Shirazi Salad with Pickled Shallots and Feta

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I love to entertain, but I especially love summer entertaining. Throw something on the BBQ, serve a salad or two, something frozen for dessert, a chilled bottle of white wine and you’re ready to go!

Salad Shirazi is a classic Persian salad with chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onions and herbs. It is one of my favourite side dishes for Persian Kabobs. I wanted to slightly update this classic salad by using rainbow grape and cherry tomatoes, baby cucumbers, fresh mint and tangy feta cheese. I’ve also pickled the shallots to cut the harsh onion flavour and add a slight sweetness to this salad.The result is a fresh, vibrant, flavourful and  visually beautiful summer salad that is the perfect complement to any BBQ dish.

Shirazi Salad with Pickled Shallots and Feta
(serves 4-6)

3 small shallots (or one large), sliced thinly
1/2 cup vinegar (white or apple cider)
500 g grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
3 baby seedless cucumbers, split lengthwise and chopped into half moons.
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
200 g feta, cubed
kosher salt & fresh ground pepper

To pickle the shallots, put the shallots in a bowl and pour vinegar over them along with 1/2 cup water. Set aside for 30-60 minutes.

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In a large bowl put in the tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh chopped mint and feta. Drain the shallots and add to the salad.

Add the feta cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.

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Toss the salad. Taste and season with more salt, pepper or lemon juice if necessary. Enjoy!

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Eshkeneh (Persian Onion, Fenugreek and Egg Soup)

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I hate winter. To many fellow Canadians this type of talk is blasphemous but I don’t ski, ice skate, I don’t like snow (especially having to manoeuver a baby stroller through mountains of it), I constantly slip on icy sidewalks and I just plain hate being cold. Winter, to me, has only three redeeming qualities……the holidays (I will admit, I do love a white Christmas), the look of joy on my daughters face after a snowfall…..and last, but not least, soup season.

Winter is an excuse to make soup.  I love all soups…..purees, chowders, noodle, broths…..every culture has their own and I love them all. To me, there is nothing more comforting than a big bowl of soup on a cold day.

Eshkeneh, is the Persian answer to Chinese egg drop soup or Italian Stracciatella. A very simple to prepare, warm and fragrant broth with onions, fenugreek and ribbons of lightly cooked egg. Fenugreek is what gives Eshkeneh its uniquely Persian aroma and flavour. Fenugreek is a relatively new herb to the Western world but has been used in parts of the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia for ages.  It has been used in cuisine and to treat a variety of health concerns including arthritis, asthma, digestion and lactation to name a few.  This herb is becoming much more well-known worldwide as some studies suggest that Fenugreek may help lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Oh, and did I mention, that studies have also shown that it has a very positive effect on male libido;)

Eshkeneh
(Serves 4)

canola oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tbsp dried fenugreek
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3 eggs, beaten
salt & pepper

In a medium pot, heat 3 tbsp of canola oil over medium heat. Add the onions to the pot and fry, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden. Add the turmeric, fenugreek and flour and fry for another 2-3 minutes.

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Add the broth and turn the heat up to high. Bring to a boil.

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When boiling, turn the heat down a little to medium and let simmer for a 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly pour the eggs into the soup while stirring the soup at the same time so the egg does not clump together too much. You want to egg to cook into ribbons as opposed to big clumps.

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Season with salt and pepper. Serve with warm bread. Enjoy!

Kuku-e Kadoo (Persian Zucchini “Omelette”)

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Over the past couple months I have discovered the wonders of the humble zucchini. I must say that it was a very under-used vegetable in my cooking repertoire. Not so any more! With a zucchini-heavy presence at the farmers market lately, I have made zucchini pancakes, zucchini fritters, zucchini muffins, chocolate zucchini bread and now zucchini Kuku!

For those of you who are not familiar with Kuku, it is the Persian answer to Italian Frittata and the French Omelette. One big difference is that the egg is the star of omelettes and frittatas, but in Kuku the egg is more of a binder to the lovely filling.  There are many different types of Kuku and probably the most famous is Kuku Sabzi – a fried herb and egg mixture – which is an essential part of the Persian New Year feast.

Delicious and very easy to prepare, Kuku Kadoo is a savoury combination of sweet caramelized onions, garlic, grated zucchini, eggs and fragrant dill and spices. Kuku’s can be fried in a pan or can be baked in the oven. In this recipe I have baked them in muffin tins……who doesn’t love cute individual portions?  I love these mini-kukus especially for kids and with school just around the corner, they make the perfect lunch box addition.

