The kuku sabzi is a Persian herb and greens frittata, but this dish is way more exciting your average crustless quiche or omelet. The amount of bright herbs, slightly bitter chard, and sweet leeks outnumber the eggs immensely. While a typical frittata has the same texture throughout, the kuku sabzi browns in the pan on both sides until a dark brown crust develops on the outside, interior remaining warm and creamy.
Wash a mountain of green chard and chop finely, reserving the stems, then saute the greens. Chop the chard stems and the leek and saute until soft and fragrant. Combine the sauteed vegetables with a pile of chopped cilantro and dill, then crack in just enough eggs to bind the mixture. Fry the kuku until brown, flip with courage, then continue to fry until golden and fragrant. A fat slice of kuku sabzi is best served with feta cheese, yogurt, or pickles.
Kuku Sabzi (Persian Herb and Greens Frittata)
- Yields: 6-8 servings
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Hands-On Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 50 minutes
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees if you do not want to flip your kuku partway through cooking. Strip the chard leaves. Gripping at the base of each stem with one hand, pinch the stem with the other hand and pull upward to strip the leaf. Repeat with remaining chard, reserving the stems. Remove the root and top inch of the leek, then quarter it lengthwise. Cut each quarter into ¼-inch slices, place in a large bowl, and wash vigorously to remove dirt. Drain as much water as possible. Thinly slice the chard stems, discarding any tough bits at the base. Add to the washed leek and set aside.
Gently heat a 10- or 12-inch cast iron or nonstick frying pan over medium heat and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add in the chard leaves and season with a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves are wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the chard from the pan, set aside and allow to cool.
Return the pan to the stove and heat over a medium flame. Add 3 tablespoons of butter. When the butter begins to foam, add the sliced leeks and chard stems, along with a pinch of salt. Cook until tender and translucent, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir from time to time, and if needed, add a splash of water, reduce the flame, or cover with a lid or a piece of parchment paper to entrap steam and keep color from developing.
In the meantime, squeeze the cooked chard leaves dry, discard the liquid, then chop them coarsely. Combine in a large bowl with the cilantro and dill. When the leeks and chard stems are cooked, add them to the greens. Use your hands to mix everything up evenly. Taste the mixture and season generously with salt, knowing you’re about to add a bunch of eggs to the mixture. Add the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is just barely bound with egg—you might not need to use all 9 eggs, depending on how wet your greens were and how large your eggs are, but it should seem like a ridiculous amount of greens! I usually taste and adjust the mixture for salt at this point, but if you don’t want to taste raw egg, you can cook up a little test piece of kuku and adjust salt if needed.
Wipe out and reheat your pan over medium-high heat—this is an important step to prevent the kuku from sticking—and add 4 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then stir to combine. When the butter begins to foam, carefully pack the kuku mixture into the pan.
To help the kuku cook evenly, in the first few minutes of cooking, use a rubber spatula to gently pull the edges of the mixture into the center as they set. After about two minutes of this, reduce the heat to medium and let the kuku continue to cook without touching it. You’ll know the pan is hot enough as long as the oil is gently bubbling up the sides of the kuku.
Because this kuku is so thick, it’ll take a while for the center to set. The key here is to not let the crust burn before the center sets. Peek at the crust by lifting the kuku with a rubber spatula, and if it’s getting too dark too soon, reduce the heat. Rotate the pan a quarter turn every 3 or 4 minutes to ensure even browning.
After about 10 minutes, when the mixture is set to the point of no longer running and the bottom is golden brown, gather all of your courage and prepare to flip the kuku. First, tip out as much of the cooking fat as you can into a bowl to prevent burning yourself, then flip the kuku onto a pizza pan or the back of a cookie sheet, or into another large frying pan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil into the hot pan and slide the kuku back in to cook the second side. Cook for another 10 minutes, rotating the pan every 3 or 4 minutes.
If something goes awry when you try to flip, don’t freak out! It’s only lunch. Just do your best to flip the kuku, add a little more oil into the pan, and get it back into the pan in one piece. If you prefer not to flip, then slip the whole pan into the oven and bake until the center is fully set, about 10 to 12 minutes. I like to cook it until it is just set. Check for doneness using a toothpick, or just shake the pan back and forth, looking for a slight jiggle at the top of the kuku. When it’s done, carefully flip it out of the pan onto a plate. Blot away the excess oil. Eat warm, at room temperature, or cold. Kuku makes for amazing leftovers!
Recipe adapted from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat.