Growing up in a household of 6 children was noisy to say the least. My youngest 2 brothers were definitely boys, loud, active and generally just a pain in the neck. My mother was kept busy by their antics, and boyish tendencies of inquisitiveness, rowdiness and poop humorousness.
A flat in Central London was probably not the best place for active boys but we managed. It was a very large flat with huge ceilings and long hallways. These hallways were a favourite of theirs and they would sprint up and down them. There was no such thing as a leisurely stroll or long distance marathon, it was always the 100 metres dash.
The flat may have been large and palatial but the floors were still paper thin under the thundering charge of boys, racing their cars or their Star Wars X Wing fighters or whatever new toy was the flavour of the month.
The lady who lived in the flat below was none too pleased with the boys. But before you feel sorry for little old granny having to live with the constant noise of young boys hurtling down the hallways, let me tell you, she was no granny. That woman was rail thin, had a colourful mouth on her and might have been a tad racist. She had no problem beating up on the ceiling with her witchy broomstick cackling at the boys to quiet down and even had the nerve to fly up to our door one day and shriek at us. Little old British witches don’t take crap 🙂
We tried as hard as we could to control the boys but there really was no way to make 4 and 5 year old boys understand the plight of old, cranky women. So, my dad did the only thing he could, he offered to buy out the woman’s flat, cauldron and all, and told her to move on. She did.
We bought the flat downstairs, renovated it, and put it up for rent as an investment property. When it wasn’t housing tenants, it was hosting visiting family members from overseas. Great thing about the tenants was that they couldn’t complain about the noise even if they wanted to, we were the landlords. They had an amazing, fully decorated and furnished flat in Central London with great rent. I’d put up with the noise too.
When the older of my 2 younger brothers fell ill with childhood leukaemia, things suddenly went quiet. There was no more running up and down the halls, only running back and forth from hospital. Those 3 years were some of the hardest, for my little brother and for us. He eventually passed away, couldn’t fight the fight anymore, the endless medication, needles, radiation and gave up. My 6 year old brother lost his best friend and play mate. I lost one of the sweetest boys I’ve ever known.
Slowly, it took a lot of time to get over his death, we managed to resume life. My parents realised they still had 5 other kids to care for and raise. My older siblings were adults so they offered a lot of support to my parents. The house slowly began to hear the sound of laughter again, parties with friends and family.
Even with my older sister married and away, there were still 4 kids with school and school issues, and friends and drama. My youngest brother was still quite a trouble maker. He liked to harass the teachers and there were constant complaints about his behaviour. He and my sister didn’t get along either so there was a constant torrent of words to get them to stop fighting, or for him to unpin her from the floor where he kept are subdued by sitting on her. Then there would be more shrieks and scuffling as he threatened to toot on her whilst sitting on her! Yes, it was still noisy. Add to that friends coming over, my brother going out, the front door was a revolving door of activity. I kept myself busy, mainly had my nose stuck in my studies and most of the time, I’d escape to a friend’s house just to get away from the noise!
My older brother, when he wasn’t out with his friends, always had friends over. He had the bedroom near the front of the flat so his friends would just climb in through his window. It was also where they all smoked and there would always be a pile of cigarette butts right outside his window strewn all over the garden. His window was obscured by the trees and bushes in the garden area up front so they were able to keep themselves hidden.
Now, my brother’s friends were mainly all Iranians. Great guys, all of them. Not only were they handsome, especially to a 16 year old who insisted she liked tall, dark and handsome (but married short, very pale and cute), they were just wonderful people, they’re still wonderful because I’m in touch with a couple of them still. They visited when we moved to America and with Facebook, all things are possible.
So, these Iranian friends loved to eat. They loved my mother’s cooking and she would feed them all the time. My introduction to Persian food and cooking was through these friends.
