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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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.

Salad Olivieh (Persian Chicken, Potato and Egg Salad)

There is so much I love about summer: lounging in the sun, a glass of wine on a patio, BBQs, the cottage…….but one of my favourite things about the summer season is going on picnics. When I was young we went on a picnic almost every weekend. It was never a small affair. Many family friends joined us and we always had so much fun. Whenever I go to a park now and see a large immigrant family gathered around a picnic table I get nostalgic.

One of my absolute favourite picnic salads is Salad Olivieh. Although I call it a Persian salad, it is in fact a salad that we have borrowed and adapted from our neighbours in Russia. The original “Salad Olivier” was invented in the 1860s by Belgian chef Lucien Olivier, who was a celebrated chef at one of Russia’s most popular restaurants. The original salad by Chef Olivier contained grouse, veal tongue, caviar, lettuce, crayfish tails, capers, and smoked duck. Over the years the salad has evolved and changed and the modern salad is a delicious mixture of chicken, eggs, potatoes, peas and pickles in a creamy dressing.

I love my mother’s version of Salad Olivieh. It is much lighter and tastier than other ones I have tried. Using a store bought roast chicken makes this recipe much simpler and using waxy potato allows them to hold their shape in the salad and not turn into starchy mush.

Salad Olivieh
(serves 6-8)

1 whole roasted chicken
4 hardboiled eggs*
4 medium potatoes, peeled (preferably a waxy potato such as Yukon Gold)
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas, cooked**
3 green onions, sliced (both white and greens)
1 1/2 cups diced sour pickles (preferably pickles in brine)
1 cup mayonnaise (you may use light if you wish)
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Remove all the meat off the roasted chicken and dice into 1/2 inch pieces. Put into a large bowl.

Add the peas, pickles and green onions to the chicken. Peel the shell off the eggs and dice the eggs into half-inch pieces and also add to the salad.

Put the potatoes in a medium-sized pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 30-40 minutes until cooked (use a knife to poke them with to see if they are cooked). Drain and let cool. Dice into 1/2 inch pieces and add to salad.

To make the dressing, whisk the mayonnaise, white wine vinegar, olive oil, 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Pour over salad and gently mix.

Taste and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Chill for at least one hour.  Enjoy!

*To hard boil an egg: put the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil. When boiling turn down heat to a simmer (medium-low heat) and cook for 10 minutes. Drain. To cool it quickly cover with cold water.

**Cook as per the package directions. Usually boil them for 3 minutes, drain and rinse under cold water to cool them.

Persian Inspired – Quinoa Salad with Feta, Dates and Mint

There is nothing authentic about this dish. In fact, my grandmother would probably raise an eyebrow from her grave at the thought of using quinoa in a “Persian” dish. Truth be told, I am pretty sure she would have never heard of quinoa. For those of you who are not familiar with quinoa, it is a highly nutritious seed with mild nutty flavour that originated in South America. It is often used as a substitute for grains such as rice or couscous and I think it’s the perfect base for salads.

This dish was inspired by my favourite Persian breakfast – toasted Persian barbarry bread, feta cheese and fresh dates. I love the combination of the salty, creamy feta cheese and the sweet dates. The mint adds freshness and the pine nuts add a nutty flavour. Enjoy this salad as a side dish or a healthy and delicious light lunch.

Quinoa Salad with Feta, Dates & Mint

1 cup quinoa
2 green onions* (green & white parts) sliced thinly
1 cup chopped dates (preferably medjool or fresh)**
120 grams good sheep milk feta cheese, cubed
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp honey
salt and pepper

Rinse the quinoa well in a sieve. If you do not do this the quinoa might have a bitter taste.

Bring 1 1/4 cup water to boil. Add the strained quinoa. Turn down the heat to low, cover and simmer for 12 minutes. Take it off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a spoon.

Cool the quinoa. In order to cool it faster, spread it out onto a cookie sheet.

In a bowl, combine the cooled quinoa, the dates, feta, green onions and the mint. Toast the pine nuts by heating a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the pine nuts and stir frequently or shake the pan for about 4-5 minutes until the pine nuts become fragrant and lightly toasted. Watch carefully! They can go from toasted to burnt quickly.

Add the pine nuts to the quinoa mixture. Whisk the olive oil, apple cider vinegar and the honey in a small bowl. Pour over the quinoa salad and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Chill for at least 30 minutes. Enjoy!

*If you find the taste of green onions strong, you can just use the green part which has a milder flavour.

**You can find fresh dates at Persian supermarkets. Medjool dates are available at most regular supermarkets.