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!
- 2 cups (washed, trimmed, dried, chopped) parsley
- 1 cup (washed, trimmed, dried, chopped) cilantro (aka coriander leaves)
- 1 cup (washed, trimmed, dried, chopped) finely chopped chives (or scallions)
- 2 leaves of crispy lettuce chopped (optional: lightens up the batter’s color)
- 1 teaspoon dried mint + 1 teaspoon dried tarragon (can substitute 1 teaspoon of dried fenugreek for mint/tarragon)
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
- 1 teaspoon baking powder – allow it to soak in a bit of water so that it bubbles
- 5 eggs – left to reach room temperature
- 1 tablespoon (soaked for 5 minutes, rinsed, and dried) barberries plus extra for optional garnish
- 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped plus some extra for optional garnish
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet heat on high flame. Prior to the oil getting hot, add the chopped fresh herbs. (Parsley, cilantro, chives and lettuce.) Stirring constantly, sautee for a few minutes (approximately 5 minutes) until the herb mixture reduces in bulk and takes on a soft and pliant texture. Let cool completely. (This step is called “taft dadan eh sabzi” in Farsi and the goal is to rid the herbs of any excess moisture to prevent a soggy kookoo and get a fluffy and thick one instead.)
- In a big bowl crack the eggs. Add flour, salt and pepper. Beat lightly with a fork. Add chopped sauteed fresh herbs, dried mint & dried tarragon (or dried fenugreek), dried dill, chopped walnuts, barberries, 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 sautee 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.