Saturday, July 12, 2008

khaagine (sweet omelette with saffron and rose water syrup)

The sweet omelette dish is more of a regional dish rather than a nation-wide popular food: Its well known to the Azeris* living in Iran. So if you ask a non-Azeri for khaagine, you will receive a plain omelette or scrambled eggs if you're lucky (or more likely a wierd look!); However Azeri's know you are asking for one of their delicacies, geyghanaa in their Azeri language**.

And how do I, not being Azeri know this dish? Well, I've got Azeri blood: my grandma (ie my mom's mom) was born to an Azeri mom and a Kurdish dad, so thats where the Azeri influence comes from. Not only did I get acquainted with a few Azeri dishes, but also to Azeri-style cuisine, which is no different from other aspects of Azeri-style life: neat, meticulous and done to perfection. There is no doubt that Azeris* are among the best cooks in Iran and definitely an Azeri grandma is a culinary asset (a half-Azeri grandma will also do!): not that because I'm 1/8 of that origin, their marvelous culinary skills speaks to that and I think I know a few reasons for that. However the nutritional anthropology (or anthropological cuisine, I dont know which is more appropriate) will be for another post: today I'll just explain the recipe.

While I called it an omelette, the French term is not the best word to describe this tasty dish: the texture of this dish is somewhat different from an omelette. The dish does
faire de souffler (ie puff) when cooking, but it cant be called a souffle either as its completely different (no beaten egg whites, no custard...) ... so lets just call it khaageene.

khaageene continues here

Edibles needed:

5 eggs
2.5 tbsp flour (all-purpose flour works great)
2.5 tbsp sugar
1.5 tbsp rose water (you can find it in a Persian or Middle-eastern store)
1 pinch of saffron
4-5 tbsp of canola oil
2/3 cup of hot water (~ 180 ml)

Non-edibles needed:

frying pan with lid
2 mixing bowls
2 spatulas (the larger the blade, the better)
whisk (you can use a fork or a pair of of forks instead)

Break the eggs in the mixing bowl and whisk*** for a minute or two. then add the flour to the eggs. Wait a minute? You're not sifting the flour through the sieve? You're not doing so to incorporate air into the mixture? NOPE! So what else would you do with sieve if you have flour around???

Well, sifting the flour into the eggs is the way I learned to do it. However, since flour and eggs are the only ingredients of the batter, it would need a lot of muscle to get those two mixed together and the batter free from flour lumps.
So I've developed an alternative easier trick (a nerd would call it a technique contribution in the field!): I skip the sifting stage (it does no harm if you do so, its just not necessary), and then pass the batter through the sieve into the other bowl, pushing it through the sieve with a spatula or the back of a spoon. This way all those flour lumps break apart and become part of the batter, making the batter homogeneous. Some of the batter will still stick to the back of sieve, so give it a good whipping move (or use a spatula) to get all the batter into your bowl. You should have a smooth batter now.

Put the oil in the frying pan and warm it up on medium. I assume that 325 F (160 C) would be proper temperature for your batter (
I say so based on canoli oil's smoke-point). However, I didnt grow up using infra-red thermometers in the kitchen, so I stick to the old method, which could be used for almost every batter: drop a tiny amount (the smaller, the better) of the batter into the oil. If the oil is hot enough, that drop should coagulate immediately. Remove that fried drop, give the batter a quick stir and pour the batter into the pan. Shake the pan gently so that the batter covers all the pan. Put the lid on and wait for 5-7 minutes.

Right after pouring the batter, start making the syrup: bring 2/3 cup of water to boil, stir in the sugar and rose water. Get the saffron ready (Look at Cooking Rice, Part II for details of saffron preparation). If the lid is transparent you would see that the batter puffs, increasing in thickness 3-4 times. Take off the lid (isnt the puffed batter beautiful?), resist the temptation to cut it into pieces, otherwise
it will absorb oil and get too greasy. You've got to flip it whole. How? well, thats where the 2 spatulas come handy. Slightly lift the khaagine with one, put the other spatula on top, and flip. Then place it back gently into the pan. put the lid back on and wait for another 3-4 minutes. Take the lid off and discard as much oil as you can (I use one spatula to hold the khaagine, and with the other hand tilt the pan so the oil gets out. Pour the syrup and start cutting the khaagine into pieces at this time (I prefer roughly cut squares of 4-6 cm), and bring the heat to medium-high . The syrup would soak into the khaagine. After ~4 minutes, the syrup would be thick enough, and the dish is ready. If everything went ok, you should end up having a somewhat thick yellowish syrup covering the egg-mixture with a sweet saffron-and-rose-water fragrance.

I like mine to have a subtle sweetness flavour: sweet enough to go well with the rose water and make it a light dessert, yet not too sweet to over-power the eggs. You can adjust it according to your taste.
nooshe jaan (bon appetit)

* And here I dont mean dwellers of the country Azerbaijan, but the residents of the Iranian Azerbaijan provinces, which are of the same ethnicity of our North-Western neighbours, and both speak a somewhat similar language to Turks; When one ethnic group ends up in multiple political borders there are lots of trouble, and this is the most benign.

**And just to make it more confusing, in Turkish (or Istanbul style Turkish as Azeri's refer to, as they also call their own language Turkish) geygaanaa (Kaygana) is sort of a yoghurt-based doughnut made from beaten eggs, milk, flour and filling; more like a traditional omelette and in addition saffron is never used.

***If you dont have a whisk, use a fork or even better, a pair of forks. Hold both forks with one hand side-by-side. This way you will have a gadget with twice the number of a fork's prongs!