove the herbs from the water and drain the excess water in a colander, in batches, until all the herbs have been removed. Spread over clean tea towels arranged over a big surface, like a kitchen table or counter for the herbs to air-dry, ~2 hours.
Wrap gently in paper towels and store in big plastic bags in the refrigerator.
The Day Of:
Chop and toast walnuts on the stovetop.
Using a food processor, pulse garlic along with herbs, in batches, to a rough chop. Collect in a big bowl until all the herbs have been chopped.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat eggs with flour, turmeric, salt & pepper.
Add chopped herbs and mix well until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
Gently heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a deep pan. Drop a smidge of the herb mixture into the oil. Once you hear a sizzle, the oil is hot enough. Carefully transfer the herb mixture into the hot pan.
Level the top with a wooden spoon and cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375*F. If you move the pan and the center no longer jiggles, it's time for the oven.
Transfer pan to oven and bake for another 15 minutes, just until the top is a big browned.
Remove from oven and serve immediately.
If you're planning ahead, flip cake onto a rack to finish cooling.
Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
You don't have to be Armenian to party like one. The barberries look especially Christmassy against the green of the herbs and add a delicious little tang. The toasty walnuts are a nice crunch against the spongy herbs. This aromatic herb cake is a welcome change from the usual side dish any night of the week. Serve kuku to your family tonight. It'll soon make the top ten on your most-requested list.