Lanesville Kuku Sabzi
The dreary, gray, outwardly austere month of March — on Cape Ann at least — is a time of joyful gathering and feasting like no other. The Sicilians in Gloucester celebrate St. Joseph’s Day with nine days of novenas, ending with the feast day on March 19th, serving hundreds of pounds of homemade pasta, octopus salads, dozens of fish dishes, stuffed foccacia, filled sundried tomatoes, and always ending with ricotta pies and the St. Joseph’s Day filled pastry, zepolle.
At one time the whole city closed for this feast. Today still, hundreds circulate to the altars in each others’ homes for joyful visiting, intense feasting, ending the entire event with prayers, songs, and tears.
Other groups last week gathered under church bells, in barns, on beaches, and around bonfires to celebrate the Vernal Equinox.
And then, parallel to all this gathering of earth and spirit, each year in the woods of Lanesville, a friend hosts one of the most delicious celebrations of spring I have ever attended: Nowruz, the Persian (Iranian) New Year and the start of the calendar year.
My friend was actually with her own family celebrating Nowruz this year, but in the past her home has been brimming with spring flowers and platters of Persian delicacies. She takes a week off from work just to cook. Every table in her home is covered with so many exotic savory and sweet dishes that guests stay all day and into the night just to keep up the appetite to sample every one.
These are just the dishes I remember from last year: the earthy stew of chicken, squash, walnuts and pomegranate molasses called Fesendan. The lemony herb stew Gormeh Sabzi. Of course, Tahdig Polo, the fluffy rice with a crunchy golden crust. And my favorite dessert of all cuisines, Raginak, a sweet treat of dates in caramelized flour and sugar.
And there are always Kuku, just one of many stars of Nowruz.
Kuku can be a variety of frittata-like dishes heavier on the delicious fillings than eggs. Sabzi means herbs in Farsi. This Kuku is densely packed with parsley, spinach, cilantro, dill, and leeks. Add to those saffron, barberries, and fenugreek. Unlike a frittata, Kuku have a small amount of flour and baking soda, giving them just a tiny amount of elevation so that they are less flat and eggy than a frittata.
Fragrant with fresh herbs and slightly crunchy with walnuts, Kuku sabzi would be welcome at an Easter brunch. (That little bit of leavening might eliminate them from a seder, unfortunately.) They are a delicious vegetarian meal, and one that will satisfy all of us longing for anything fresh and green.
I would say however you choose to celebrate melting snow and lengthening days, Kuku are the perfect dish to serve. I served them at room temperature beside a pan of mustard and lemon baked dabs from Cape Ann Fresh Catch on a cold spring Thursday night. I could see only one stubborn pile of snow in a dark corner of the yard, and I could almost hear the bulbs pressing up through thawing ground.
4 strands saffron crushed
1 tablespoon hot water
1 small leek rinsed & chopped
1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley, packed (approx. 1 bunch)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, packed
1/4 cup chopped dill, packed
1/2 cup chopped spinach, packed
2 tsp fenugreek or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh celery leaves
1/4 cup walnuts chopped
2 tablespoons barberries (optional)
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350ºF and adjust rack to upper-middle position.
In a small bowl combine saffron strands and hot water. In a separate bowl stir together leek, parsley, cilantro, dill, spinach, fenugreek or celery leaves, walnuts, barberries, flour, baking soda, vegetable oil, salt and pepper.
In a third bowl mix until just frothy the 8 eggs. Stir in the saffron.
Pour this into the herbs, and mix gently together. Spray 9-inch ceramic or glass pie dish with cooking spray. Pour egg mixture into prepared pie dish. Bake for 40 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. Let it cool for 15 minutes prior to serving, or let cool completely and serve at room temperature.