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How to make Iranian borani esfenaj, a creamy spinach-yogurt dip

(Rey Lopez for The Washington Post/Food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
Borani Esfenaj
Active time:25 mins
Total time:1 hour
Servings:2 as main course, 4 to 6 as appetizer
Active time:25 mins
Total time:1 hour
Servings:2 as main course, 4 to 6 as appetizer

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Tart and creamy, with a texture that ranges from thin and silky to thick and curdlike, yogurt is a staple in the Iranian kitchen. It is eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner; stirred into soups and stews; used as a marinade for meats; turned into refreshing drinks; thickened into cheeses; and transformed into desserts and confections.

One of its most common preparations is in a range of savory dishes known as borani. They’re generally built around fresh or cooked vegetables that are stirred into yogurt, often with aromatics such as onions, garlic and herbs. You could call them salads, as Forough Hekmat does in her cookbook, “The Art of Persian Cooking,” or you could consider them mezze or dips, as Yasmin Khan does in “The Saffron Tales.” They’re really a cross of all three, and are often eaten as full meals, with bread and vegetables served alongside.

According to “The Legendary Cuisine of Persia” by Margaret Shaida, the word “borani” comes from the Sasanian empire (A.D. 626) during which Queen Pourandokht reigned. Because she “was exceedingly fond of yoghurt dishes,” her royal chefs created dozens of yogurt-based recipes for her, and these were named poorani, in her honor. After the Arabs conquered Iran, the name changed to borani, because the letter “p” does not exist in Arabic.

One of the most popular types of borani is made with a great big pile of fresh spinach and caramelized onions. A friend called it Iran’s answer to spinach and artichoke dip — indeed, many cooks add artichokes to the vegetable saute before cooling it and combining it with thick yogurt.

So let’s try that for dinner tonight, then. To speed things up, you’ll caramelize green onions instead of yellow. Then, add a little bit of garlic and salt. Next, add five big handfuls of chopped baby spinach, which cooks down in a couple of minutes. A small bundle of chopped mint and basil goes in next, and then the whole thing is allowed to cool down. Once cool, it gets stirred into a generous amount of thick yogurt and seasoned with lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper. Serve it with warm pita wedges and crunchy vegetables for dipping. I also like it for breakfast, as a base for a fried egg with extra herbs and chile oil on the side.

Borani Esfenaj

  • If you don’t want to use dairy yogurt >> use a nondairy yogurt.
  • Instead of yogurt >> you could make this with labne or goat cheese, though you may want to thin it with water.
  • In place of spinach >> consider using sauteed kale or another dark leafy green, or canned and drained artichoke hearts.

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Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 full scallions, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated or minced
  • Fine salt
  • 5 ounces (about 5 packed cups) baby spinach, chopped
  • 10 mint leaves, chopped
  • 10 basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups thick yogurt, such as Greek or skyr
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon), plus more if desired
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Water
  • Warm pita, for serving
  • Carrots, celery, radishes or other crisp vegetables, for serving

Step 1

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to darken, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and season lightly with salt. Add the spinach in handfuls, allowing it to wilt, cook down and release its liquid. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is deep green and mostly dried out, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the mint and basil.


Step 2

Transfer the spinach mixture to a bowl and let cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the yogurt, lemon juice and a few grinds of black pepper. If the dip is too thick, stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, to loosen it. Taste, and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt, lemon juice and/or pepper as desired. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or until cold. Serve with pita and vegetables for dipping.


Nutrition Information

Per serving (1 cup dip, 1 pita and 1/2 cup vegetables)

Calories: 482; Total Fat: 30 g; Saturated Fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 24 mg; Sodium: 414 mg; Carbohydrates: 34 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugar: 12 g; Protein: 21 g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.


From staff writer G. Daniela Galarza.

Tested by Kara Elder; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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Catch up on this week’s Eat Voraciously recipes:

Monday: Thai Sweet Potato Soup

Tuesday: Mushroom and Spinach Macaroni and Cheese

Wednesday: Creamy Vegetable and Cashew Nut Curry

The Eat Voraciously newsletter recipe archives

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