Persian cooking


Clearing out old stuff has many advantages: not only do you feel better, with less useless stuff around the house and with more space but it can also provide the unexpected surprise.

When I’m not actually cooking, I am reading cookery books or recipes.

So this is how I bumped into an old weekend magazine. When I say old, I mean *old* (October 2004 to be precise). It featured Sam & Sam Clark from Moro on the cover and, while the rest of the magazine was long gone, I had kept it because of the recipes. I made a point of reading the article before disposing of such antiquity and, surprise, surprise, I found a recipe for some potato cakes which looked really appealing. I was really pleased because, had I not been clearing, I would probably not have found the recipe and made it.

I did follow their advise when making it. I divided the mash in two and added ½ tbsp. plain flour to one half  and 150ml warm milk to the other half. So I got both the potato cakes and the shepherd’s pie. Great, isn’t it?

Notes on the recipe:

I found the cakes were a little fiddly to shape. Having made the second big one, I realised that it was doomed in the frying pan so I said: “If you can  do it with a shepherd’s pie, then why not?”

I shaped the cakes smaller than what the recipe seems to suggest, I found them easier to handle and turn them over that way. I also adjusted the quantity of the flour I used. I had to add quite a lot more than the 1 tbsp. the recipe says.

Now I can totally see this as a filling for my beloved Argentinian empanadas. I’ll definitely try that!

Potato cakes stuffed with minced lamb and pine nuts – adapted from here

We think this street food comes from Iran, but these flavours could just as easily appear in Lebanon or Syria. At the restaurant, we serve them with a little yogurt and salad. You could follow this recipe to make a type of shepherd’s pie for two. Omit the flour with the potatoes and instead add 300ml warm milk, then assemble and cook as for a shepherd’s pie. Makes 4 cakes.

For the potato dough:

700g potatoes (Desirée, Cyprus or King Edwards), skins on
1 rounded tbsp plain flour, plus extra for dusting
Sea salt

For the lamb filling:

25g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
large or 1 medium onion, finely chopped (forgot to buy it, sorry)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 pinches freshly ground black pepper
2 pinches freshly grated nutmeg (I didn’t use this)
3 cardamom pods, black seeds only, ground to a fine powder
3 cloves, ground with a pinch of salt to a powder
200g finely minced lamb shoulder (I used beef)
50g pine nuts, lightly toasted or fried until golden
1 tbsp tomato purée
3 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Sea salt and black pepper

To cook and serve:

Olive oil
1 bunch wild rocket, dressed with 1 tbsp lemon juice, 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
200g Greek yogurt, thinned with 2 tbsp milk and seasoned with 1 garlic clove crushed with salt
A few pickled chillies, or 1 lemon, cut into wedges


To make the dough, boil the potatoes whole in salted water until cooked but not mushy: if they start to break up, they will absorb more water, which may affect the way they handle and fry. Drain well for 10 minutes. Then, while they are still warm, peel and mash. Stir in the flour and season with salt. The potato dough is now ready.

While the potatoes are boiling, make the filling. Melt the butter with the olive oil over a medium to high heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the onion and soften until it is sweet and slightly caramelised. Now add all the spices and cook for a minute. Add the lamb, stirring and breaking it up with a spoon as it begins to cook. Stop stirring for a minute or two, so the lamb has a chance to stick to the pan and colour. This will add depth of flavour to the dish. You should cook the lamb for about 5-8 minutes until nicely browned. Finally, stir in the pine nuts, tomato purée, 2 tablespoons water and the parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

To prepare the potato cakes, first wash and dry your hands, then flour them. Divide the dough into four balls. Keeping the surface well dusted with flour, flatten one ball to a disc 1cm thick. Put 2 tablespoons of filling in the centre, and bring up the sides of the dough to enclose the meat. Place on a floured surface. Neaten the shape of the cake and patch up any cracks and gaps. The result should look like a round patty 10cm across and 3-4cm thick. Repeat with the other balls of dough. These cakes will keep in the fridge for one or two days, as long as there’s enough flour to prevent them from sticking (but the fresher they’re eaten, the better).

Cover the bottom of a large frying pan generously with oil, about 3-4mm deep, and place over a medium to high heat until nearly smoking. Gently lift up the cakes with a fish spatula and lower into the oil one by one. Do not disturb until they are a dark golden colour and crispy, then turn carefully to colour the other side. When they are done, take out and dab off any excess oil with kitchen paper. Keep warm in a low oven, or serve immediately with the rocket, yogurt and chillies or lemon.

A word of warning: do not attempt to make these on an empty stomach. I had to physically restrain myself from eating the filling a spoonful at the time just as it was, direct from the pan.


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One thought on “Persian cooking

  1. The best shepherd’s pie ever « Traveling Wilbury's Weblog

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