Sumac is basically the greatest spice, ever. I guess I say that a lot about a lot of different things, especially foods, but I mean it this time. I mean — if people didn’t already think I was slightly crazy, I would put be putting it on my Cheerios in the mornings. Okay, so I’m just completely overjoyed by the fact that I have found a vegan equivalent and can now indulge in my favorite childhood dish — kebab koobideh, the more appropriate vehicle for sumac. Ridiculously happy!
- 1 package of Gimme Lean Sausage
- 1/2 package of Gimme Lean Ground Beef
- 1 large onion, grated very finely and strained
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup bread crumbs (noon khoshk)
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped finely
- 2 tablespoons sumac (somagh)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 tomato (roasted)
- 2 cups of basmati rice
- 5 cups water
- 1 pinch of saffron
- 1 pinch of sugar
- vegetable oil
There is a lot of prep work involved with this recipe — Persians don’t mess with rice. There is no throwing water and rice into an automatic rice cooker and getting, 15 minutes later, perfect rice. Doesn’t work here. No, this rice is rinsed, and rinsed, and rinsed again. It is soaked, salted, cooked, simmered AND steamed. It’s a long process, but don’t we come again and again to the value of the process in Judaism anyway? So — there’s no skimping on the rice, and trust me, don’t, it’s the best part of this recipe! I do think, like with cooking any big meal, for Shabbat or anything else, there are ways to make it more convenient, namely doing all the prep work the night before. Both the kebobs and the rice benefit from longer setting periods anyway.
Rinse your rice in a strainer until the water runs clear, put your rice into a pot, swish it around with you hands, rinse again. The goal is to get as much of the starch off as you can. Repeat until the water is clear or you get bored. Then soak the rice for a few hours or overnight in salted water.
Meanwhile, get the kebob together. Measure out your spices into a mortar and pestle. Grind. Add bread crumbs. Chop the fresh cilantro and add.
In a food processor, puree the onion and garlic. Many recipes say that you should strain the onion and it should be liquid-free. I did that, and believe you don’t want to be so precise about that. Let go a little. Soy sausage is a little drier and a little firmer, so leave some of that liquid.
You’re now ready to mix all ingredients, including the soy sausage, in a large bowl. Best to use your hands. It will be sticky. (P.S. Tumeric will dye your nails a nice yellow shade, so I’d recommend saving time in the evening to paint your nails I’m going for a bright red).
Leave the kebab mixture in the fridge for an hour or two.
Now you can chill out. (Don’t paint your nails now, though, because you’re not done). I took a shower since I was making this as a date meal. Vegan food is impressive, but, unfortunately, I think being clean is still important if you’re trying to impress.
When you do bring it out of the fridge, mix thoroughly. I, personally, could not find the special sword-like skewers that should be used, so I just used the wooden sticks you can buy for $2.99 (and you won’t regret having 100 of these sticks because you can make kebob koobideh every single day now!) Form the mixture around the skewers. It’s not that hard, though plenty of sites make it seem difficult (another way to impress someone, I think, so you can play that up too if you are also making this for a date).
I placed these on a cookie sheet, coated them with olive oil over tin foil, BUT in the past I wrapped each kabob individually in tin foil, which held in the moisture better and would recommend doing it that way. (I have enough wooden skewers to test this soon enough). If you have a grill, though, that’s the way you should do it. I, however, don’t have a grill and I live in a group home — so no go there. If you wrap them individually, I would coat them with grapeseed oil since it has a lower burn temperature, meaning they will become crispier on the outside and stay moist on the inside.
On the same cookie sheet, include fresh tomato (misted with olive oil and seasoned with salt to roast at the same time).
Now you’re ready to cook the rice. If you can multi-task, here’s how I did it. It’s only ten mins of intense multi-tasking, so if you’re not a Gen X person, I think you can handle. And if you’re Gen Y, you definitely can (Just put down your iPhone for a second).
Part of the joy that is this dish is the subtle spice of the rice. Here’s what you need to do. Bring out the mortar and pestle again. Put in the teaspoon of raw sugar and pinch of saffron in. Grind. Empty into a small bowl and set aside. Now drain the rice that has been soaking. Bring the (lightly salted) water to a rapid boil. (I used a two:five ratio — rice to water). Once the water for the rice begins boiling, take two teaspoons and put into the small bowl and mix the sugar/saffron powder until it dissolves. Set aside again.
Go ahead and put the kebobs and the tomatoes into the oven now, too. I set it to 375, but if you are going to individually wrap the kabobs, I would set it to 400, at least, if not simply broil them. I left them in for about 25 minutes.
Put the rice into the boiling water. Still constantly for ten minutes or until the rice grains begin to float. Then drain. Turn the stove to low. Pile the rice back into the pot, trying to form a pyramid. Pour the saffron/sugar mix over the rice. With the back of a wooden spoon, create four holes in the rice (this helps it to steam). Take a clean kitchen towel to cover the pot. Place the lid over the towel (wrapping the towel around the lid). Let the rice steam like this for 10 minutes. Once done, turn off the stove and set aside for at least five minutes to harder again.
Obviously if you look really closely you can tell that you can take some liberties on what it means for a kitchen towel to be “clean” in a group house. (Just don’t let your date see it!)
Around the same time, you can take the kebobs out of the oven.
And there you have it — vegan kebob koobideh!
* * * * *
I remember eating this dish (the meat version) many times during my childhood, and being entirely unable to restrain myself, I also remember cradling my stomach all the way home, sick from overeating, but impatient to dig in again and then proceeding to eat whatever leftovers there were almost instantly as soon as we got home, anyway. I have to admit that this was difficult to veganize. And a little bit disappointing, but it certainly wasn’t bad. I think to some degree there are dishes that are so meat-centric, that to make them with no animal products is just a bit of a show. It’s about tapping into nostalgia.
I did so in regards to a part of my childhood that I look back on fondly, as something delicious and increasingly aware of how lucky I was to grow up in a house that encouraged me not only to learn about different cultures, but, in another, less direct sense, to become one with so many of them. Having grown up with little to no Jewish affiliation whatsoever, it might come as a surprise to others when I say that how I was raised has instilled in me the greatest parts of being Jewish — a love for things that are foreign to me, a constant craving to traverse, and try, the world. If that is instilled early on, eventually, if not right away, a yearning to learn history and culture comes. As does an ease in turning to what might otherwise be outside the norm.
In my research, I discovered this NY Times article on Persian Jewish Passover. The article quoted Angella Nazarian, a psychologist and author, in saying that the food of Iranian Muslims and Jews is essentially the same. (Except that Jews don’t use butter with meat). Further, “Najmieh Batmanglij, author of ‘New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies,’ which is considered the go-to source on Iranian cooking, agreed. “I tried to look for specifically Persian Jewish dishes,’ Ms. Batmanglij said, ‘but the differences I found were based more on regions, not on religion.'”
This food maybe wasn’t Jewish when I had it as a child, and probably not when Jews first cooked it when they arrived in Persia 2,500 years ago, but, over time, it became their own. Taking on the culture around them, adapting, Jews acknowledged and enjoyed that which was good around them. Some might call this assimilation. I call it rightful recognition. As Angela Maddahi says, “We take pride in the country of Persia. It was an old monarchy, with thousands of years of history.”
Again, I think, there’s no better way to create peace than over food. Last night, for me, it created a sense of peace in me, a space to feel more love as I thought of the person who was on his way to share from my plate. It also made me think fondly of my childhood, which had its own limitations, and it made me think of all that is so great — everything we have now coming together again, at least virtually, as diaspora with so much to offer each other. That is theirs AND ours.
With that said, enjoy!