kookoo ‘ye Beh | Quince Kookoo – Fit for a Persian Qajar King

Quince Kookoo, Qajar King, fruits and paisley buteh jegeh Persian food by Azita Houshiar

A plate of Quince Kookoo, A Qajar King, fruits and paisley

Quince is a praiseworthy fruit unaccountably overlooked in the West but surely poised to receive its due justice and high praise … any minute now. Tick, tock, tick, tock! But while quince tap, tap, taps its foot, awaiting an end to its role as a steely ambitious understudy for the glorified pomegranate and making it “All About Quince” and finally taking center-stage in the West, it has the solace of having being treated with affection and high regard in other parts of the world, particularly in Iran, from the beginning, and since the ancient times.

In Persian cooking, quince is relished as a treasured culinary ingredient in manners both savory and sweet. From quince stew (khoresh ‘e beh) to quince dolmeh (dolmeh ‘ye beh) to a toothsome quince jam (moraba ‘ye beh) to the glorious quince tas kabab (tas kabab ‘e beh) to a quince and lemon syrup (sharbet ‘eh beh limoo) that is a refreshing and aromatic summertime drink, to a few other culinary treats besides. As you can see, in the Iranian culinary tradition, the degree of partiality to quince is extensive and eclectic.

That said, I’d never heard of a quince kookoo  (kookoo ‘ye beh) until I read the “Forgotten Kookoo Recipes” section of a wonderful two volume encyclopedic Persian cookbook (a veritable tome) researched and written by Ostad Najaf Daryabandari. (More on this gentleman, who is a revered translator and public figure, and on the treasure of the cookbook he produced, at a later time.) It appears that the recipe for quince kookoo traces its origin to a 19th century cookbook scribed by one Mirza Ali Akbar Khan Kashani who was the chief royal cook of one of the more famous Persian kings of the Qajar dynasty: Nasser El Din Shah Qajar. The Qajar dynasty was corrupt (to the bone) but their saving grace is leaving a legacy of a specific style of painting that is nothing short of stunningly gorgeous. Behold as exhibit A, a portrait of the said Nasser el din Shah himself as painted in the Qajar style of art:

Portrait Persian King Nasir Al Din Shah Qajar Hermitage Collection Iranian food recipes by Azita Houshiar

Portrait of Nasir Al Din Shah Gouache and gold on paper by Muhammad Isfahani 1850s | Hermitage Collection

May we take a quick detour away from food and recipes and venture into the arena of amateur art appreciation? I mean, look at all the patterns in this painting! So many intricate and ornate patterns and yet, nothing clashes and the whole comprises a harmonious eye candy. That is quite an artistic feat, don’t you agree?

I am also quite amused by the body language of the king, who hails from the 19th century, yet whose posture is quite modern in that it’s entirely casual. His title may be “His Majesty King of Kings, the Ruler of the Whole kingdom of Iran” — that’s the translation of the Persian text (تمثال عدیم المثل اعلیحضرت شاهنشاه کّل ممالک محروسه ایران) inscribed below the painting — but the king’s posture is so nonchalantly cool that I could very easily imagine him holding a glass of artisanal micro-brewed beer in his right hand while holding court in a hip Brooklyn bar! The king does sport the much-praised Persian unibrow (praised by and a trademark of many Persian artists that is – often, women depicted in Persian paintings have magnificently arched and full unibrows.)

And do let’s talk fashion. Because I so dig the clothing! My mom looked at this painting and said: “Gosh! Can you imagine people wearing clothes like this?” And I looked at this painting and thought: “Gosh! Can you imagine people wearing clothes like this?” But my mother’s tone is one of “thank God the fashion and styles have changed” and my tone is “it would be ever so delightful if we still went around like this.” I love the profusion of paisley patterns – the quintessential Persian design motif – and I am amused by the eccentric hat that is also a crown bearing paisley-shaped gems in its feather duster band. It all looks entirely comfy, cozy and yet supremely pretty and luxurious to me.

One question before moving on back to food: are those shoes the king is wearing, or is he just wearing socks?

