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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Nowruz Inspired Pistachio, Rosewater and Cardamom Shortbread Cookies

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The Persian New Year (Nowruz) is one week away and the lead up to the holiday is a very exciting time for Iranians living in Iran and abroad. This year I’m thrilled to be participating in a Nowruz Recipe Round-up with my fellow Persian food bloggers around the world. Community is a very important foundation for Iranians and I am so proud to be a part of this wonderful community of Persian food enthusiasts. Each blogger has contributed a recipe for the upcoming New Year season. You will find the list at the end of this post and I encourage you to click on the links and discover delicious recipes from these amazing ladies.

This year my mother wanted to start a new tradition for Nowruz. In the past, my parents generally served store-bought traditional New Year cookies. Inspired by my Canadian side’s Christmas baking tradition, my mother suggested we all contribute one home-baked cookie or treat to be served to visiting Nowruz guests . My mother is going to make traditional Shirni-Kishmishi.  My sister-in-law will be making her delicious chocolate truffles. My five-year old daughter (with my help) will make her favourite soft sugar cookies with red, green and white sprinkles to symbolize the Iranian flag and I will be making these Persian Inspired Pistachio, Rosewater and Cardamom Shortbread Cookies.

These fragrant, buttery yet light shortbread cookies are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea. These cookies are very simple to prepare and the best part is that the dough can be made ahead of time and frozen. All you have to do is defrost overnight, slice and bake.  I highly suggest using Iranian pistachios for this recipe. I personally prefer them to their California counterpart and find that they have a very distinctive flavour.

These shortbread cookies are so delicious that I think they might join our Christmas cookie lineup as well!

Pistachio, Rosewater & Cardamom Shortbread Cookies
(approximately 48 cookies)

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp rosewater
1 tsp ground cardamom
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup shelled salted pistachios (preferably Iranian), coarsely chopped

Using a stand or electric mixer, beat the butter for about one minute on medium speed.

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Turn the mixer off and add the powdered sugar, rosewater and cardamom. Turn the mixer to low so the sugar doesn’t spray everywhere. When the sugar begins to incorporate, turn the mixer to medium and beat for 3 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.

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Turn off the mixer and add the flour. Mix on low-speed until just incorporated. The mixture will be slightly crumbly. Do not overmix or it will result in a tough cookie.

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Add the pistachios and turn the mixer on to low and mix until the pistachios are distributed.  Again, do not overmix.

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Divide the dough in half and roll into a log approximately 12 inches long on top of a large rectangular piece of wax paper. Roll the cookie dough log in the wax paper and twist the ends.

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Refrigerate for 1-2 hours until completely firm. You may also freeze the dough by putting the log into an airtight container or ziplock bag for up to 3 weeks. Defrost overnight in the fridge before using.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using a sharp knife, slice the log into 1/4 inch pieces.

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Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silpat and arrange cookies spaced out one inch apart. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the edges are starting to very slightly brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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Enjoy with a nice cup of tea!

Nowruz Recipe Roundup

 

Chicken and Sweet Potato Kotlet

 

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Happy 2014! Every year I make outlandish and unrealistic new year resolutions…that I inevitably abandon after a few days. This year I decided to keep it simple and attainable – add two extra servings of nutrient rich vegetables to my diet per day. Twelve days into the new year and I’m doing pretty well!!

I love Persian Kotlets and I wanted to make a healthier version that tasted delicious and was packed with vitamins. I replaced the traditional beef with lean chicken and the white potato for sweet potato.  Rich in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese and potassium, the sweet potato is considered by many to be a superfood. Instead of frying the kotlets, I baked them in the oven. By coating them in panko, they achieved the crunch reminiscent of the fried version, while still being soft and tender on the inside. I loved the texture and ease of baking them so much that I think it may be how I prepare all my kotlets in the future!

Chicken and Sweet Potato Kotlet
(16-20 patties depending on size)

1 lb ground chicken (or turkey)
2 large sweet potatoes (about 1 lb)
1 medium onion finely chopped (I chop mine in a food processor)
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup panko bread crumbs
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and rub olive oil on the parchment paper.

Peel and cut the sweet potato in one inch chunks. Steam until fork tender (about 20 minutes). Cool slightly.

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In a large bowl combine ground chicken, onions, dried bread crumbs, salt, pepper and eggs. Using a potato masher, mash the sweet potatoes and add to the bowl. Alternatively, use a potato ricer to rice the sweet potatoes into the bowl. Using a spatula or your hands combine the mixture. If it seems too wet, add a little more bread crumbs.

