Persian omelette and a story of bread baked in sand


This is my new breakfast favourite, soft buttery scrambled eggs with fresh tomatoes, onion, a hint of garlic and a touch of turmeric. A healthy and tasty start to a day and a very popular breakfast dish in Iran, as I recently discovered.

Persian omelette with tomatoes, garlic and turmeric

Persian omelette with tomatoes, garlic and turmeric

I had my first taste of this tomato and egg dish a couple of weeks a go at the Chamran Grand Hotel in Shiraz. I was visiting Iran for the first time in my life and this dish seems to be a staple in every hotel's breakfast buffet. We were also served this when we stayed with husband's family in the beautiful southern province of Hormozgan by the Gulf of Oman. Some seem to make this with more finely chopped tomatoes, but our Hormozgan hostess, the lovely Noori, left the tomatoes a bit chunkier. And since hers was the best version of this dish anyway, I decided to follow in her dainty and glamorous footsteps.

I never saw Noori other than immaculate in her sparkly scarfs and flowing colourful dresses, whatever the time of the day. Not sure what she thought of my appearance when we first bumped into each other early the first morning after our late arrival the night before when she had already gone to bed. Presumably lying neatly on her back, wearing a fluffy pink eye mask and cotton gloves over moisturised hands and whatever else well-groomed ladies do overnight. No sweaty tossing and turning and waking up with the imprint of your pillow on your face.

I thought everybody was still sleeping and decided to sneak to the bathroom wearing my husband's pyjama pants, my hair a total mess and part of yesterday's make up spread across my left cheek. I wasn't wearing my glasses so it was difficult to gauge the level of shock on her face.  Or maybe she just thought that I was a bit exotic. But still, from then on, I tried to at least brush my hair and wear my own clothes around the house even if I could never aspire to her dizzy levels of feminine elegance.

Sabzi knordan with barbari bread
Sabzi khordan - a combination of fresh herbs, lighvan cheese (or feta), walnuts and radishes
The food during our holiday was just amazing. For most of the two weeks we stayed with husband's family and were treated to lavish lunches and abundant dinners by various members of his family. On most of the meals there was a large group joining us. One evening for some reason I had got the (frankly deluded) idea that it was going to be an intimate dinner with just the two of us and two other couples. Not quite so intimate, as it turned out. I counted 13 children and 17 adults, but it could have been more because people don't just sit in one place all evening but keep bobbing up and coming and going and running around the room chasing each other (mainly the children) so it's hard to keep count.

One of the most memorable meals was a large family picnic in the desert. And when I say large, I mean about twice the size of our wedding in terms of attendee numbers. Leaving the house in the morning, I saw two beautiful black goats tied to a tree in the courtyard. I thought this was a bit peculiar since goats normally roam free on the little streets between the houses and aren't usually allowed to the gated courtyards, because despite their gentle ways they jump on cars, eat the laundry and cause all kinds of  havoc. So I wondered if these two might be bookmarked as our dinner. I asked husband, but he fluently launched into a very convincing story of how these two were the owners favourites and there for their own safety while we were gone. A neighbour apparently had been tasked to look after them until we returned. Gullible as ever I completely believed the story, but later found out that those two indeed were the main ingredient for the excellent abgoosht we had that evening.

As sad as it is to actually see the live animal you are about to eat, I suppose these two had a happier and freer life and a more humane death than even their most organic counterparts I buy in the supermarkets here. I am going a bit more vegetarian or at least pescatarian again, but more of that at another point.

We spent the afternoon preparing the dinner on the dunes. In one area, near a shell of a little house that used to belong to the patriarch of the family, the goat stew was being prepared in two massive pots that would each house a grown man and a tall one at that. We know, because husband has sat in one of the pots. And in another area, on rolling sand dunes among konar trees, bread was being made in the age-old desert fashion, which no one of course really does nowadays, but they did it to show us and I loved it.

Women sat on rugs placed on the sand in a shade of a tree and started mixing and kneading the dough while men gathered wood for a massive bonfire.

