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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Khorest-e Sib o Aloo (Persian Chicken, Apple and Dried Plum Stew)

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Ten years ago tomorrow I married the love of my life. Our wedding was a grand affair and  the meeting of two completely different cultures. My husband is about 10th generation Canadian, so it was quite a sight to see some of his extended relatives from rural Ontario (who I’m sure had never set eyes on a Middle Eastern person before our wedding) dancing to Persian music. It was truly spectacular!

Before and after the wedding was filled with parties and celebrations. I don’t think any of us had anticipated that our wedding festivities would go on for a full year! Leading up to the wedding I had three bridal showers, but probably my most memorable shower was the one our dear family friend Behi-joon threw for me……it was like a wedding in itself!

One of my favourite keepsakes from this shower was a recipe book that she had put together for me in which all ladies in attendance submitted their favourite recipe. In celebration of my anniversary, I thought I would include one of the delicious recipes from this collection. Our family friend Pouri-joon had graciously given me her recipe for Khorest-e Sib o Aloo, which was her specialty.

With braised chicken, apples, dried plumes, pomegranate and aromatic spices, this sweet and slightly tart stew is not only easy to make, but also nourishing and the perfect Fall dish.

Khorest-e Sib o Aloo
(Serves 4-6)

2 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp turmeric
10-12 boneless skinless chicken thighs
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp pomegranate paste
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
3 cooking apples (I used Fuji), peeled, cored and sliced
1 cup pitted dried plums (prunes)
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in hot water
salt and pepper

Heat canola oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and saute for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden. Add the turmeric and saute for another minute.

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

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Add the tomato paste and saute for one minute. Add the chicken broth, cinnamon, pomegranate paste and sugar. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Once boiling turn down the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

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Add the apples, prunes, lime juice, saffron water, one tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning adding more salt, pepper, sugar or lime juice if necessary. The stew should be a little sweet and a little sour – if it’s too sweet for your taste, add some lime juice. If it’s too sour add a bit of sugar.

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Serve with steamed rice. Enjoy!

Wedding photo

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!

Sandevich-e Kalbas (Persian Mortadella Sandwich)

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It’s kind of a stretch to call this a “recipe” but Sandevich-e Kalbas is an essential part of Persian cuisine.  Yes, this sandwich may seem rather ordinary, but it is it is anything but and is pure nostalgia for us Iranians.

Persians take the art of simple sandwich making very seriously and sandwich shops are very popular in Iran. My parents tell me stories of their favourite sandwich shop from their younger years in Tehran, Andre. There were crowds lining up for the best sandwiches Iran had to offer. Although they had many different varieties, they were famous for their Kalbas Sandwiches. Although I never had the pleasure of experiencing one of Andre’s famous sandwiches, my parents often re-created them at home in Canada. Tasting one instantly brings back childhood memories of picnics in the park and lunch at my Saturday Farsi school.

Kalbas is often referred to as Persian Mortadella. But there are significant differences  from the Italian version. In terms of taste and texture, Persian Mortadella is almost like a cross between Italian Mortadella and Kielbasa Sausage (I suspect that is how Kalbas got its name). Instead of the traditional peppercorns, Kalbas is usually studded with pistachios and has a distinct garlic flavour. Also, while Italian Mortadella is made with pork, Persian Kalbas is often made with beef or veal, in addition to a pork version.

The perfect Kalbas sandwich is served on a soft baguette or a fresh submarine bun, with lots of mayonnaise, Persian pickled cucumbers and ripe tomatoes. I’m a purist, so when my husband suggested adding avocados (which I normally love in sandwiches) I almost had a heart attack. There are some things you just don’t mess with.

Sandevich-e Kalbas
(serves 1)

Soft French Baguette or bun
3-4 Slices of Kalbas (Persian Mortadella)
Mayonnaise
3-4 Slices of Pickles (preferably Persian Pickled Cucumbers)
3-4 Slices of Tomato
Lettuce (optional)
Salt & Pepper (optional)
Split the baguette or bun. Spread a good amount of mayonnaise on the bread and arrange the kalbas slices on the bread.

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Top with the pickles, tomatoes and lettuce. You may season the tomatoes with salt and pepper if you wish.

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Enjoy!!!!

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Kabab Torsh (Persian Pomegranate and Walnut Marinated Beef Kabab)

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Until about seven years ago I had never heard of Kabab Torsh. My (non-Persian) husband claims that he is the one that discovered it at a Persian restaurant called Shomal in Toronto that specializes in Northern Iranian cuisine. My memory of the discovery is a little foggy and I am not sure how accurate his story is, but according to him it was HE who introduced this delicious regional dish from the province of Gilan to us.  His story is that when we looked at the menu, we all overlooked Kabab Torsh in favour of our usual order of Kabab Sultani. He, on the other hand, found the description of this new unfamiliar Kabab intriguing and ordered it despite our naysaying. His story is that once he gave us a little taste we were all hooked!

