Kookoo Sabzi – Fresh Herb Kookoo
Kookoo is also spelled KuKu and please don’t take this the wrong way but you will be coo coo not to try it.
As Dr. Seuss said: “If you never did eat kookoo you should. These kookoo things are fun and fun is good.” Alright, I’ll come clean, Dr. Seuss didn’t exactly say that, but I am pretty sure he would have, had he had occasion to sample a kookoo freshly made by an Iranian kadbanoo.
But what exactly is a kookoo? I like to picture kookoo as the love child of a quiche and a soufflé … they met cute and it happened, ok? But kookoo also bears a semblance of resemblance to a frittata, fritter, omelette or even a pancake! Let’s cut to the chase and call kookoo the Zelig of egg dishes.
But ultimately, kookoo is neither a quiche nor a soufflé nor a frittata or fritter or pancake. It is its own thing: a genre of Persian food made with whipped eggs mixed in with various types of vegetables and fresh and dried herbs, and sometimes with chicken or meat or even fish (kind of like a crab cake) and cooked either on the stove or in the oven. Variations abound! We have garlic kookoo, eggplant kookoo (one of my favorites – yum), green bean kookoo, potato, meat, and cauliflower kookoo, and a bunch more besides.
Of all these, Kookoo sabzi (green herb kookoo) is one of the most popular iterations, a year-round staple menu item that is also made specially for the Persian New Year because it is green and thus symbolizes growth and spring.
A good kookoo sabzi is a thing of beauty: fluffy, fragrant, hearty yet light, filled with nutrition, and absolutely delicious! The contrasting play of the tangy berberries and crunchy earthy walnuts in a bite of fluffy herb-infused kookoo sabzi, partaken with yogurt and some bread, is poised to delight even a persnickety palette.
But enough of just singing kookoo sabzi’s praise – let’s get cooking and make some!
- 1 bunch each of: chives (or scallion), parsley, and cilantro
- 3 or 4 stems of fresh dill
- 3 or 4 pale green crispy leaves of lettuce – makes the kookoo lighter (optional)
- 1 teaspoon of dried fenugreek seeds (or tarragon)
- a pinch of dried mint
- 1 tablespoon of turmeric
- 1 teaspoon baking powder – allow it to soak in a bit of water so that it bubbles
- 5 eggs – best if at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons barberries (1 tablespoons for the garnish rest for the batter)
- 1/2 cup walnuts – save a couple for garnish and coarsely chop the rest
- 1 /2 to 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- olive oil for frying
- salt & pepper to taste
- Take eggs out of the fridge – set aside allowing them to get to room temperature
- Soak parsley, cilantro, dill, chives (or scallion) and lettuce leaves in cold water for up to 30 minutes to loosen grime and dirt; drain and rinse a few times until there is zero trace of grit or dirt; dry completely – but completely! De-stem the parsley, dill, and cilantro and prep the chives (or scallion) and chop all as finely as possible. (Since the bulk of bunches may vary, the rule of thumb is to end up using the same chopped amount of each herb so that the flavor of one doesn’t dominate the others. It also helps to chop all herbs to the same degree of fineness so that the batter cooks evenly.)
- Soak barberries in cold water for 10-15 minutes and rinse several times (a tea filter would do nicely as a colander ) to wash away any trace of dust, dirt or whatnot. Drain, dry, and set aside for now.
- Add 2-3 tablespoons of oil to a skillet or a large pot (which you can later on use to cook the kookoo batter), place on high flame and straightaway, without waiting for the oil to get hot, add the chopped fresh herbs, and stirring constantly, cook for around 5 minutesuntil the herb mixture reduces in size and is soft and pliant. (This step is called “taft dadan eh sabzi” in Farsi and the objective is to rid the herbs of excess moisture to prevent a soggy kookoo and get a fluffy and thick one instead.) Let cool completely.
- In a big bowl crack the eggs and whip lightly, then add the: dried mint, dried fenugreek, chopped walnuts, 2 tablespoons of barberries, flour, baking powder, turmeric, and the sauteed herbs. Mix well.
- Heat at least 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a big pot – you can use the same one used earlier to cook the herbs – just wipe it with a paper towel to remove any residues. Once the oil is hot enough (you can tell this is so when a tiny dollop of the mixture puffs up when dropped into the pot) pour in the entire mixture, lightly press the batter with a spatula or spoon to make the surface even, and cook, covered (ideally with a glass lid so you can see the batter) for 10-12 minutes on medium heat until the bottom of the batter coagulates and is set. Using the edge of a spatula, cut kookoo into 4 wedges and flip each wedge over to cook the other side. (Add a couple more tablespoons of oil at this point if necessary.) Continue to cook – uncovered this time – on medium heat for approximately 5-7 more minutes until the batter is evenly cooked throughout. Place on a serving platter, garnish with sauteed barberries and walnuts, and serve. [ Alternative method: Instead of frying the batter on the stove top, you can bake it in the oven. To do so: preheat the oven to350 °F, pour the kookoo batter into an oiled heatproof dish, and bake uncovered for 20- 25 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the kookoo to loosen and invert onto a serving dish. Cut into wedges or squares, garnish, and serve.]
- For the garnish: heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small skillet over a medium flame, add sugar (optional, skip it if you like tangy flavor like we do) and 1 tablespoon of barberries, and stir well for just under and no longer than a minute. Sprinkle barberries over the kookoo when it’s ready to serve.
kookoo sabzi is good either hot or cold, and makes for a tasty lunch or dinner, either as a light entree. or a side dish, or an appetizer. It is customary to serve kookoo sabzi with yogurt and bread and sabzi khordan (platter of fresh herbs.)
“Try them, try them, and you may! Try them and you may, I say.” Dr. Seuss
Make it, enjoy it, and noosheh jan, we say!
Fun Fact: Kookoo sabzi was one of dishes served at the White House Passover dinner this year.