Simple and Superb
How do you like your eggs? Poached on wholegrain? Fried and over-easy? Scrambled into a mass of soft, golden curds? Or, like me, are omelettes your go-to egg dish?
These might be the first dishes that spring to mind when we think about eggs – and, bizarrely, they are mainly breakfast dishes – but there’s no doubting the fact that the egg is the single most useful and versatile ingredient in any cook’s kitchen. Not only are they delicious meals in their own right (let’s add boiled eggs with soldiers, egg salad, coddled eggs and even pickled eggs to the above list) but their component parts transform, almost miraculously, into myriad textures ranging from thick, glossy sauces to pillowy soufflés and light-as-air meringues.
There’s something so delightfully complete about eggs. In themselves, of course, they embody actual life itself. And they also contain many of the ingredients required to sustain our lives, with each shell enveloping a complex and powerful package of proteins, minerals and vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids. Amazingly, all this nutritional bounty, building block of the classical kitchen and powerhouse of nature, is one of the most affordable foodstuffs available to us.
But back to the omelette, which is a dish I myself return to time and again on the evenings when I hanker for something tasty that’s also quick and easy to prepare. Like most of us, I don’t want to spend my precious down time chained to the kitchen stove and after the holidays, as the focus returns to schedules and routines, it’s even more important to cook healthy, nutritious and speedy meals for the family. For me, omelettes tick all the boxes and they are easy to knock up, even when the pantry is a bit bare.
One of my all-time favourite versions is the Persian Kuku, a dish I learnt to prepare during my travels around Iran a few years ago. Closer in concept to a sturdy Spanish tortilla or Italian frittata than a soft and gently oozing French omelette, the word ‘kuku’ refers to a range of eggy dishes that can be made with almost any combination of fresh vegetables and herbs. Other popular fillings are lamb’s brains or leftover cooked chicken and there are even sweet kukus made with fruit, molasses or just plain old sugar.
The most famous Persian omelette is kuku-ye sabzi, which is made with a startling quantity of soft green herbs and is always served at Persian New Year to symbolise spring and new life. But I think my favourite is this kuku-ye kadoo, made with grated courgettes and melted cheese – although the cheese is a bit of a Malouf touch, and is not strictly authentic! Iranians often add chopped walnuts to their kukus, and they are frequently laced with barberries, in line with the Persian fondness for sweet and savoury combinations. These transform a homely dish into something which is definitely more ‘special occasion’, but either way, the kuku makes a brilliant midweek supper dish with some bread and salad. And if you’ve got any leftovers, kuku is delicious stuffed into sandwiches for packed lunches, especially when jazzed up with some extra fresh herbs and a spoonful of your favourite relish.
Kuku-ye kadoo (White courgette omelette with mint and melting cheese)
100ml olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp dried mint
4 white courgettes (about 350 g), coarsely grated
2 tbsp self-raising flour
Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
200g provolone cheese or any other melting cheese, grated
Handful of chopped walnuts and/or barberries (optional)
Thick natural yoghurt, to serve
1 Preheat the oven to 180C.
2 Heat half the oil in a frying pan over a low heat and fry the onion until it softens. Stir in the nutmeg and mint and fry for another minute. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
3 Pour the remaining oil into a non-stick ovenproof frying pan and heat in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes.
4 Squeeze the grated courgettes firmly to remove as much moisture as possible. Whisk the eggs until frothy. Whisk in the flour, lemon zest, salt and pepper, followed by the courgettes and cheese. The mixture will be quite sloppy.
5 Pour the mixture into the hot oil. Cover the pan with a lid or foil and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until nearly set. Remove the lid and cook for a further 10 to 15 minutes to brown the surface.
6 Cut into wedges and serve hot from the pan with thick yoghurt. If you want to be fancier with your presentation, you can turn it out onto a serving platter. If the surface seems overly oily, then pat dry with a paper towel. I think kuku is best eaten lukewarm or at room temperature with pickles or relish. It keeps well in the fridge and makes a great picnic dish or sandwich stuffing.