Now I’m not sure if I’m ready to give him all the credit but I will say that he is right in the fact that once we tried it we were hooked. Tender beef marinated in pomegranate, ground walnuts and garlic, Kabab Torsh is a perfect balance of slightly sweet and sour. My husband is such a fan that when we are invited to a Persian restaurant the first thing he asks is if they have Kabab Torsh on the menu and if they don’t he sulks and whines.

Kabab Torsh
(Serves 4-6)

2 lb beef tenderloin*, cut into  1 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/4 cups walnuts
3/4 cup pomegranate paste
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Using a food processor, chop the walnuts until very fine.

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Add the pomegranate paste, garlic, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper and process until it resembled a thick paste.

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Add the yogurt to the food processor and pulse a few times until its incorporated.

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Put your beef pieces in a large glass or plastic bowl (or you may use a big ziplock bag) and pour the marinade over it. Stir to cover all the pieces. Refrigerate and let marinate at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

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When ready, take out of the fridge and let come up to room temperate (about 20-30 minutes).  Thread onto skewers. I prefer to use metal skewers but if you use wood ones make sure to soak them for at least an hour so they do not burn.

Barbeque all sides over high heat for approximately 8-12 minutes total depending on your preferred doneness (8 minutes will usually result in a nice medium-rare).

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When done, cover with foil and let sit for 10 minutes at room temperature.

I like to serve my kabab with steamed basmati rice, lavash bread, bbq tomatoes and mast-o-khiar (and a nice cold beer!) Enjoy!

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*You may use sirloin if you wish. It will be delicious but not as tender.

Loobia Polo (Persian Rice with Beef and Green Beans)

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In a cruel twist of fate, an adventurous food lover like myself gave birth to a  picky eater. Before I had kids, I would  see other children turn up their noses at food and watch their mothers turn into short order cooks and I would laugh and think that would never be my child. My child would NEVER eat noodles and butter or chicken fingers. I had images of my kids diving into bowls of curry and picking up salmon sashimi with chopsticks. They say that a parent’s eating habits are the biggest influence on children and since I eat pretty much everything on earth and love it, I assumed my children would too.  During my pregnancy with my daughter, I ate Indian, Thai, Korean, Persian, Japanese and I had a huge craving for spice. Every night I would eat a feta stuffed jalapeno pepper.

My daughter is not the typical picky eater. She LOVES fruits and vegetables. Getting her to eat her greens has never been a problem……she happily eats broccoli, green beans, avocados, cherries, grapes (her favourite), apples, you name it. She’s a natural healthy eater. Getting her to eat “meals” has always been a struggle. She is one of those kids that  likes everything separate. In fact, until recently, all her meals were in TV dinner style plates where all the components of her meal had to be in different compartments. So therefore dinners where things were mixed such as lasagna, stews,  pasta with sauce and even pizza were a no-go. Lily prefers everything plain (or as she calls it “clean”).

That was until she had Loobia Polo.  Loobia Polo was the first dish that she did not complain that her rice was not “clean”. She loved every bite and what’s not to love – a delicious and aromatic mix of rice, tender beef, green beans, mushrooms, tomato, cinnamon and other spices. Loobia Polo is a fabulous family meal – nutritious and balanced, it is a guaranteed hit for adults and kids – even the most picky!

Loobia Polo
Serves 4-6

3 cups basmati rice
vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 tsp turmeric
1 lb stewing beef, 1/2 inch pieces
1 lb green beans trimmed, 1/2 inch
8 ounces mushrooms, stems removed, halved and sliced (optional)
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 cup drained canned diced tomato (you may also use fresh if you wish)
1/8 tsp ground saffron
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water (for the ta-dig)
2 tbsp butter, cut into pieces
salt and pepper

Wash rice and soak in warm water for at least 30 minutes. For detailed instructions on washing rice, please see the following link Persian Rice with Golden Crust.

While the rice is soaking, in a separate pot (or Dutch Oven), heat 2 tbsp 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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Turn up the heat to medium-high and add another tbsp of oil and brown the beef for about 5 minutes.

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Add the green beans, the sliced mushrooms and another tbsp of oil and saute for about 2 minutes.

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Add the tomato paste and fry for one minute. Then add the tomatoes, 1 tbsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and 1/2 cup of water.    Bring to a boil, then turn down to low heat and simmer covered for about 15 minutes. Set aside when done.

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In a small bowl mix together the cinnamon, cumin and ground saffron. Set the spice mixture aside.

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 minutes stirring occasionally.

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 enough rice to form a layer to cover the bottom of the pot and form the ta-dig (the golden rice crust).

Sprinkle about 1/3 of the beef and green bean mixture on top. Then add 1/3 of the spice mixture.

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Repeat the layers (rice, meat mixture, spices) forming a sort of pyramid.

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Top with the butter pieces.

Using the handle of a wooden spoon poke three holes in the rice and pour over 1/4 cup water mixed with 1 tbsp canola oil. Cover and cook over medium 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 40-50 minutes.

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When rice is ready very gently mix the rice. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Using a spatula transfer the rice to a serving dish.

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Loosen the ta-dig (the crispy rice) with your spatula or a wooden spoon and serve with the rice. 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.