Hanif Sadr’s Kuku Sabzi

(Persian Herb Frittata)

Illustration by Maro Rivera-Weiss

This is Hanif Sadr’s adaptation of a kuku sabzi recipe by Roza Montazemi. Sometimes called the Julia Child of Iran, Montazemi not only codified the measurements and techniques of traditional Persian recipes, she also included recipes from French and other cuisines in her book, Art of Cooking, first published in 1964. An expanded edition of the book is now in its 50th printing.

Sadr, whose grandmother was close friends with Montazemi says, “Hers was the first Persian cookbook written in the modern era, and continues to be one of Iran’s best-selling books of any genre; often selling 20,000 copies a year.” Montazemi self-published the book and her family has continued that tradition since her death in 2009. Sadr imagines that 60 years ago, no one thought a cookbook, especially by a woman, would ever be so popular.

In Persian, sabzi means herbs and kuku means frittata. Other popular kuku versions feature potato or eggplant. Herbs, both fresh and cooked, are important to Persian cuisine and are eaten at every meal. Sadr suspects that no cuisine anywhere in the world uses herbs to the same extent as they are used in Persian cooking. An example is this recipe, which instead of just tablespoons or bunches, calls for two pounds of herbs. They can be a roughly even mix of the four herbs listed, with more emphasis on the first three, but feel free to add or substitute other leafy greens such as baby spinach, and you might use green onions or leeks instead of the chives.

This dish is usually associated with Nowruz, the Persian New Year, but it’s enjoyed throughout spring and summer, and is a favorite for picnics. In Iran, where lunch is the largest meal, kuku sabzi typically would be served as a vegetarian option among a variety of dishes like stew, rice, savory yogurt, flat bread, and salad. It makes a nice light dinner with just salad or bread.

—Anna Mindess

2 pounds herbs, a mixture of flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, dill, and chives
5 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3–4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Finely chop all the herbs.

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs together with baking soda, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Mix in chopped herbs until completely combined. (Mixture should look thick and green.)

Add the vegetable oil to a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. A clear Pyrex dish is best, since you can watch as the bottom of the kuku is turning brown.

Place the pan in the oven for about a minute to heat the oil (which will help kuku form a crispy crust), then remove the pan from the oven and pour in the egg/herb mixture. Bake for 30–35 minutes until the mixture has risen and the top is a dark green. You can test for doneness by inserting a knife, which should come out clean. Take the dish out of oven and let it cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the kuku. Cut into squares and serve.