Wednesday Night Persian—part of Epi's Wednesday Nights in America series—starts with a curated list of weeknight recipes, and continues here, with our a visit to a home kitchen, where we witness Iranian-American cooking in action.
There is one fundamental problem when you’re making torshi tareh in America, Nick Behzadi explains to me as his wife, Maddi, begins to assemble the ingredients. “The authentic way of making this dish is with wild greens that grow around the mountains in the northern part of Iran.” The thing is, Nick says, those greens are the tareh in torshi tareh; they’re a type of wild leek and “you can’t get them anywhere else.”
When I ask what we’ll be using to approximate the flavors of the Northern Iranian specialty, Maddi offers that a combination of spinach and cilantro does the trick, but she notes that a lot of Persian home cooks improvise to suit their own tastes. The dish “can change based on what herbs you have and what ratio you have; so, if I didn’t have parsley, I could still make it.”
And, indeed, in her seminal cookbook Food of Life, Najmieh Batmanglij uses practically every herb on the American roster for her rendition of the dish, including parsley, cilantro, dill, mint, basil, and spring onions. So, consider this permission to toss in whatever herbs you like (and leave out whichever ones you don’t).
At any rate, unless you’re cooking it for someone from Gilan or one of the other two provinces that make up Northern Iran, Maddi says they “probably won’t be familiar with this dish.” It’s a sentiment echoed by Epi contributor Andy Baraghani (his mother is also from that area), who was excited to hear the recipe mentioned outside of his family circle.
On the Behzadi’s counter sits one large bowl overflowing with whole bunches of cilantro, parsley, and dill, and a second bowl packed to the brim with fresh baby spinach. As Maddi begins to rip apart handfuls of the herbs and pile them, stems and all, into a food processor, she confesses that on weeknights, when she gets home from her work as a physical therapist, she’ll often rely on frozen spinach, which makes the cooking go a little faster and turns out results that are just as good.
To avoid overstuffing the food processor, she pulses the herbs in several batches and empties each minced batch into the bowl with the spinach. As her kitchen fills with the aroma of all those chopped herbs, Maddi tells me about rediscovering this recipe. It’s a dish she ate growing up, but “sort of forgot about” until her college-aged daughter gave up meat.
“We’ve been revisiting a lot of vegetarian dishes,” she tells me, “and adding them back to the rotation.” It isn’t a hard thing to do, since Maddi’s family, who immigrated to America when she was two years old, hail from Northern Iran, where she says the cuisine is seafood-heavy, but also trends toward “vegetarian and sour” as opposed to the sweeter, meat-based dishes of the central and southern regions of the country. Still, she hasn’t cut out those traditionally meat-based dishes entirely. She makes things like ghormeh sabzi, but swaps out the usual lamb or beef with tofu. (Maddi and her daughter Soraya think they taste just as good. Nick, not so much.)
There is no meat (or tofu) in torshi tareh, though. The focus is on the herbs, which Maddi spoons into a large shallow skillet with sautéed onions, garlic, and turmeric. She tells me that onions aren’t a usual player in this dish, but she thinks they make a nice addition, giving the tangy, green flavors some depth to cling onto. As the herbs and spinach succumb to the heat, she reaches for a pot of par-cooked rice and spoons out a bit to add to the greens. She says that “if you have cooked rice in the house—which, in a Persian household, you probably do—you can just add it in.” If not, she says, “you have to soften the rice in hot water.” Just a few tablespoons are needed: the starch gives the greens body, helping them to sort of come together into a rich, glossy mass.
Next, Maddi adds water and dried cilantro (she says the flavor just isn’t right without the fresh and dried herbs working in tandem), covers the dish, and lets it braise for several minutes.
To finish the dish, we toss in a heavy pour of lime juice (torshi, after all, is Farsi for pickle). Verjus—the tart juice of unripened grapes—would be the more traditional souring agent, Maddi says, “and some people use lemon or sour orange.” But she thinks lime does a better job of mimicking the taste of verjus, and it’s easier to find around the neighborhood. (Nick has recently started growing grapes in their backyard, so homemade verjus could be an option in the coming months.)
After stirring in the lime, Maddi cracks six eggs into divots she’s made in the greens. She has a personal aversion to egg yolks—when she makes the dish for herself, she uses egg whites only—so she skips the next part, but explains it to me in detail: Once the eggs are all in, you take a knife and swipe it through each egg one or two times, and then put the cover on the pan until the eggs are set to your liking. The result is a dish of greens that are marbled with wispy white and yellow streaks.
As we sit around the Behzadis table to enjoy the dish, Nick pulls out a side of roast salmon and a potato tahdig he’d been secretly cooking while we worked. If you don’t have someone waiting in the wings to whip up such a treat, serve your torshi tareh with steamed rice or flatbread, and, if you like, some smoked whitefish on top.
Maddi asks if I find the dish too sour, but to me, everything seems perfectly in balance. The lime sings with brightness, riding the herbaceous punch of cilantro and dill. The eggs add richness, the garlic and onion bring sweetness, and the turmeric contributes a touch of warmth. It’s the kind of dish that would be a comfort year round, but it makes you excited for the bounty of fresh herbs that comes with the arrival of spring—whether you're lucky enough to find wild Gilani leeks or not.Mahdis Behzadi
Originally Appeared on Epicurious