Persian Art Books Brooklyn photo by Azita Houshiar

“If you have doubts about our grandeur, look at our edifice.” Abdul-Razzaq Samargandi

Persian Art Books | Brooklyn Public Library glasses reading Iranian photo by Azita Houshiar

Perusing a lovely stack of Persian Art Books at the Brooklyn Public library

Moving on back to the delicious and delightful topic of food … since I’ve already sung the praise of kookoo on 3 separate former occasions (Kookoo sabzi, kookoo sibzamini, kookoo Sabzi II) and since we already spent a bit of time casting an admiring glance at the role quince has played in the cuisine of Iran and how it’s verily on the verge of stardom here in the west, I will cut to the chase and spare you further bavardage (or bolboli kardan as we call it in Iran, meaning chattering ceaselessly much like a canary) and suggest we head over to the recipe section and review the direction for the quince kookoo recipe found in the cookbook penned by the Qajar King’s royal chef.

I will only add that kookoo ‘ye beh (quince kookoo) is soft and lush and tastes very good and smells good too and it will serve you well as either an appetizer or a light meal. You could enjoy it with yogurt and a platter of fresh herbs (sabzi khordan); or you can go the route of topping it with something sweet like jam or syrup or a dusting of confectioners sugar. Either way, it’ll go quite well with some soft flat bread. Nice, comforting and yummy. Noosh ‘eh jan in advance!

Quince Kookoo (kookoo 'ye beh) | A delicious Persian food cooking Iranian food

Quince Kookoo (kookoo ‘ye beh) | A delicious Persian fare

Quince Kookoo Persian Food kookoo ye BehIngredients-Graphic-icon-illustrated-thumbnail-black-white

  • 1 large quince
  • 4 eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of saffron (dissolved in one tablespoon of hot water)
  • pinch of salt

Direction-Graphic-icon-illustrated-thumbnail-black-white

  1. Peel, core, and grate the quince.
  2. Dissolve saffron in a tablespoon of hot water. Add nutmeg and sugar, stir to dissolve. Pour over the grated quince and evenly mix the mixture with a fork.
  3. Crack eggs open in a big bowl. Add salt and gently beat with a fork to mix. Add grated quince. Stir to mix the batter.
  4. In a nonstick pan, heat oil. When sizzling hot, pour batter in the pan. Reduce heat to medium and allow batter to fry and cook on one side. (Could take anywhere from 5-10 minutes.) Use the edge of a spatula to cut batter into four wedges. Turn over each wedges and fry/cook it on the other side.
  5. When fully cooked, transfer to a serving platter. Blot out any excess oil with a paper towel. Serve hot.

ServingGraphic-icon-illustrated-thumbnail-black-white

Quince kookoo can be served as an appetizer, a side dish, or a light lunch or dinner. You could enjoy it with yogurt and a platter of fresh herbs (sabzi khordan); or, you can go the route of topping it with somethings sweet like jam or syrup or a dusting of confectioners sugar. Either way, serve along with some soft flat bread.

Best served hot, but it is also good at room temperature, and makes a very decent left-over snack.

Quince kookoo batter and quince on paisley tablecloth Iranian food cooking by Azita Houshiar

Quince kookoo batter and a quince

Make it, enjoy it and noosh ‘eh jan!

Noosh jan Nush e jaan Persian calligraphy illustration.

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62 thoughts on “kookoo ‘ye Beh | Quince Kookoo – Fit for a Persian Qajar King

  1. Azita, what a lovely post, great story, and unusual kuku! I am not sure we can still find quince at the market, but I’ll try this if I see any, as I love both quince and eggs, and love a recipe with an interesting story even better. Thank you for the inspiration!

    • So happy to hear that it inspires you dear Darya and ooking forward to see where you take it from here with your exquisite taste.

  2. The painting of the very noble King is beautiful and a veritable wealth of patterns and colors. I agree, it’s entirely harmonious. The Kookoo is wonderful, I have never had a sweet one before love how this sounds and will give a try. As always your post is eye candy!!

