Photos by Zachary Cross
Herbs are something that we usually think of as enhancing a dish, and are often used with a light hand. What happens when they are a larger part of a recipe? It makes for a lot of flavor!
Once upon a time, when magazines were at their heyday, there were many to choose from if you wanted to try new recipes. Martha Stewart is still around with Living, Cooking Light (that staple of 90s fat free cooking), and the classic women’s magazines are also available. But now the internet is the star for recipes. Pinterest is the place to go for recipes of all kinds, from the most sugary, food color-laden dessert, to Paleo, to vegan, to Thanksgiving dinner. Just about anything you can think of. I find all sorts of new recipes there, and though, just like when I clipped magazine pages, I pin more than I use (though without cluttering my house!). I do use plenty of those recipes and find new favorites as well as enjoy simply experimenting.
Somehow, even with all those online recipes, I had never heard of Persian herb omelets. Kuku is a Persian egg dish that is something like a frittata or thick omelet. Kuku sabzi (sabzi is herb in Farsi) is a kuku flavored with herbs. Not delicately sprinkled on top or measured by the tablespoon, this recipe has herbs by the cup - five cups of them! And this is for only six eggs.
I came across this recipe in Milk Street Magazine. A new venture by the co-founder of America’s Test Kitchen, the magazine says, “we’ll explore a lively new kind of cooking that‘s both simpler and smarter, and it’s guaranteed to make you a better cook.” I’ve enjoyed Cook’s Illustrated in the past so, despite already having plenty of recipes on Pinterest, I thought I’d give it a try. It’s been fun reading about various cooks, foods, and new recipes.
As it turns out, Martha’s made kuku, and recipes abound on Pinterest. But it took a different medium to bring it to my attention.
Like many other types of foods, kuku, even specifically kuku sabzi, has many variations. Some have onions or leeks; others leave them out. The number of eggs and amounts and kinds of herbs change. Walnuts and barberries (often replaced by dried cranberries) make it especially Persian. Eggs are an essential, though I’ve seen some vegan versions that challenge that idea. This is a gluten-free and dairy-free dish, though again some rogues add unnecessary ingredients such as flour or butter.
I checked out a few recipes online, but in the end I decided to stick with the Milk Street recipe. I made sure to ask a farmer ahead of time for the herbs, and I suggest you do, too. Five cups is a lot! Also, this recipe calls for cilantro which varies widely in availability. It bolts in the heat so it may be available one week but not the next.
If you can’t get the cilantro or one of the other herbs, feel free to substitute to taste and availability. Mint and chives are two other common herbs in kuku sabzi. Chives sometimes take the place of the onion, too, or sometimes are in addition to it.
Like a frittata, kuku can be cooked on the stove, in the oven, or both. This recipe is just in the oven which is pretty simple. Lining the pan with parchment ensures that the eggs make it out of the pan. The olive oil is supposed to help it crisp up but mine did not do that. It was good anyway and I will perhaps I will bake it a little longer next time to see if that makes a difference.
Cut your kuku in slices, as you would a frittata or pie, to serve. Or try in small squares, as Martha did for a buffet meal.
Whole milk, Greek-style plain yogurt is a traditional topping or side. I found that straining my regular yogurt through a coffee filter during the time I was making supper to be long enough to make it nice and thick.
Top with more cranberries, and/or walnuts as a garnish. Enjoy!
From: Milk Street Magazine, March-April 2017
Start to finish: 1 hour
(20 minutes active) | Servings: 6
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups lightly packed flat-leaf spinach
2 cups lightly packed cilantro stems and tender leaves
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
6 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 large eggs
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
⅓ cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped (optional)
Plain whole-milk Greek-style yogurt, to serve (optional)
Heat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the the upper-middle position. Trace the bottom of an 8-inch square or 9-inch-round cake pan on kitchen parchment, then cut inside the line to create a piece to fit inside the pan. Coat the bottom and sides of the pan with 2 tablespoons of the oil, turing the parchment to coat both sides.
In a food processor, combine the parsley, cilantro, dill, scallions, and remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Process until finely ground. In a large bowl, whisk together the baking powder, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, and pepper. Add 2 of the eggs and whisk until blended. Add the remaining 4 eggs and whisk until just combined. Fold in the herb-scallion mixture and the walnuts and cranberries, if using. Pour into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the center is firm, 20 to 25 minutes.
Let the kuku cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges, then invert onto a plate and remove the parchment. Re-invert onto a cutting board or serving platter. Cut into wedges or squares and serve warm, cold, or at room temperature with a dollop of yogurt, if desired. The kuku can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, tightly wrapped.
Printable recipe here
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