persian macaroni with beef and turmeric

persian macaroni with beef and turmeric

This Persian macaroni with beef and turmeric takes me right back to my childhood. My fellow Iranian Americans can undoubtedly recall their childhood days of this ketchup covered ambrosia. Busy weeknights would prompt Maman or Baba joon to remove the pound of beef from the freezer and whip up a quick “mah-kar-ohn-ee” (Persian style spaghetti).

My favorite way to devour macaroni was with a healthy drizzle of ketchup and the contents of at least two Costco parmesan packets emptied on top. Bear with me, American friends, and give this recipe a try. Ketchup with spaghetti (that is actually called macaroni) sounds odd, I know, but the flavor combination is magic and brings back happy childhood memories for Iranians around the world.

persian macaroni with beef and turmeric

The ingredients are simple but if you’re not Persian, you’ve probably never combined them in this way before.

You start by sautéing onions in olive oil, until they are sweet and translucent and your clothes smell like alliums. Then add the ground beef, breaking the meat up into small pieces while it cooks. Next, add turmeric and tomato paste, cooking the mixture until the paste is dark red but being careful not to burn the turmeric (which would give your dish a bitter taste). Add some tomatoes and water to the beef and let is simmer into a tasty sauce while you cook the pasta.

Cooking pasta sounds simple, but when you’re making Persian macaroni, you have to add the extra step of steaming the noodles. Cook the pasta one minute shy of the lowest recommended cook time. Test the noodles and make sure they are a little firmer than al dente but you don’t see a visible white dot in the middle of your spaghetti strand.

Once the pasta is cooked mix the noodles with the sauce and add a layer of sliced potatoes to the bottom of your pot. The potatoes will brown making the tahdig that your family will fight over. Top your potato layer with the sauce stained noodles. Before covering the pot, wrap the lid with a clean kitchen towel to prevent condensation from dripping onto your pasta. Let the noodles and meat mingle on low heat for 30 minutes and set the table with ketchup and parmesan (trust us).

You can enjoy this persian macaroni any day of the week or invite some Iranian friends over and impress the hell out of them!

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persian macaroni with beef and turmeric

persian macaroni with beef and turmeric

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  • Author: Sepideh Campos


  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 onion, diced 
  • Kosher salt 
  • 2 pounds ground beef, 85% lean 
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground turmeric 
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 6 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup filtered water 
  • 14 ounces canned plum tomatoes
  • 4 russet potatoes, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch thick pieces 
  • Ketchup and parmesan cheese for serving 


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a shallow dutch oven or large, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. 
  2. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon kosher salt, cook until the onions are translucent and starting to brown. About 5 minutes. 
  3. Add the ground beef and increase the heat to high, break up the meat with a wooden spoon. 
  4. Cook until the beef is browned, 5-8 minutes. 
  5. Lower the heat to medium, add the garlic, turmeric, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and the black pepper. 
  6. Cook and mix until fragrant, 30 seconds. 
  7. Add the tomato paste, stir to combine with the beef, and cook until dark red, 3-5 minutes. 
  8. Add the water and the plum tomatoes. Use the wooden spoon to break the tomatoes up into small pieces. 
  9. Bring the sauce to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Let the sauce simmer while you prepare the pasta. 
  10. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 3 tablespoons of kosher salt. 
  11. Add the spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than the lowest recommended time on the package. 
  12. Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta.  Transfer the noodles back to the pot in which they cooked. 
  13. Pour the meat sauce over the noodles and toss to fully combine. 
  14. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the now empty dutch oven (where you cooked the meat). Heat the olive oil over medium heat until the oil begins to ripple, 2 minutes.
  15. Arrange the potato slices in the bottom of the pan in a single layer. The potatoes should sizzle when you place them in the oil. 
  16. Transfer the meat and spaghetti mixture back to the dutch oven, laying the noodles over the potato slices. 
  17. Drizzle ¼ of the reserved pasta water over the spaghetti. 
  18. Wrap the lid of the pot with a clean kitchen towel (using a rubber band to secure the towel and prevent it from catching on the flame). 
  19. Cover the pot with the towel wrapped lid, reduce the heat to low, and allow the pasta and sauce to steam over low heat for 30 minutes. 
  20. Serve with parmesan cheese and a drizzle of ketchup. 
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