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Put the panko bread crumbs in a shallow bowl. Take about two tablespoons of the mixture (I use an ice cream scoop) and using your hands roll it into a ball and roll it in the panko. Flatten the meat mixture ball and set on the baking sheet.

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Repeat leaving one inch spaces between the patties. Drizzle patties with olive oil.

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Put in oven for 10 minutes. Turn and cook for another 10-12 minutes or until cooked through and lightly golden on the bottom.

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Serve with yogurt, ketchup or Persian pickles. Enjoy!

Persian Inspired Dark Chocolate Bark with Pistachios and Dried Barberries

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A couple of weeks ago I had a friend visiting from out of town and decided to treat him to one of my favourite Persian restaurants in Toronto. Banu Restaurant is a unique experience as it differs from many Iranian restaurants in the city. Situated in downtown Toronto, Banu is modern and chic. The food is delicious and the restaurant is a celebration of Persian art and culture. There’s definitely a certain cool factor in the air and they make hands down the best kabab torsh in the city! It is my favourite place to take non-Persians for Persian food.

After an incredible meal, we tried their Soma chocolate platter for dessert – dark chocolate with nougat, barbarry and sumach. I fell in love and decided that I had to recreate a similar dish. In my version, I used barbarry and sumach but I paired it with pistachios and fleur de sel. The result is a delicious confection that is sweet, salty, sour and slightly bitter.  The sumach is optional but I believe that it adds a subtle citrus flavour that pairs wonderfully with dark chocolate.

Dark Chocolate Bark with Pistachios & Dried Barberries

200 g 70% Cocoa Dark Chocolate (I used Lindt dark chocolate)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachios*
1/8 cup dried barberries
2 pinches of fleur de sel
pinch of sumach (optional)

Coarsely chop the chocolate.

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Put the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for one minute. Stir and microwave in 20 increments, stirring in between until it’s melted (it took 1 minute 20 seconds total for me but it depends on your microwave). Be careful not to over cook  it as chocolate easily burns.

Pour the chocolate on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Pour and spread the chocolate so it roughly resembles an oval or a rectangle that is about 1/8 inch thick.

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Evenly sprinkle the pistachios and the dried barberries on the chocolate, followed by the fleur de sel and sumac.

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Put in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to set. When it is completely hard,  break the bark into pieces.

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Store pieces covered in the refrigerator. Serve them cold. Enjoy!

*use salted and roasted pistachios. It is preferable to use Iranian pistachios that you shell yourself.

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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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!

Persian Inspired Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad

In the last few years I’ve noticed that watermelon and feta salads have been popping up on restaurant menus and at foodie dinner parties. Many are intrigued by this unique and unusual combination of flavours. For me, there is nothing unusual about pairing feta with watermelon……I’ve been eating them together since I was a toddler!

While most of my Canadian friends were eating pancakes and waffles for weekend breakfast, my typical weekend fare was toasted Persian barbarry bread, feta cheese, some sort of accompaniment and a cup of Persian tea. The accompaniment varied… sometimes we ate our bread and feta with dates (my favourite), mint and walnuts, jam (my favourite was Persian carrot jam) or fresh watermelon. When I was young, my brother and I would tear a piece of barbarry, put a little chunk of feta and our favourite topping on it, dip it in our tea and pop it in our mouths. This is still one of my favourite breakfasts ever……although I now refrain from actually dipping it in my tea.

This is my version of a watermelon and feta salad. I love the combination of the sweet watermelon with the salty and creamy feta, refreshing mint and toasted walnuts. Make sure that you buy good feta. I prefer a sheep or goat milk Greek or Bulgarian feta.

Watermelon, Feta & Mint Salad
(Serves 6)

6 cups diced seedless watermelon (1 inch cubes)
1/4 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
200 grams diced sheep or goat milk feta (1/2 inch cubes)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces*
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper

Put the watermelon in a large bowl. Add the red onion, feta and mint.

Sprinkle with the toasted walnuts.

Pour the olive oil and lemon juice over the salad. Sprinkle on 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of fresh ground pepper. Toss and serve. Enjoy!

*To toast the walnuts. Place them in a small frying pan over medium high heat. Stir often for about 3-4 minutes or until they start to get fragrant and slightly toasted.