Kuku Sabzi - and I Don't Mean Crazy

We are currently reading Pomegranate Soup for our Cook the Books Club, hosted this round by Simona of Briciole fame. This novel by Marsha Mehran is the tale of three young women who made their escape from the revolution in Iran, and have come to live and open a cafe in a small village in Ireland. A bit of culture shock going on here.  More so on the part of some unsympathetic Irish villagers.  However enough of the residents are willing to try the strange food on offer, and come back for more.

I did enjoy the story as a whole, though I thought Mehran's tale got off to a bad start with her prologue. All about the evil villain of the piece, Thomas McGuire.  He is so over-the-top nasty that it strains credibility.  This negativity continues through her first 5 or so chapters, carried into descriptions of  Irish villagers, police, the town, even the country side. Such as, on a remote mountain road: "the big man puffed his way along the rocky mile and a half to the cottage on foot, coughing on vapors of cow dung and pig fat that hung in the air." Truly?  Doesn't mesh with the remoteness of the spot, or "beauty of the surrounding verdant valleys."

Her writing is somewhat uneven with superfluous adjectives.   In contrast to local descriptions, the background on the Iranian women, who are all of course beautiful, was interesting, their preparations to open The Babylon Cafe absorbing, together with accounts of their food and cooking, lovingly rendered, tantalizing, and well-written.  Though we don't find out until almost the end why they picked such an out-of-the-way spot to open an Iranian restaurant.  Here's what Publishers Weekly has to say:
"Beautiful strangers bring exotic recipes to town in Mehran's foodie-lit debut. The Irish hamlet of Ballinacroagh is the unlikely new home for three Iranian sisters and their new Babylon Cafe. Twenty-seven-year-old Marjan, the most skilled in the kitchen; Bahar, the tentative middle sister; and Layla, the charming teenager, fled the Iranian revolution and, after some years in London, have arrived determined to succeed. Initially wary natives soon fall under the spell of the cafe's cardamom- and rosewater-scented wonders, with kindly Estelle Delmonico (the stereotyped Italian widow who formerly owned the storefront) and friendly Father Mahoney leading the pack.
 But town bully Thomas McGuire, who loathes "feckin' foreigners," and gossip Dervla Quigley, who thinks "they're all sluts," will do anything to drive the sisters away. As Marjan cements alliances through her recipes and Layla falls in love with McGuire's son, Bahar continues to be troubled by the violence in her past. Can the provincial Irish welcome the "foreigners"? Will the sisters triumph? But of course! Mehran's mauve prose gets especially purple sometimes (Layla feels love "like the ecstatic cries of a pomegranate as it realized the knife's thrust"), but fans of Chocolat and other cooking-overcomes-cultural-differences stories will savor the tale, not to mention the 13 recipes, including one for pomegranate soup." Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Of all the food mentioned, why did I choose Kuku?  Basically a Persian Frittata.  It was Marjan's mention of it when she was feeling stressed over the villagers' bad vibes, on page 148. "As for the rest of the town, Marjan thought to herself, well, they would eventually succumb to the smell of her fried elephant ears and herb-filled kuku."  I liked the sound of something herb-filled. No recipe was given for that. But I am lucky enough to have an earlier Cook the Books Club selection on hand, The Silk Road Gourmet, by Laura Kelley.  This cookbook has several recipes for kuku in her Iranian section. Also, I discovered online some Kuku Sabzi recipes, which is the herb-filled variety that Marjan made. So, I adapted Kelley's Walnut Kuku to include more herbs, as well, her recipe was much simpler than some of the others.

Kuku Sabzi

4 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 spring onions, finely chopped
4 cups shredded chard or spinach (I used rainbow chard) stems separated and chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped or use basil
1/3 cup fresh cilantro or culantro, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground (or to taste
garnishes - cherry tomatoes, sliced, barberries or fresh pomegranate seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  On the stove top, melt 1 tablespoon butter, and add 1 tab. olive oil in a covered, ovenproof casserole over medium-low heat.  When sizzling, add the spring onions and spinach or chard stems first, then when softened a bit, add in the leaves.  Stir and cook covered for 3 minutes to get the greens wilted.
2. Combine the herbs, lemon juice, walnuts, salt and pepper with the beaten eggs and beat again until all ingredients are well integrated.  Add the remaining butter and olive oil to the casserole, then when hot, add the egg mixture into the casserole with the onions and greens, stirring until well blended.  Cover and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until eggs are set.
3. When done, loosen the edges of the omelet by running a knife around the edges of the pan.  You can serve in the casserole (as I did) or place a serving plate over the top and quickly invert.  Then cover the bottom of the omelet with another serving plate and invert again, so the puffy, baked side faces upward.  Garnish if you like with fresh sliced cherry tomatoes, pomegranate seeds or barberries.

Kuku Sabzi made a lovely, light evening meal with some steamed sweet potato (fresh bread or toast would also be good) and a glass of white wine. I discovered that at room temperature, the next day for lunch, the herbal flavors all came through beautifully. My dish for Cook the Books this round.  You can read Simona's Pomegranate Soup Invitation here and join the event.  There's lots of time to read and cook your inspired dish.

I'll also link up with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, and with Heather's February Foodies Read Challenge.  Always good to check out what people are reading and cooking up there.


A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

I enjoyed this book and I know some people just as hate filled and evil as Tom. He wasn't that unbelievable to me. I love the inspiration for your recipe. That passage went right over my head.

Mae Travels said...

An Iranian friend once made kudu for me and I loved it! I read the book a long time ago, didn’t like it that much.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Beth F said...

The kuku sounds a lot better than the book! The uneven writing would bother me too.

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

Funny how we both featured a Persian recipe this week. AND YES, I forgot to include the broth in my eggplant soup recipe.- Add cups of broth. Thank you for pointing that out , and I've already corrected it..

Tina said...

I am just finishing the book up and had planned on lentil soup. But there is so much good food mentioned here I may try a different dish. I agree about Thomas McGuire being it there. It’s an enjoyable book though.

Marg said...

I am planning to read this book and participate in Cook the Books. Haven't started it yet, and no idea what I am going to cook.

Debra Eliotseats said...

I remember KuKu being mentioned but I didn't really look it up to see what it was. Wish I had. Lovely dish, Claudia. I like the walnuts.

I enjoyed the book, too, and read it quickly but I agree that it lagged in areas.

Simona Carini said...

You and I were on the same wavelength! The next time I make it, I will try adding walnuts. I agree with your assessment that it is excellent also the day after at room temperature. And thank you for the quote (which I somehow missed). Thank you for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books :)

Camilla M. Mann said...

We love this dish.Thanks for reminding me how much I enjoy it. Can't wait to try it again soon.

Delaware Girl Eats said...

This looks lovely and so appetizing. I usually don't make frittatas but might give this one a try