Ancient Persian “Brunch”

This one was a real treat to prepare and to eat: a classic spread of Persian inspired dishes for a late breakfast that will also satisfy you through lunch and beyond.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s a literal translation in Farsi or any ancient Iranian language for “brunch”, but the classic early meal of an egg dish with lots of bread, and an assortment of spreads, jams, and garnishes to graze and pick over certainly fits any interpretation of the concept.

We’ve got a home cook’s version of classic SANGAK bread, cooked on hot pebbles to give it a grooved surface perfect for some sour plum and pomegranate jam, stewed figs and spices, and some freshly made KAYMAK, or what the English call clotted cream. To balance those sweet flavors, we’ve got some salty and briny garnishes on the side, as well as a a dish called NARGESI, a sort of frittata made from fried greens and onions.

It would be near sacrilegious in modern day Iran to serve this meal without some hot black tea, but tea culture didn’t come to Iran until a few hundred years ago.

Does it all take some effort to prepare? Yes, but almost all the prep can be done ahead of time. So, after a leisurely morning of rolling out your sangak dough, baking it, and wrapping it in towels. You simply make your eggs, brew your tea or coffee, and put out all the accompaniments cooked and chopped in the days prior.

Let’s get to the recipes, shall we?

SOUR PLUM AND POMEGRANATE JAM

1-2 lbs. hard plums
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup water

The most well known jam in Persian cuisine is probably sour cherry. Intensely tart and sweet, it’s the perfect breakfast jam. Cherries, however, even little sour ones, are not yet in season for me. I did have some access to some delicious hard plums, delightfully sour and perfect to pair with pomegranate, both fruits available in ancient Iran.

So sour plum jam it is.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy bottom pot and bring to a boil ove rmedium high heat. Reduce the heat, but not too much! You want this on what I’d call a low boil, definitely more than a simmer. As hot as you can get away without exploding bubbles of hot jam.

Cook, only stirring once or twice throughout the process, for 20-30 minutes, until the mixture reaches 220F, or until its jelly-like, but still thin from being so hot. Letting it drip off the spoon is a good way to tell.

Let cool, then place in the fridge for several weeks! Super tart, a little sweet, ready to eat any time.

KAYMAK (Clotted Cream)

To counteract some of the intense sourness in our plum and pomegranate jam, we’re gonna need a pretty rich base. Dairy jumps to mind, and there’s no dairy preparation richer than clotted cream, which is easy to make, but somehow not well known today.

Except in two places, England, and Iran. The Iranians know what’s up when it comes to serving dairy. Their long history and connection with pastoral nomadism, means that kaymak is a must on the breakfast table.

Read all about how to make it in the previous blog post.

STEWED FIGS AND SPICES

1 lb. dried figs, quartered
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek
2 star anise

I know, I know, the phrase “stewed figs” doesn’t exactly rouse the appetite. At least in modern day America, dried fruits like plums and figs have an unfair stigma of being the foods of the elderly. But when prepared right, not simply wolfed down from a can, they can be an incredible treat.

And it shows in history. All across the ancient world, you can find some version of this dish on elite tables. Figs, cooked down and simmered in their own juices with some honey and fragrant spices. The result is better than candy.

And it shows across history. You’ll find some version of this dish on the tables of cultures all over the Ancient old world, especially the rich or elite who could afford such delicacies.

To make, simply toast the spices over medium heat until they smell fragrant. Add the water, honey, figs, and a pinch of salt, bringing to a simmer and stirring occasionally for about an hour, until reduced and syrupy. Let cool, and serve warm or room temperature. Either way is good.

Who knew figs could be sexy?

NARGESI (Mixed Greens Frittata)

Roughly 1 lb mixed greens (pictured: spinach, arugula, kale)
1/2 red onion, large diced
4-5 eggs
olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

There are probably infinite ways you could prepare this dish. My version aspires to be the Persian answer to shashuka, fried and a little steamed under a lid.

To make, saute the onions in a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until soft, just a couple minutes. Next, add the greens and season with salt and pepper. Stir until the greens are just wilted, then crack in your eggs around the pan. Cover with a lid, and let it steam for 2-3 minutes, until your eggs are set to the desired runnyness.

It should slide right out onto a plate. If not, gently free it with a spatula or wooden spoon first.

The perfect accompanyments, to my mind, are sliced onions, briny black olives, cool cucumbers, and salty feta cheese.

With that, we’ve finished all the dishes and sides of our Persian “brunch”. All that’s missing? The most important ingredient of course, bread! Any bread will serve, but for extra points use Nan-e-barbari or Sangak flatbread (pictured below, recipe coming soon!)

You’ll never have more fun eating breakfast… or lunch… or whatever meal you’re calling it. Eat it in the middle of the night straight out of your fridge if you have leftovers! Have a taste of old Iran, any time.

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