Once upon a time there was a king who ruled over a vast kingdom and when he died (some said he was murdered, most foul) a tumultuous power struggle vying for his throne ensued. In the midst of this bloody kerfuffle, his daughter Poran Dokht was crowned queen. Queen Poran Dokht reigned over the Persian empire for less than two years. Of significance during her brief tenure, one is that she signed a peace treaty with the Romans (spoiler alert: it didn't last!) and the other is that due to her dietary preference, the queen inspired the royal chef to invent a genre of yogurt-based vegetarian fare that caught on with the populace as a culinary craze that at first bore the name Porani (as an homage to the Queen's name) and later became known as borani.
The star in any dish of the borani genre is always some type of vegetable — anything from eggplant to zucchini or mushroom or pumpkin to beets — that is either cooked, steamed or sauteed, and is then combined with strained yogurt. Super simple! Super healthy. Super tasty!
Borani ‘ye esfenaj or spinach borani is a popular type of borani and a common staple of Iranian cuisine and you’d be surprised by the complexity of taste and texture found in such a simply prepared dish that calls for so very few ingredients. Fresh spinach, strained yogurt, and salt are the essential ingredients. Walnuts and saffron make for a tasty and decorative garnish, but in a pinch can be done without. It is also an exceedingly healthy dish and since the spinach wilts to almost nothing in size and is mixed with creamy yogurt giving it a decadent texture, this is a good dish to trick kids into eating tons of spinach.
Integral to the success of this borani is to completely drain the spinach once you’ve blanched it. Otherwise it’ll weep – and then you’ll weep as well. To rid it of excess liquid, you are supposed to “wring” the blanched spinach, much as you would a freshly washed shirt. Do as my mother does: drain wilted spinach in a soft-mesh colander and press the back of a wooden spoon against the spinach, as many times as needed, to force out all the excess liquid. —Fig and Quince
fresh spinach (wash and trim stems)
thick strained yogurt, preferably whole
walnuts - coarsely chopped
saffron (dissolved in 1 tablespoon of hot water)
Blanch the spinach: bring a pot of lightly salted water to a rapid boil; add spinach, and blanch for approximately 30 seconds and no longer than a minute. Immediately remove spinach from heat and drain in colander and rinse with a cup of cold water.
Transfer wilted spinach to a soft-mesh colander and place it on top of a bowl and leave to drain for at least 15 minutes. Then, press the back of a wooden spoon against the spinach to force out any remaining excess liquid. Repeat this step as many times as necessary (at least a few times) until all excess liquid has been excised. You’ll be surprised by how many times you’ll have to do this to completely rid all excess liquid.
Once spinach is “wrung” effectively, chop it – either coarse or fine – texture to your taste. ( I prefer the nether region between the coarse and fine – soft but still providing texture and chewiness.)
Saute crushed garlic in a skillet with just a dollop of olive oil till golden. Then, in the same skillet, with the heat on medium, add spinach, adjust salt to taste, and give it a few whirls (no more than that) in the skillet.
Dilute yogurt with 1 tablespoon of cold water, and stir with a fork. (It may seem perverse to use strained yogurt then attempt to dilute it but somehow or the other, this step improves the texture of yogurt.)
Transfer spinach to a big bowl, add yogurt, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, and with a fork gently mix all the ingredients.
Place bowl in the fridge for at least half an hour – allowing the borani to cool completely and set. When ready to eat, transfer to a serving bowl. Gently use a fork to fluff up the texture. Garnish with a drizzle of saffron water and top with ground walnuts. Serve with soft, thick flat bread. Enjoy and nush 'e jan!