The very first time I went to a Persian restaurant was with my brother and one of his friends. My sister and I had just returned from a trip to America and my parents had stayed behind to start the paper work for our eventual move. My brother picked us up from the airport and that night, it was Persian food for dinner.
The restaurant was a hole in the wall. Rustic, wooden tables with benches set up communal style. The clink and clank of glasses, patrons downing tart and bubbly doough, breaking off pieces of the big sheets of Iranian bread and wrapping up cheese and vibrant, aromatic herbs. There was lentil soup being slurped and mounds of glistening, bejewelled polos, heady with the scent of saffron and long metal swords filled with tender, juicy meats grilled to a luscious, golden brown. I was in heaven.
That day began my love affair with Persian food. My plate wasn’t even a fancy polo or anything involved, it was just the juiciest and most flavourful skewer of kobideh kebab and the most fairy light rice I’ve ever eaten. Since then, I’ve been eating it, researching it, cooking it and perfecting it.
I guess my love for Persian food was inevitable, after all my name is from the Persian language. It means “exquisitely beautiful” 🙂 I love telling people that here because I like to see them react, usually uncomfortably, because they don’t know what to say! I keep a very straight face when I tell them 🙂
I make Persian food at home all the time but have never really posted anything. I eat Persian food out all the time too, it’s one of my favourite cuisines to eat out.
I decided to finally post two recipes mainly because I found beautiful, fresh fava beans at the farm stand and wanted to make the dill and fava bean polo (pilaf/pullao) called baghali polo (baghali means bean in Farsi) In Houston, we used to frequent a hole in the wall Persian place with some amazing food but then they became quite the success and went from hole in the wall with butcher paper covering the tables to fancy, schmancy tablecloths and expensive wines. The food lost its appeal along the way but picked up some grand prices instead.
They used to have great dill rice with chicken jujeh kebabs. This jujeh kebab is simple, flavourful, aromatic and absolutely delicious. No huge list of ingredients for a marinade, no fussy prep, just simple, rustic meat on a grill.
The baghali polo is also simple but the addition of dill and saffron elevates the dish to a somewhat fancy standard. It’s very much at home as a Sunday or even a weeknight dinner, like we had, but equally at home on fine china celebrating a special occasion.
So, a side note about fresh fava beans, buy plenty! Three of the pods I shelled didn’t have even one fava bean! I bought 1.5 pounds of fava beans in their pods, and got one cup total. Buy at least 2 or even 3 pounds just to be safe! One cup of beans were enough for us because my kids don’t like too many beans. But if you like lots, I’d definitely use about 2 cups.
Now, a note on the dill; some recipes use A LOT of dill. The rice is green. Now, I like dill but it’s quite a strong flavour and also if you don’t happen to have access to a Persian store where they sell huge bunches of dill for a $1, you will easily spend $12 buying just the organic dill. I spent $4 for a handful of dill. But, it was enough and has enough flavour for us. So, you can definitely control the quantities. If you like mild dill flavour and a scattering of fava beans through out, you’ll like this recipe without changes. If you want a much stronger dill flavour and more beans, just increase the quantities. You can also use frozen favas and eliminate all the peeling of the tough outer skin and the uncertainty of empty pods. Use fresh dill though, not the dried stuff.
Serves: 6-8 people
- Jujeh Kebabs
- 3 pounds/1.5kg boneless chicken breasts, medium size cubes
- 3 small onions or 1 large, in chunks
- juice of two lemons
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- pinch of saffron threads, optional
- ½ stick/57g butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons oil, for brushing on
- salt and pepper
- wooden skewers, 10-15 bamboo ones or large metal ones
- Baghali Polo
- 3 cups/500g Basmati rice, soaked about 15 minutes
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups fresh, shelled or frozen fava beans
- 2 cups of fresh dill, tough stems removed
- a pinch of saffron threads
- 2 teaspoons advieh spice (or seven spice mix), optional
- Jujeh Kebabs
- In the bowl of a food processor, throw in the onion chunks and whiz until pureed.
