Persian Macaroni

You may be thinking to yourself – why is this called macaroni when it’s clearly linguine in the picture? Well, that’s because Persians call all forms of pasta “macaroni” – spaghetti, fettucine, penne, fusilli – it’s all macaroni to them. Just like how all soda pop is “Pepsi” and all diapers are “Pampers” to Persians.

The other day, our very dear family friend Malak-joon dropped by my house for lunch. As a child, I spent many weekends at her house playing with her daughter Mitra (who is still one of my best friends). Malak-joon is an incredible cook. The one dish I always looked forward to was her Macaroni (she also made an incredible lasagna!). Pasta with a savoury “Persian” style meat sauce and a crunchy golden potato crust (Ta-dig). The crust was always the best part – delicious, crispy and slightly chewy at the same time. It was a dish that my mother never prepared, so it was always a treat to go to Malak-joon’s house to have it.

Our trip down memory lane inspired me to make Persian Macaroni for my own family. Malak-joon gave me basic instructions and I attempted to make a version for my husband and daughter. It was a great success – my picky three year old who hates anything with sauce, loved it – to me that’s the ultimate victory!

Persian Macaroni
(Serves 6)

1 large onion, thinly sliced
canola oil
1 tsp turmeric
1 lb lean ground beef
4 heaping tbsp tomato paste
2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock or water
500 grams dried spaghetti or linguine*
1 large potato, sliced
salt & pepper

Heat 3 tbsp of canola oil in a large pot over medium heat. When hot, fry the onions, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until soft and golden. Add the turmeric and fry for another minute.

Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the ground beef. Brown the meat well for about 10 minutes.  Here is a tip I learned from a professional chef about browning beef…….when you put in the meat into the hot pan break it up slightly, let it brown for a minute without touching it then break it up some more, let it brown for a minute and so on. The reason to do it this way is that if you stir it around too much in the beginning the meat will release all its juices and it will end up just boiling in its juices instead of browning.

Add the tomato paste and fry for about 2-3 minutes.

Add water or chicken stock, 1 tsp salt and 1/2  tsp pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil. When boiling turn heat down to low and cover. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Taste the sauce and season with more salt and pepper if needed.

In another large pot bring 5 litres of salted water to a boil. Break the spaghetti in half and add to the water. Boil for the amount of time indicated on the package, usually 11 minutes for spaghetti or linguine. Drain pasta and mix with meat sauce.

Pour enough canola oil in a non-stick pot to cover the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat to slightly above medium. Add 2 tbsp water.  Spread potato slices over the bottom and gently spread the pasta over the potatoes.

Cover and cook for 8 minutes. Pour 1/4 cup water over the pasta. Cover the lid with a clean dish towel. Turn the heat down to low and cook for another 30 minutes.

When ready, invert onto a serving dish and enjoy!

*You may use any pasta you wish……some people make this with penne, rigatoni or even macaroni!

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Khorest-e Rivas (Persian Beef, Rhubarb and Herb Stew)

When I think of May, I think of rhubarb. For a few short weeks in this lovely month, rhubarb comes in season. Nothing makes me happier than seeing those beautiful red stalks at the market this time of year! It also means that it is the perfect time to make Khorest-e Rivas.

Khorest-e Rivas is a delicious Persian stew combining tender braised beef with fresh herbs and tart rhubarb. Savoury and tangy, this stew will make you see rhubarb in a whole new light. When most people think of rhubarb, they think of dessert or sweet toppings……strawberry & rhubarb pie, rhubarb jam, rhubarb compote or my personal favourite: rhubarb crisp. Rhubarb is often mixed with sugar to balance its sour flavour. Khorest-e Rivas by contrast is a savoury dish where rhubarb imparts a subtle tartness to this wonderful stew.

Khorest-e Rivas
(Serves 4)

canola oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp turmeric
1 lb stewing beef, cubed (about 1 inch)
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 bunches flat leaf parsley, (about 3 cups chopped)
6 green onions (only the green part)
2 tbsp dried mint
1 tbsp tomato paste
5 stalks of rhubarb (discard the leaves), chopped into 1 inch pieces
salt and pepper

In a large pot (or Dutch Oven), heat 3 tbsp of canola oil over medium heat. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric and fry for another minute.

Turn the heat up slightly to medium-high and add the beef to the pot. Brown the beef well on all sides, about 5-7 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a light boil. When simmering, turn the heat down to low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash, dry and chop the parsley (remove the stems) and green onions. You may chop them with a knife but it is much easier and faster to just put them in a food processor.

In a large frying pan, heat 3 tbsp of canola oil and fry the herbs and green onion for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat.

When the beef has finished simmering, add the fried herbs, the dried mint and the tomato paste. Put the lid back on and simmer for 1 hour over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Add the rhubarb to the stew. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the rhubarb is cooked and soft but not so much that it is completely falling apart.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with steamed basmati rice.  Enjoy!

Mast-O-Esfanaj (Yogurt with Spinach, Onions and Garlic)

Even as a child I loved spinach. My mother was convinced it was because during her pregnancy with me she took iron supplements and therefore I crave the iron in spinach (I also liked liver as a child!). Whatever the reason, I adore leafy greens. In fact, when I was pregnant with my own daughter, Mast-o-Esfanaj was a major food craving for me. My mother would send over big bowls of it to my house and I would snack on it all the time.

An interesting fact that many might not know is that spinach originated in Persia. The first known references to spinach were in 226-640 A.D.  Arab traders later took spinach to India and then it made its way to Ancient China where it was, and still is, known as “Persian Greens”.

Creamy, savoury and delicious, Mast-o-Esfanaj makes a wonderful appetizer or side dish. Tangy yogurt with wilted spinach, caramelized onion and aromatic garlic. I don’t think I even need to tell you how incredibly nutritious this dish is, but in case you’re in doubt, Mast-o-Esfanaj is filled with essential nutrients and vitamins including vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B, folate, iron and fiber from the spinach and calcium and probiotics from the yogurt.

Mast-o-Esfanaj
(serves 4)

4 tbsp canola oil
1/2 large onion, sliced thinly
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric (optional)
1/2 lb washed baby spinach (or regular spinach chopped)
2 cups yogurt (preferably whole or 2%)
salt and pepper

Heat canola oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. When hot, add the onions and saute for 10 minutes, until soft and slightly golden. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the turmeric and garlic and fry for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Put the spinach to a large pot and add 1/4 cup water. Turn the heat to medium-high and cover. Stir every once in a while until spinach is cooked and wilted, about 5-10 minutes.

Line a sieve with paper towel and drain the spinach. Try to squeeze as much liquid out as possible.

Let the spinach cool. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, yogurt and the fried onion and garlic. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Enjoy!