This recipe first appeared in BBC Good Food Magazine, India, March 2013, for a ‘Persian Delights’ feature I was commissioned for.
It has to be fried. And preferably spicy. And you have to wash it down with steaming cups of tea.
Just before the deluge of the monsoons, the sky in Lahore turns a steel grey and everyone in the house scurries about closing windows in every room and the doors leading to the garden. Our cook, Riaz, knows that the rains are a cue for getting out the chickpea flour to whip up some spicy vegetarian fritters, which we call pakoray. Riaz slices and dices whichever vegetable we have in the house – potatoes, onions, aubergine – and dunks them into the pakora batter. He spoons the batter with a tablespoon into the oil-filled wok and then the pakoras start to form and bob up and down in the oil. He transfers them to a platter and places them on the tea trolley alongside a green chili, fresh coriander and yoghurt chutney.
I don’t know where and when this tradition started in Lahore, but barsaat; the rainy season – becomes an excuse for indulging in carb-laden gluttony. As it rains, the whole family gathers in the veranda, near the fuchsia bougainvillea vine. The tea trolley rolls out and there is a cup poured for everyone – for my father, ‘bas, aadi chamchi chini’; half a teaspoon of sugar, for my mother, the cup has to be filled two-thirds of the way up, no more and no less. And for my Uncle, just a spot of milk; he likes his tea rather tannic.
With my favourite aubergine fritter resting on the saucer of my teacup, I like to stand near the edge of the veranda, where the rain bounces off the earth and wets my feet. I love the smell of the wet earth in Lahore, even now, when I go back, it reminds me of the summers I had off from school, gathered in my grandparents’ home, when my cousins and I picked raw mangoes from the tree in our garden and ate them sliced with with lime juice and red chili pepper behind our parents’ backs.
The fritters in this recipe are Persian and made with potatoes. They are somewhat different than the spicy Pakistani fritters I grew up eating in Lahore; but nonetheless, they are a perfect treat to have after a monsoon deluge, surrounded by family and friends.
I love to enjoy these with a cup of black tea – sometimes with milk, sometimes without – and always a cardamom popped in for fragrance.
Kuku sibzamini is a popular dish in Gilan, a province in Iran near the Caspian Sea. ‘Kuku’ is an egg dish and sibzamini means ‘apple of the earth’ – which is the humble, versatile potato. Soft pieces of potatoes are held together with egg and eaten while hot and crispy. The addition of vermillion saffron raises this otherwise simple frittata-like dish to another level. Serve it alongside a creamy, thick yoghurt with lots of fresh herbs and coarse salt. You can also enjoy it sandwiched between noon-e-barberi and Irani panir with fresh herbs.
30 minutes active time
*1½ tsp baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
*2 tsp baking powder
*1 tsp salt
*1 tsp black pepper
*½ tsp turmeric powder
*1 tsp saffron threads, crushed to a powder-form
*oil for shallow-frying
*Wash, scrub and quarter potatoes
*Bring a large pot of water to boil
*Cook potatoes in pot of boiling salted water for 10 to 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork
*When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them, and when cool, remove the skin, (which will come off very easily)
*Mash potatoes with a masher till you see lumps (the potatoes should not be mashed till smooth). Set aside.
*In a separate bowl add eggs, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pepper, turmeric powder and saffron. Beat to combine.
*Add the egg mixture to potatoes and stir gently to combine. The mixture will be thick.
*Place a large non stick frying pan on medium high heat and add a few tablespoons of oil for shallow frying.
*Drop tablespoons of the mixture into the frying pan. Fry about 30 seconds on each side till golden.
*Serve hot with thick yoghurt and fresh herbs.