Havij Polo bah Morgh-e Ab Paz (Persian Carrot Rice and Braised Chicken)

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I have one culinary regret I have in my life…..I wish I had introduced Persian food to my daughter at an earlier age. I was a first time parent and so worried about strong flavours and exotic ingredients, that I don’t think I gave my little girl Persian food until after her second birthday. My poor daughter had a very bland (but healthy) diet up to that point….as a result, at five years old she still tends to prefer bland foods. Although she eats Persian food, she still sometimes asks if she can have her plain rice without “Farsi sauce”.

I vowed not to make the same mistake with my son and I’m proud to say that at 14 months he is a Persian food lover! I may go so far as to say that I think it’s his favourite cuisine. Havij Polo and Morgh-e Ab Pas was my son’s first taste of Persian food. Simple, delicious, aromatic and slightly sweet, I thought this dish was the perfect introduction to the spices that are common to Persian food. Since then, he has tried numerous Persian stew and rice dishes which he has happily gobbled up.

Havij Polo can be served on its own or as a side dish for any meat dish. Some people like to layer chicken within the rice during the cooking process, but I personally love serving Morgh-e Ab Pas (Persian Braised Chicken) on the side because I love pouring some of the flavourful braising liquid over my rice.

Havij Polo
(Serves 4)

2 cups basmati rice
4 tbsp butter
300 grams carrots (about 3-4), peeled and coarsely grated*
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water
canola oil
salt
braised chicken (recipe to follow)

In a medium non-stick frying pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add the grated carrots and fry for 3 minutes. Add sugar, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 cup water, bring to a boil and cook for another two minutes (most of the water will evaporate). Turn off heat and set aside.

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Wash as much starch off the rice as possible. To do this put the rice in a large bowl, cover with cold water and agitate with your hands. You will notice that the water will become milky. Drain the water and repeat. Keep doing this until the water is clear (about 4-5 times).

After the rice is washed, cover with 6 cups lukewarm water and 1 tsp of salt. Allow the rice to soak for at least 30 minutes (this step is optional, but the rice will be tastier and fluffier if you do it).

Fill a large non-stick pot ¾ full with water and 1 tbsp salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the soaked rice and add to the pot of boiling water. Turn down the heat slightly to medium-high (it should still be boiling) and boil for 6-10 minutes stirring occasionally. Make sure to taste the rice as you go along. When it is ready it should be soft but not mushy and over-cooked. It should be the texture of al-dente pasta. For me, I find that 6 minutes usually is enough.

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Drain the rice in a wire sieve.

Using a paper towel, dry your pot. Pour enough canola oil into your pot to just cover the bottom. Add the saffron water to the oil.

Using a spatula, add 1/3 of the rice to form a layer to cover the bottom of the pot and form the ta-dig (the golden rice crust).

Sprinkle half of the carrot mixture over the rice. Then layer another third of the rice on top and then the rest of the carrot mixture. Top with the last third of the rice. The layers should resemble sort of a pyramid.

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Using the handle of a wooden spoon poke three holes in the rice and pour over 1/4 cup water. Top with two tbsp butter. Cover and cook over medium-high heat for 10 minutes.

Turn down the heat to medium low and take a clean dish towel and cover the lid of the pot. Make sure that the lid is on tightly. Alternatively you can use a double layer of paper towel between the pot and lid. Let the rice steam for 40 minutes.

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When the rice is ready, use a spatula to transfer the rice to a serving dish. Gently, mix the carrot and rice. Season with salt if necessary. Loosen the ta-dig with your spatula or a wooden spoon.

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Serve with Morgh-e Ab Paz (recipe to follow) or Persian Roasted Saffron and Lemon Chicken.

*I grate my carrots in the food processor using the grating attachment. You may also cut the carrots in small match sticks if you prefer.

Morgh-e Ab Paz (Braised Chicken)

6-8 chicken thighs (bone-in and skin-on preferred)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp turmeric

Spread the onions on the bottom of a large heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid (I prefer a dutch oven). Put the chicken pieces on top of the onions. Sprinkle salt, pepper and turmeric on top and pour 1 cup of water over it. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, turning the chicken over half way.

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Serve the chicken and braising liquid with the rice. 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!

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.

 

Khorest-e Fesenjoon (Persian Chicken Stew with Pomegranate and Walnut)

My darling Fesenjoon….how I love thee. Poems have been dedicated to this Persian gastronomical delight. Sweet and sour, the flavours of toasted walnuts and pomegranate marry to create one of the most unique and delicious stews to ever exist.

Fesenjoon is all about balance. In the West, when we talk about “balance” in cooking, we refer to flavour. In Eastern cultures it is much more complex. In the Far East, there exists the philosophy of yin and yang when it comes to food. Persian culture has a similar philosophy but our contrary forces are “warm” and “cold”. Walnuts are considered a “warm” food, while pomegranates are considered a “cold” food. The key to Persian cooking is to balance out “warm” and “cold”. In fact, eating too much of either is considered to contribute to many ailments. For instance, if your face has broken out into pimples, a Persian grandmother might accuse you of having eaten too many “warm” foods.

Besides being absolutely delicious, Festenjoon is a nutritionist’s dream come true. Packed with vitamins, fibre and antioxidants from the pomegranates, walnuts and butternut squash, Fesenjoon is a nutritional powerhouse that I’m sure would gain Dr. Oz’s praise. Fesenjoon is also a dish that can easily be adapted for vegetarians and vegans. Simply substitute the chicken broth for vegetable broth and the chicken for a vegetarian substitute such as Gardein “chicken cutlets” or my personal favourite Seitan (“wheat meat”) which can be purchased at most health food stores.

Korest-e Fesenjoon
(Serves 4)

2 tbsp canola oil
2 small onions (or one large), thinly sliced
1/4 tsp turmeric
8 skinless boneless chicken thighs (if they are small use 10)
4 cups toasted* walnut halves
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1/8 tsp ground saffron
3/4 cup pomegranate paste
2 cups chicken broth
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Heat canola oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and saute for 10 minutes until lightly golden. Add the turmeric and saute for another minute.

Add the chicken pieces and brown for 10 minutes over medium heat.

Meanwhile, finely grind the walnuts in a food processor.

Remove the walnuts from the food processor (you don’t need to wash it out) and add the butternut squash. Process the butternut squash until finely ground as well.

Add the ground walnuts, the butternut squash, pomegranate paste, sugar, salt and saffron to the chicken mixture and gently stir until well combined.

When it comes to a simmer turn down heat to low, cover and cook for 2 hours. Make sure to stir occasionally and scrape the bottom so that it does not burn.

Taste the stew and adjust seasonings. It should be a balance of sweet and sour to your liking. You may add more pomegranate paste if you feel it needs more sour flavour and you can add more sugar if you feel it needs more sweet.

Serve with steamed basmati rice. Enjoy!

*Toast the walnuts by spreading them on a baking dish and baking for 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Turning them over halfway.