kookoo ‘ye Beh | Quince Kookoo – Fit for a Persian Qajar King
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:
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?
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!
- 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
- Peel, core, and grate the quince.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- When fully cooked, transfer to a serving platter. Blot out any excess oil with a paper towel. Serve hot.
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.
Make it, enjoy it and noosh ‘eh jan!