Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Iranian Night

I find that with cooking, like most things in life, one gets out what one puts in. If I have fun while I’m cooking, my food typically tastes like it. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true: if I’m flustered and stressed out, I can easily cook that into whatever I am making, and you certainly can taste that as well. This is exactly what happened on Monday night. We delayed our international night, because of scheduling conflicts; but I had thought that we could have an Iranian night. This made sense to me because I thought...”kebabs and rice, that seems like a low-stress night of grilling that should be perfect following finals.” I thought it could be easily put together, with out having to spend hours tracking down ingredients, and kebabs and rice...always tasty. Sadly, this is not quiet how the night turned out.

About a week ago, I sent a message to my favorite Persian foodie, Ramin Rahimian, who recommended that I make koubideh kebab to go with my chelo kebab- which is a dish that includes saffron rice, grilled tomato and kebab. Koubideh kebab a ground beef kebab...he said “just keep it juicy”...always good advice. I also thought this would be great because, ground beef fits into the budget well.

The recipes I found for the koubideh kebab, had you grate onion into the ground beef. This is where everything started to fall apart. I think my grater is too fine, or maybe I should have just very finely chopped the onion because when I grated it, a lot of onion juice was released into the beef, making it really soggy...this would later prove to be quiet a problem when I tried to form the kebabs and had Scott grill them. First, the kebabs just refused to hold any shape or hold to the skewers. Then, while on the grill, the juices dripped onto the flame, putting it out. The result was that one side of the mashed, ill-shaped kebabs was nice and charred while the other was still not so much cooking...or so we thought because the fire was going out. In an attempt to save the kebabs, we brought them in, and put them under the broiler. This was about the time, that I realized I had forgotten all about the tomatoes, so I threw those in the broiler as well. Now, dear reader, you might recall Ramin’s sage advice to me regarding the kebabs: “just keep it juicy”. Well, apparently all of this moving, an falling apart, and finagling does not keep a kebab juicy.

Meanwhile, as Scott was outside ‘grilling’, I was making the rice. Again...I mistakenly thought this to be a simple process, and really I still think it could have been, if I had been in a good mood at the time. Unfortunately, it seemed like nothing was going right...which is in my kitchen always a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was at this point battling, with the food, the kitchen...and bless his heart, Scott, so my food was made in a rushed and angry manner...not the way to get good persian rice, with a good “ta-dig”. From what I read, for this you want to begin by rinsing and soaking the rice, ridding it of the extra starch (which is what makes sticky-rice sticky, or risotto creamy). Then, you boil the rice in water with a little oil or butter. As the rice then boils down, you can add a little more butter/ oil and a little saffron water. When you make this rice, you also want to let it cook longer than you normally would so that it will form, on the bottom this crispy-golden layer, called a “ta-dig” which is the mark of a good cook. As all of this is happening, it should give off a fabulous smell. I however got nervous. I must admit, I am well known for burning rice, forming a gross crispy-black layer on the bottom of the pot. I did not want to repeat this yet again, and thus, my polow never formed a ta-dig...though it was smelling very good, and I think starting to.

Finally, the rice was done, the kebabs were over done, and the tomatoes were somewhat cooked and I decided that it was time to eat because I had been very hungry for a very long time. So I plated up the rice and sprinkled on top of it sumac, which is a red spice, popular in Iran that has a great acidic-lemony taste...only wait, no...I grabbed my little bag of hot cheyenne pepper instead and sprinkled that over it a much different taste. Though, after the picture was taken, I was able to scrape off most of it, and sprinkle it with the proper spice instead.

From this, misadventure as it was clear however, that this could have been a great dish and we agreed that we would in fact have to try this again making a few adjustments. The kebabs, though dry and a little over done had a really great flavor. You could taste the acidity of the sumac and that made them really nice. Also, the rice and tomatoes went very well together, and it all looked quite pretty on the platter. Of course, the other upside to all of this is that very soon, I will be enjoying a fabulous, properly prepared Persian dinner with Ramin....

The recipes I used are really should give them a try, you’ll probably have more luck than I.

Kabab Koobideh

4 Servings

500 grams ground lamb or beef

2 large onions (grated)

1 large egg (beaten)

4 medium tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon sumac (optional)


Mix meat, onions, egg, salt and pepper well and leave in the refrigerator overnight (or for several hours).

Press the meat around long, thick metal skewers and shape evenly. Thread whole tomatoes on another skewer. Barbeque each side for about five minutes, turning frequently. If skewers are not available or barbequing is not possible, kabab-e koobideh can be shaped into long, thin portions on aluminum foil and grilled at high temperature in the oven. The oven should be pre-heated and kabab-e koobideh should be placed as high as possible near the source of the heat.

Serve with hot Polow (Chelow) or on middle-eastern bread. If serving with rice, some sumac may be sprinkled on top. If kabab-e koobideh was made in an ovPolow (or Chelow)

Ingredients: (4 servings)

basmati or long-grain rice, 500 grams

cooking oil



The preparation of polow (or chelow) is more elaborate than kateh and results in a delicious non-sticky rice. It is normally served with kababs or any of the main dishes in this collection, unless rice is already used as one of the ingredients.

Wash rice twice and soak in salted warm water for 3-4 hours, then drain the water. Pour water in a large non-stick pan until it is half-full and bring it to a boil. Add rice and a spoonful of salt and continue boiling until rice slightly softens. Pour rice into a drain and wash it with slightly warm water.

Pour a few spoonfuls of cooking oil into the pan and add rice. Pour a few more spoonfuls of oil over rice. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for about half an hour. If cooking time is increased, a delicious crispy layer of rice (called ta-dig) will form at the bottom of the pan.

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