Kuku-e Kadoo
(12-15 mini kukus)

4 medium zucchini grated
canola oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp turmeric
5 large eggs
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup chopped dill (optional)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put the grated zucchini (you may grate with a box grater or in a food processor) in a colander over the sink. Sprinkle with one teaspoon of salt and let sit for 10 minutes. Then squeeze out as much liquid as you can from the zucchini. You can use your hands or cover with paper towel and press down so the liquid is drained through the colander.

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In a large frying pan, heat two tablespoons of canola oil over medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook for another 3-5 minutes until slightly golden. Add the turmeric and cook for another minute.

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Add the zucchini and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool slightly for about 10 minutes.

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In a bowl beat the eggs with saffron water, 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper. Slowly add the flour and baking powder, beating very well. Add the zucchini/onion mixture and (the dill if you are using it) to the eggs.

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Put one teaspoon of canola oil in each muffin tin (the muffin tin needs to be non-stick, if it is not  I suggest using muffin liners). Swirl around to coat. Fill the muffin tin 3/4 full with the mixture.

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Bake for 30 minutes or until the eggs are set.  Let cool slightly and gently remove from the tins using a spatula.

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Enjoy!

Aash-e Gojeh Farangeh (Persian Tomato and Meatball Soup)

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Happy Birthday to us!!!! Today is officially The Pomegranate Diaries first birthday! It’s a doubly special birthday for me too as my son turned three months old today and has officially gone from newborn to infant!

In honour of this special day, I thought I’d prepare one of my favourite Persian dishes: Aash. It’s almost misleading to describe Aash as a soup……it’s so much more. It’s a complete meal, a cross between a soup and a stew, it’s our answer to what Americans call chowder. It’s warm, hearty, satisfying “stick to your ribs” type of food. Persians often serve it as a first course but this has always baffled me as I find most Aashes filling enough to be my main meal. When I lived in Montreal, my friends and I frequented a fantastic little Persian restaurant that would always serve a first course of Aash Reshte (Aash with Noodles and Beans) before our big kabob meal. We often were so stuffed by the time we finished our Aash that we had to take the kabob to go!

There are many different types of Aash. The following is my mom’s recipe for Aash-e Gojeh Farangeh – a hearty blend of meatballs, yellow split peas, rice and herbs in a delicious tomato broth. The Aash can also very easily be “veganized” by omitting the meatballs and using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Aash-e Gojeh Farangeh

Serves 6-8

Soup:
3 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp turmeric
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
5 1/2 cups tomato juice (preferably low sodium)
1 cup water
1/2 cup yellow split peas
1 cup basmati rice (rinsed)*
1/2 cup finely chopped italian parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/2 cup finely chopped dill
1/2 cup finely chopped chives
2 tbsp finely chopped mint
salt and pepper

Meatballs:
1/2 lb lean (or extra lean) ground beef
1/2 onion minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

In a large pot heat the 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.

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Add the chicken broth, tomato juice, water, 1 tbsp salt and tsp pepper. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the yellow split peas and the rinsed rice. Turn heat down to low, cover and simmer until rice and split peas are tender (about 30-45 minutes). Make sure to stir occasionally so they do not stick on the bottom.

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Meanwhile, gently mix the ground beef with the minced onion (I chop mine in the food processor), the salt and pepper and set aside.

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When the rice and split peas in the soup are tender add the herbs. The soup should be thick but if it’s too thick add some extra water.

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Turn the heat of the soup up to medium-high heat. When it begins to gently boil you are ready to add the meatballs.

Take about a teaspoon size of the ground beef mixture and roll it between your two hands to create a small meatball……my mom said that they should be about the size of a small birds head but you are welcome to make them bigger if you wish. Drop them straight into the soup. Repeat until you have used all the beef.

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Once all the meatballs are in the soup, turn down the heat to low and let simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve and Enjoy!

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*To wash rice, put it into large bowl, cover with cold water and agitate it with your hands. You will notice that the water will become milky. Drain the water and repeat. Keep doing this until the water is almost clear.

 

Persian Inspired Mint, Walnut and Feta Cheese Spread

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It’s that time of year again!!! The holiday party season is in full swing and I thought I’d give those of you entertaining this year a fresh new “Persian inspired” appetizer.

