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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Aash-e Reshteh (Persian Bean, Herb and Noodle Soup)

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Although Nowruz was over a month ago, I wanted to share one of my favourite Persian New Year dishes. Also, considering we just got back from a much needed vacation, I thought it was quite appropriate seeing that in addition to being a holiday food, Aash-e Reshteh is also a meal you are supposed to make when a loved one travels.

Traditional Persian New Year dishes are filled with meaning and symbolism and Aash-e Reshteh is normally served on the first day of the New Year. Eating the noodles in Aash-e Reshteh represents the unravelling of the knots of life and it is supposed to bring good fortune and luck. Aash-e Resteh is also a dish that is traditionally prepared when someone embarks on a journey. When a loved one goes on a trip you are supposed to prepare this dish on the third day. According to my mother, if you want them to return soon you make the Aash thicker and if you want them to stay a little longer you prepare it a bit thinner. Either way, eating this Aash is supposed to bring the traveller luck and prosperity.

Hearty and nourishing, this thick soup is filled with beans, aromatic herbs, noodles and creamy whey (kashk). I strongly suggest using low sodium beans and broth as both the noodles and kashk have salt.

Aash-e Reshteh
Serves 6

3 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp turmeric
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup finely chopped italian parsley
1 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 cup finely chopped green onion (green  parts only)
1 cup finely chopped spinach
1 cup finely chopped chives
1 can (540 ml) low sodium chick peas (drained)
1 can (540 ml) low sodium red kidney beans (drained)
1/4 cup dried green lentils, rinsed
9 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
200 grams dried reshteh noodles, broken in half*
1/2 cup kashk**
salt and pepper

Heat the canola oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Fry the onions for 8 minutes. Add the garlic and fry for another two minutes. Onions should be slightly golden. Add the turmeric and fry for one more minute. Reserve about a 1/4 of the onion mixture for garnish.

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Add the chicken/vegetable broth, the beans and the lentils. Turn up the heat to high and bring to a light boil. Once it has starting to lightly boil turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until lentils are al-dente (softened but still with a bit of a bite to them.

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Add the herbs and simmer for another 30 minutes.

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Check the Aash and when the lentils are cooked, add the reshteh noodles and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the noodles are soft. The Aash should be thick and hearty but if you find that the Aash is too thick you may add more broth or water. If the Aash is too thin you can add a tablespoon of flour mixed with 1/4 cup water to thicken it.

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Turn off the heat and add the kashk and stir well until dissolved. Taste and adjust seasoning and add extra kashk if you like.

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Serve in bowls garnished with the reserved fried onions. You may also garnish with fried dried mint, fried garlic and diluted kashk. Enjoy!

*If you do not have reshteh noodles, you can substitute with fettucine or linguine.

**If you do not have access to kashk you can substitute with sour cream.

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

 

Nargessi Esfanaj (Persian Spinach and Eggs)

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Since my son started crawling  a few months ago my culinary world has been turned upside down! Not content to sit still for more than 5 minutes, my son requires that I spend most of my day on my hands and knees chasing after him.  I find myself either cooking or prepping during his afternoon nap or making super speedy dinners during the very short time he will  bounce contentedly in his exersaucer.

It is for this reason that a recipe like Nargessi Esfanaj is a godsend! This dish takes little prep work and can be made in no time flat. And the icing on the cake is that it’s extremely healthy providing you with a mega dose of leafy greens and protein.

Delicate poached eggs on a bed of sauteed spinach, garlic and golden onions, Nargessi gets it’s name from the Narcissus flower (known in Farsi as Nargess). The Narcissus flower is white with a yellow centre which is the egg and the spinach is likened to the grassy meadow where the flowers bloom. Poetic huh?

Nargessi Esfanaj
(serves 2-4)

canola or olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp turmeric
10 ounces baby spinach, washed and dried
4 large eggs
salt and pepper

In a large (preferably non-stick) frying pan heat 3 tbsp of canola or olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and saute for 8 minutes. Then add the minced garlic. and saute for another 2-3 minutes or until the onions are lightly golden. Add the turmeric and saute for another minute.

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Add another tbsp of olive oil and half the spinach to the pan and when it starts to wilt add the other half of the spinach. Saute for about five minutes or until the spinach is wilted but still bright green. Season with about 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper.

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Spread the spinach mixture evenly in the pan and crack four eggs on top. Cover the pan (if you do not have a lid, you can cover with foil)  Turn the heat down to medium low and cook for about 5-10 minutes until the whites are just set (or to your own liking). Season with more salt and pepper to your own taste.

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Serve with toasted bread, pita or barbarry. You can also serve this with steamed rice. Enjoy!

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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!

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.

Shirini Kishmishi (Persian Raisin Cookies)

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Persian New Year is less than a week away and for many Iranian households preparations are well underway. Houses are being spring cleaned, new clothes are being bought, Sabzeh is being sprouted, Haft Seens are being set and many make the trip to Persian bakeries to buy sweets and cookies for the New Year celebration.

I must admit that growing up I was never a fan of the traditional cookies served during New Year. I think the main reason I haven’t cared for them is that often by the time people served them they are stale and dusty.  But when these cookies are fresh, they are absolutely delicious! This year I decided why not try to make my own Persian cookies for Nowroz……straight out of the oven, fresh and tasty cookies to serve guests.

After some research and experimenting, I came up with with my version of Shirini Kishmishi (Persian Raisin Cookies). These crispy and slightly chewy cookies are a perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea. In my version I used currants but they would be delicious with regular raisins as well. The saffron is completely optional but I think it adds a fabulous aromatic element and as my husband states “makes them taste very Persian”.

Shirini Kishmishi

(approx 4 dozen)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 1 tsp hot water (optional)
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup currants (or you may use regular or sultana raisins)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees celsius.

Cream together softened butter and sugar on medium speed of a stand mixer or hand mixer for 2 minutes.

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Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and saffron water and beat until incorporated.

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Slowly add the flour on low speed of the mixer. Mix until it forms a dough.

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Gently fold in currants (or raisins).

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Line a baking pan with parchment paper or a silpat. Drop small teaspoon full of batter on the sheet, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 13-15 minutes until golden around the edges.

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Cool slightly on the sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

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