Once most of the wood had burned into charcoal it was all flattened to form a smooth area of coals on top of the now very hot sand. This was hot work and there weren't many volunteers. The dough was now ready and was formed into flat discs. I helped with this part of the process, but my knees and hips wouldn't allow me to get through too many before I had to get up and stretch my aching joints whilst the locals happily sat on the ground throughout the whole exercise.

Coals were pushed aside to create spaces for the breads on the sand, the discs were placed one by one directly onto the hot sand and the coals where gathered with sticks again to cover the breads. Once one side was cooked, the breads were then flipped over expertly with the same sticks and covered again with coals. Once cooked through the sand and ash was brushed off the breads with towels. And unbelievably, there was no (or very little) sand anywhere in the finished breads.

Sand baked desert bread

The whole process of preparing the bread took at least 4 hours. Which in European time equals approximately 30 minutes.  The sense of time and distance is very different, which - once you get used to it - is lovely and relaxing. But it is good to know that if you expect to be somewhere at 5 pm it is more likely to be around 9 or 10 o'clock. And if they tell you something is "just here" it could in reality be 250 miles away. I very soon decided not to stress about things taking a bit longer (or at least not to show I was stressed) and ask for distances in kilometres instead of verbal definitions like "not far", "just here", "around the corner", just to manage my expectations. An expression "it's just like from the table to mouth" with a corresponding hand gesture was used for a "neighbouring" town three hours drive away.

Once everything was ready about three hours later than I would have expected, the "table" was set. Several rugs were placed in a long row on the ground. A long sheet of plastic tablecloth was then placed in the middle. Bowls of salad, fresh fruit and bottles of soft drinks, water and fermented milk were distributed along the table cloth. Everyone grabbed a bowl and tore some of the freshly sand baked bread into the bowls. The bread chunks were then covered with the spicy stew of tomatoes, potatoes and goat meat and we all sat down on the rugs to eat as the sun went down.

Persian goat stew with tomatoes and potatoes

Or all except husband and I, whose European joints can't take the sitting on the ground for any longer period of time. We found a trunk of a tree that made a great bench for us, dragged it next to the rug and joined the party. As the sun was setting and the evening getting darker around us, I was thinking how happy and proud the original owner of the piece of this now dry and deserted land, a man who died before his time and I never got to meet, would be seeing our group, his descendants and their families, coming together to share one day and this meal with each other.

Somewhat distracting me from my misty-eyed romantic reveries, one of my newly found relatives decided to focus on our inability to sit on the ground. I mean, of course we can sit on the ground, we just get really uncomfortable really quickly. She was calling me "sister" which was lovely although technically we obviously aren't sisters and with definite sadness and maybe some disbelief in her voice she lamented: "My sister can't sit". Apparently sitting with the aid of furniture or tree trunks doesn't count. It's like needing crutches to stand. I get it.

I have so many lovely food and other kinds of memories to share, but this will do for now.

Husband stayed behind to spend a couple of more weeks with his family so to ease my longing for him and the wonderful Hormozgan, I prepared a Persian breakfast for myself today. I popped in the local Middle-Eastern supermarket first thing in the morning and got the ingredients including Lighvan cheese and fresh herbs for my sabzi khordan and freshly baked barbari bread.

Persian omelette - scrambled eggs with onion, garlic, tomatoes and turmeric

Serves 1

vegetable oil
butter (optional)
1/2 small yellow onion
2 small tomatoes
1/2 tsp  turmeric
2 eggs
salt and pepper

Heat some oil in a frying pan. Chop the onions fairly finely and grate the garlic. Chop the onion into chunks. Add the onion onto the pan and sauté on low heat until the onion has softened a bit. It's a matter of taste, but you can leave it more al dente if you like a stronger onion taste and texture or sauté until it is very soft. Then add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two before adding the tomato.

Add the turmeric and season the onion and tomato mix with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until tomatoes soften, about 5-7 minutes. Add a knob of butter on the pan and crack the eggs into a bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk lightly. Add to the pan and scramble.

Serve with fresh, warm flatbread and a salad or sabzi khordan.

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