I’m one of those people that parks myself right by the cheese platter at parties. I thank God everyday that I’m not lactose intolerant because I adore cheese…….all varieties….the stinkier the better! Growing up in a Persian household, we ate a lot of sheep’s milk feta cheese. If you ever go to an Iranian dinner party I can guarantee that there will be bread, feta and fresh herbs (noon, paneer va sabzi khordan) at the table.

Mint, walnuts and feta are a classic Persian combination. My dish combines them into a delicious and creamy spread that is wonderful on crackers (particularly the date and walnut artisan crackers pictured above), toasted pita, barbarry or lavash bread.

Happy Holidays!

Mint, Walnut & Feta Cheese Spread

I package (250 g) cream cheese, softened
200 g feta cheese (Greek, Persian or Bulgarian)
2 tbsp yogurt
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
salt and pepper

Crumble the feta cheese with your fingers or a fork.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed blend together the cream cheese, crumbled feta cheese and yogurt for a few minutes until smooth (do not worry if some small chunks of feta remain).

Add the chopped mint and stir for 15-30 seconds until incorporated.

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Turn off the mixer. Add the walnuts. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix the walnuts well into the cheese mixture.

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Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary.

Serve with crackers, toasted pita or barberry bread. Enjoy!

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Adasi (Persian Style Lentils)

I began my love affair with lentils a few years ago. We had always been friends but in the past few years my love for these legumes has blossomed.  Lentils are versatile, delicious and extremely nutritious. They are an excellent source of vegetarian protein, fibre, iron, vitamin B and folate. They are low in dietary fat and extremely economical. They are a staple for many vegetarians, as well as omnivores like me that try to adhere to “Meatless Mondays”.

I get a lot of requests for vegetarian/vegan recipes and Adasi is one of my favourite Persian meatless dishes. Lentils with caramelized onions and fragrant spices that can be served hot or cold, as a side dish, a dip, a main dish served with rice or (as my mom grew up with) a delicious breakfast dish.

For those of you unfamiliar with Golpar (Angelica powder) it comes from the seeds of a wild plant that grows in the mountains of Iran. Golpar is very aromatic and is found in a variety of Persian dishes. It is often used with legumes because it reduces the digestive gas that is often associated with eating beans and legumes.

Adasi
(Serves 4)

3 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup dried green lentils, rinsed
3 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1 tsp golpar (ground angelica powder)*
1 tsp ground cinnamon
salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan heat the canola oil over medium heat. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric and garlic and fry for another minute.

Add the lentils and vegetable broth to the pot. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Turn down to low, cover and let simmer (stirring occasionally) for about 1 hour or until the lentils are very soft. If it gets too dry, add some extra water.

The consistency should be thicker than a soup but not too dry. Add the golpar, cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or cold. Enjoy!

*Can be found at Iranian supermarkets and specialty stores.

Persian Inspired Israeli Couscous Salad

Also known as my “Peace in the Middle East Salad” or my “Make Love Not War Salad”. When Israel and Iran work together, beautiful things can happen. If only politics could be this easy!  In my modern interpretation of a traditional Shirazi Salad, toasty Israeli couscous meets fresh cucumber, tomatoes, red onions, mint and lime. The result is a delicious, refreshing and hearty middle eastern salad.

I have recently become obsessed with Israeli couscous. It is so versatile and is delicious in warm pilafs and cold salads and is a good substitute for rice, pasta or quinoa. Israeli couscous, also known as Ptitim, is a toasted wheat “pasta” that is shaped into little pearls. It is a very popular dish among children in Israel and is available in whole wheat and spelt for the health conscious. I like preparing it for my daughter with some butter, parmesan and lemon.

This salad is one of my favourite ways to serve Israeli couscous. It is a delicious accompaniment to a variety of grilled meat and fish dishes. I especially love it with Jujeh Kabab!

Persian Inspired Israeli Couscous Salad
(Serves 4-6)

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
2 cups water
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium tomatoes, diced (1/2 inch pieces)
1 cup diced seedless cucumber (1/2 inch pieces)
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 tsp  salt
1/2 tsp pepper

In a small pot, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the couscous and toast for 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for 12 minutes (water should be evaporated and the couscous tender).

Put into a large bowl and add 1/8 cup olive oil. Let cool. When it is cool, fluff the couscous up with a spoon. Sometimes the pearls stick together you might need to spend a few minutes separating them with the back of a wooden spoon.

Add the tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, mint, lime juice, salt, pepper and remainder of the olive oil. Stir to combine.

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavours to blend. Taste and season with more salt, pepper and lime juice if necessary. Enjoy!