With Fragrant Herbs and Greens

Waste not, want not, and most Mediterranean dishes adhere to this maxim. In fact, many are conceived to make use of any combination of abundant seasonal vegetables, greens and herbs, and they often combine them with eggs or simply bind them with cornmeal to create a substantive, satisfying, and nourishing family dish.



One of the most glorious spring dishes is the dark green kuku sabzi (kookoo-ye sabzi or kukuye sabsi), the traditional Iranian New Year’s Day dish. Nowruz –as the Persian New Year is called — marks the Equinox, the first day of spring that we just passed, that unique time of year when day and night are equally split. In her unsurpassed New Book of Middle Eastern Food, Claudia Roden writes that “its greenness is believed to be a symbol of fruitfulness in the coming year, bringing prosperity and happiness.” Kuku sabzi consists of just scallions or tender leeks and herbs – any combination of parsley, dill, mint, coriander, etc. – often with the addition of a few spinach leaves. Ground walnuts and turmeric, or the aromatic Persian spice blend advieh may flavor the dish. Since I am not an expert in old or modern Persian/Iranian dishes I leave the brilliant Samin Nosrat who is certainly much more qualified much more qualified to provide her recipe for kuku sabzi.



But I can describe you a very similar, if simpler dish I learned from my friend Stamatia Stylou – a Greek from Livena in southern Albania. She regularly makes hortopsomo (green’s bread) during the winter and early spring, when all kinds of fragrant herbs and horta (leafy greens) grow in abundance. I’ve adapted her recipe by adding pine nuts that I think complement beautifully this humble ‘pie’. A few tender, wild greens foraged from the garden give the mixture a more complex flavor. But spinach or any other cultivated greens are fine, too. In this traditionally vegan ‘pie’ cornmeal is used to bind the mixture, no eggs are used.

Stamatia prefers this version without eggs or cheese, insisting that it is better to eat hortopsomo with dollops of thick, full-fat yogurt or with fresh cheese. On the other hand Ela Allamani, my next-door neighbor from southern Albania, always adds feta to her green pie. Omitting the cornmeal and adding 4-6 eggs, plus garlic cloves and a bunch of chopped cilantro, this version of the Balkan ‘pie’ comes quite close to Kookoo Sabzi, the traditional Persian New Year’s Day dish…




See the Recipe: Hortopsomo: Crust-less Pie with Scallion, Greens and Herbs



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