    • I love eye candy so comparing the post to one is the height of compliments. Woo hoo! Thank you Suzanne! 😀

      ps friend of mine said she was going to try it w/caramelized onions and grated chicken … sounds intresting. Just fyi

  3. Yum. Love this post, love the library and all the books you’re reading through to share your passion with us. Where did you find quince this time of year? I haven’t seen them anywhere. I’ve been wanting them for a few recipes that I have bookmarked (and now this one too)! Lovely pictures. I love your blog, Azita.

    • Amanda, I could not find quinces in Brooklyn but the market in Chelsea had them and I bought a whole bunch to hoard a few weeks ago. (Quince keeps in the fridge for a good while.) You should check out that market, they have really quality produce.

      • I’ve seen a few and they all look quite inviting. Hope your recipe for your quince membrilo makes it to your blog – would love to give it a go if you recommend it.

  4. This is so wonderful – too many things to compliment you on here: the recipe, the history, that extraordinary painting and then of course the quince itself. A love affair, surely. Sophie x

    • I am passionate about the culture, history and food of Iran and it truly fuels the motivation and inspiration when I get thoughtful and sweet comments like this. Thank you dear Sophie!

    • As we say in Persian: mersi, lotf darid! (= Thank you, you are too kind!) I have to check your quince recipes on your awesome blog.

    • Thank you Fae! It was a lot of fun perusing the books at the library. Wish the collection, wish the collection were more comprehensive. This kuku is one of those long forgotten recipes so not surprised you had not tried it. I think if you end up having some spare “beh”, do give it a try. I would be most curious to see the trademark Fae spin you’d put on it. 🙂

    • When I read your blog it’s like being in a magical fairyland. Your writing takes me to many places & love that. I wasn’t around for a little while so I have lots of catching up to do.
      Love the recipe, & will try it while I still have some quince left. It reminded me of خاكينه( w/ KG sound) do you know this egg dish? Simple & yet delicious.
      Thank you.

      • Hi there! First: thank you! 🙂 Second: I do know khagineh! It is the food I fondly associate with my childhood. My favorite type of khagineh was the khagineh ‘ye shekar. (I wrote two posts about it much earlier posts.) I can see how it the kuku reminds you of it.

        Do let me know how the koko ye beh goes if you make it OK? & delighted by your visit and commentary 🙂

    • Thank you Margo! I hope to one day be transported to the Brown Land (forgot the rest of it … 😦 ) you know what I mean !

    • My pleasure! Most excellent fate in store for that large juicy quince! Just take a few deep inhales before you grate it. 😉

  5. Oh my goodness! i am in LOVE with everything about this post. And that painting! I hope to the sky that those are shoes hes wearing (and that i will one day find a pair)! I completely agree with Bizou- i want to climb inside your blog and spend the winter exploring all your amazing recipes.

    I favour if i may- could you recommend a dish that caters for myself (gluten free vegan) or one that i could adapt? I so want to eat everything you post. Keep up the incredible work xxxx

    • A lovely thing to say and thank you!!!

      I am conscious of and do hope/plan to be able to offer vegan/glutten free/ vegetarian modified recipes for Persian food. (Down the road!) Kookoo by definition of the genre is what’s made with eggs binding other ingredients so no way around that I’m afraid!

      But we do have a whole bunch of recipes that are naturally vegan: did you check out the “mirza ghassemi” post (skip the eggs and its vegan) or “Yatimcheh”? Also “salad shirazi” …

      A family friend claims to have perfected vegetarian versions of most Persian stews. As soon as I get a chance to visit her and test/get the recipes, will share it!

    • Thank you! I Google’d to see what Crassane looks like and how cute … it kind of looks like a pear! Would love to bite into one.

    • Thank you! I always feel that way when visiting your blog. That, and a renewed need for wholesome and outdoor living! 🙂

  6. I have always loved Persian art. I feel like I could look at the same painting over and over again and each time I would discover a new little detail that I missed before!

    The kookoo looks wonderful!

    • See, yes, you put it so nicely. I obviously feel the same! Have to admit, I’m not a big fan of miniatures but I am gaga for Qajar art. LOVE it!