- In a large bowl, add the chicken cubes, the pureed onions, lemon juice, turmeric and the saffron threads, breaking them up between your fingers as you add them.
- Allow to marinate for about an hour, or while you prepare the rice.
- Once the polo is cooked, grill the chicken.
- Skewer about 5-7 pieces on a wooden skewer.
- Repeat till all the chicken is used up.
- Keep the same size pieces on the same skewer so they will cook at the same time.
- You can add bell peppers or onions to the skewer if desired but I find chicken cooks the best and most evenly when it's by itself.
- Fire up a grill and keep it at medium heat.
- You can also do these in the oven at 400F/200C
- Once the grill is heated and ready, grease the grates with some oil or spray.
- Brush the kebab skewers with some oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Place the prepared skewers on the hot grill.
- Grill 8-10 minutes on the first side and the flip and cook until done, another 6-8 minutes.
- Baste with the melted butter at intervals to keep the chicken moist.
- Some of the bigger chunks may take a little longer, about 12 minutes a side.
- Once the chicken is golden browned and nicely charred and is firm to the touch, remove from the heat and place under foil.
- Grilled tomatoes are a great and classic accompaniment to Persian kebabs.
- Baghali Polo
- Heat a large sauce pan on medium heat with a tablespoon of oil and 2 tablespoons butter.
- Drop in the chopped onions and sauté.
- While the onion is cooking, bring a small pot of water to boil.
- Drop the fava beans into the boiling water and cook about 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, and scoop out the fava beans into a bowl of ice water.
- This hot and cold trick with help loosen the thick skin around the fresh fava beans.
- If you are using frozen, buy the ones where they are peeled already.
- Remove the thick skin around the fava beans.
- If you squeeze gently, the tender fava bean should pop out of the skin quite easily.
- Place in a bowl to the side.
- Once the onions have caramelised and are golden, add the garlic and cook a minute.
- Add the shelled and peeled fava beans and toss around for a minute.
- Not too long since they are already blanched.
- Pull off the heat and place aside.
- Roughly chop the dill.
- Soak the rice for about 15 minutes.
- Heat a big pot of water to cook the rice.
- Once the water comes to a boil, add 3 teaspoon of salt and carefully add the drained and soaked rice a little at a time.
- Keep the water boiling and bubbling.
- Stir the rice carefully and at intervals.
- Once the rice grains have elongated and are ¾ done, they still have a bite, remove from the heat and drain with cold water running.
- Carefully run a little cold water over the rice to stop it from over cooking in the strainer.
- In the now empty pot, drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the melted butter into the bottom.
- Add half of the cooked rice and mix gently.
- Layer the onion and fava bean mixture and all of the dill.
- Place the remaining rice over the top in a mound.
- Crumble the saffron into the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.
- Make vent holes in the rice using chopsticks or a wooden spoon handle.
- Sprinkle some water over the rice and into the vent holes.
- About a ¼ cup/60ml
- Pour the butter saffron mixture over the top of the rice.
- If you are using the advieh, a Persian spice mix, sprinkle it over the rice now.
- Place on low heat and steam for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, remove from the heat and leave untouched for another 10 minutes.
- Don't open the lid, allow to steam.
- After 10 minutes, fluff up and mix the rice altogether.
- Place on a big dish, sprinkle with sumac and serve with the jujeh kebabs, and more butter if desired.
Have you tried Persian food? What is your favourite cuisine to eat out and to make at home?
So, thank you all so much for your kind comments on my last post. I felt a little guilty and bit of a fraud but totally humbled by all your kind words. I’m really not that good, or considerate or kind. There are so many others who deserve those titles. During Ramadan, we all try to be better and change our habits for the better for the rest of the year. We try, I try. It doesn’t always stick with me though. Still, I appreciate your kind words and I will try very hard to be the person you think I am!
Have a wonderful week, my friends!