You will love this vegetarian Borani Reyhan. This is a delightful and healthy dish that is made with stewed fresh tomatoes, basil and spinach, with a hint of tangy yogurt cooked into the borani. Borani Reyhan (Reyhan Boranisi in Azeri) is an Azeri/Persian dish that traditionally is made with Reyhan (basil). The type of basil used in this dish is known as the cinnamon basil (also called Thai basil). This species of basil has shiny dark green leaves and purple stems. In comparison to the more common Italian basil (or sweet basil), the cinnamon basil has narrower leaves that are slightly serrated with visible purple veins. Cinnamon basil is not as delicate as the sweet basil and the flavor has a hint of spiciness, hence the name “cinnamon basil.”
A close relative of this species of basil is grown in Iran that has a slightly milder flavor, lighter color leaves and smoother edges; that is what my mom always used for this recipe. After several attempts at recreating the same flavor and aroma as my mom’s Reyhan Boranisi, I realized that I had to make some changes in her recipe. I discovered that the cinnamon basil available in the States is almost too spicy and it overpowers the rest of the flavors. So I decided to substitute some of the basil with fresh baby spinach! Since spinach is not an aromatic herb it does not change the basil flavor that I really like to come through in this recipe, also spinach is readily available in the States with a more reasonable price than fresh basil.
This recipe is another “Borani” dish, and in Persian cuisine, that means there is yogurt in the recipe. I have posted several borani recipes before: Borani Bademjan, Borani Kadoo, Borani Bademjan & Kadoo, Borani Esfenaj, and Dash Kalam Boranisi. In all of these recipes the yogurt is added after cooking is done, or just before serving. Borani Reyhan is made slightly different; in this recipe the yogurt is mixed with eggs and then it is cooked into the dish for a few minutes.
This is a very quick, healthy, and tasty vegetarian dish that is made with all fresh and wholesome ingredients. I would not recommend any substitutions using frozen, dried, canned, or low fat ingredients; not because it can’t be done, but a lot of the flavor will be lost and the texture will not be quite as smooth.
The following pictures are to illustrate certain key steps. Please read the entire printable recipe for the detailed instructions.
This is what cinnamon or Thai basil looks like; it is available in Asian markets. If you’re not able to find this basil, you may substitute sweet basil in the recipe. Wash and prepare the ingredients according to the recipe below and set them aside. Fry the sliced onions in a large skillet until golden brown, add tomato paste and saute a bit longer. Then add the sliced scallions and roughly chopped baby spinach to the skillet and saute over medium high heat until the spinach has wilted. The high heat will prevent the spinach from releasing too much liquid.
Add the diced tomatoes, whole basil leaves (no stems), and seasoning. Cover and simmer on low to medium low heat for about 20 minutes.
At this point the tomatoes should be very tender and most of the liquid is cooked off. Use a fork to slightly beat the eggs before mixing it with yogurt and the optional saffron powder. Drizzle the yogurt mixture on top of the ingredients in the skillet. Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes until the eggs are cooked into the tomato mixture.
Borani Reyhan is best served warm as an appetizer, side dish, or main dish with sangak (Persian flat bread), lavash, or pita bread. A side of Salad Shirazi, some hot peppers, or sabzi khordan (fresh herbs) is also highly recommended!!
Cook Time: About 1 hour
- 4 ounces whole cinnamon basil leaves, no stems
- 10 ounces baby spinach, chopped roughly
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 3 TBSP vegetable oil for frying the onion
- 1 TBSP tomato paste
- 5 ounces sliced scallions (about 1 ½ cups)
- 4 medium ripe Roma tomatoes, diced medium
- ¾ tsp kosher salt
- ⅛ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- Dash of ground cayenne pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup plain whole fat yogurt
- A pinch of saffron (optional)
- Optional garnish:
- Grape tomatoes
- Fresh basil leaves
- Remove the stems from fresh basil. Add whole leaves to a bowl of cold water and change the water couple of times. Drain in a colander and set aside.
- Clean the scallions, slice to about ¼ inch. Place in a medium bowl and fill with cold water. Change the water a few times to get rid of any possible grit trapped in the scallions. Drain completely in a colander and set aside.
- Wash the baby spinach in plenty of cold water to get rid of any grit. Drain in a colander. Chop roughly and set aside.
- Dice the Roma tomatoes to medium size cubes and set aside.
- In a large nonstick skillet fry the sliced onions until golden brown. Add 1 tablespoon tomato paste to the skillet and saute over low heat for couple of minutes, until aromatic.
- Add the sliced scallions and chopped baby spinach to the skillet; stir and saute for 2-3 minutes over medium high heat until wilted. Stirring over high heat prevents the spinach from releasing too much moisture.
- Add the diced tomatoes. Add the whole cinnamon basil leaves to the skillet. Add kosher salt and ground peppers. Stir briefly, cover the skillet and simmer over the setting between low and medium low for about 20 minutes. Stir several times. After 20 minutes or so, the tomatoes should be very soft and tender and the liquid will be reduced to a thick sauce that barely covers the bottom of the skillet.
- In a medium bowl briefly beat the eggs with a fork. Stir in the yogurt and an optional pinch of saffron. Mix to blend.
- Gently pour the yogurt mixture on top of the tomato mixture. Cover the skillet and cook over medium low heat for 5-7 minutes until the eggs are cooked into the sauce. Use a spatula to move the mixture around to prevent sticking to the bottom of the skillet, but leave the yogurt mixture on top intact and let it cook in large pieces.
- Borani Reyhan tastes wonderful with lavash, sangak (both are Persian flat breads), Indian naan, or pita bread. Some suggested sides are sabzi khordan (fresh herbs), Salad Shirazi, and fresh sweet or hot peppers.