  7. I’m absolutely delighted to find your blog and this quince kookoo sounds so delicious. Such a coincidence, I just posted a Turkish poached quince dessert with cloves and cinnamon at my blog; always so interested in hearing the similarities and variations between our cuisines!:) I will gladly give you a link at my blog, look forward to more of your posts! Selamlar, Ozlem

  8. Salam Ozlem jan! 🙂

    I’m delighted to be found and I’m going to hurry to your blog right after writing this comment to visit and see/read all about this delightful-sounding quince dessert. Our countries are neighbors and I have always adored Tureky. (Got to spend a few magical days in Istanbul a few years ago – alas, that was all I saw though.) I hope to visit again sometime and explore the cuisine and culture of turkey. 🙂

  9. I’m thinking your Mother and I would get on well. Seriously, so glad we don’t have to wear regal. As for quince I still haven’t managed to buy it. Although I’m hoping to pop up to the superstore tomorrow – if it ever stops raining.

  10. Yum! I love anything with quince in it… I think I discovered quinces late in life but I’m trying to make up for it now! 🙂 The kookoo sounds amazing Azita. For some reason I can imagine eating it for breakfast on a weekend 🙂 Thanks for sharing the significance of the quince with us, alongside some other Persian literary gems… always love reading your posts! xx

  11. I’m ashamed to have never eaten quince! You’ve inspired me to try though, I’m new to this blog and indeed persian cooking but I will be following from now on! You write wonderfully and I love how you have brought together art, history and food.. a cultural delight! Thank you.

  12. Yes, I will add this to my Superbowl table, Quince KooKoo. Was going to make the traditional sabzi, but this sounds refreshing! Hope I find the Quince. Will send pics!
    Thanks so much for your inspirations.

    • Yay Tina! If you can’t find quince, make apple kookoo instead: use 2-3 green or yellow apples and grate them, but otherwise follow the exact recipe. And then instead of nutmeg, use cinnamon instead. That’s it.

      Hope the team you are rooting for wins! Cheers in advance or your ashpazi! Hope it’ll be delicious. :))) xo

  13. Thanks Azita jan for this post. I’m always looking for new ideas and this was really creative. I’ve had quince jam and quince stew (khoresh-e beh), and I like them both a lot. Oh, and I just remembered that I’ve also had quince a couple of times simply as fruit (a bit too dry for my taste). Never had the kookoo though, sounds and looks delicious. I just put quince on my grocery list!

  14. Azita jan your writings are always so captivating to me, I love it! … You know those red shoes/socks remind me of the middle eastern shoes Carrie buys in a souk in Abu Dhabi in Sex & City 2 😆 so I’m leaning towards shoes!… Will definitely try kookoo ye beh 😉

  15. I agree. The painting is amazingly gorgeous and no, they are not socks in my opinion. I would love to wear those cloths. Can you imagine the quality of the fabrics used to make royal cloths? Just the idea and my writs are shaking!
    I have never tried quinces. The combination with the eggs (a sort of frittata?) must be divine.

  16. Pingback: Iran in Black & White | A pictorial exploration | Fig & Quince

  17. Hi Azita,
    Quinces plentiful here just now so this is for the menu sometime in the next few days.
    But less to the point (in terms of the recipe): you may be interested in the newly published novel “The King” – Kader Abdolah which is a fictionalised history of Naser al Din Shah and very readable. I’m most of the way through, the tobacco uprising has just occurred and the Constitutional events loom. Great reading for the wistful (?) trip back.

  18. Played with this one, do excuse. Being unsure whether it fitted into conventions of “Main” or “Dessert” I decided on first, thus:

    reduced sugar but used some
    added ground ginger and ground cardamom
    used, as prescribed by you, saffron which really shines in this recipe
    baked in oven 50 – 60 minutes

    It all worked out well

    Pardon my apostasy, I’m sure you won’t mind.

  19. Pingback: Quince Jam (Persian Style) | Moraba ‘ye Beh | Fig & Quince

  20. Pingback: Still life with Quince Kookoo, Persian King, and Paisley

  21. Pingback: Still life with Quince Kookoo, Persian King, and Paisley images google imagesImagesWiki | ImagesWiki

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