Khorest-e Esfanaj (Persian Beef, Spinach and Dried Plum Stew)

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Sleep – how I miss thee. A full nights sleep has become a distant memory for me. Coffee has become my best friend. Life with a teething four-month old and an energetic four-year old lends to little rest. It would be safe to say that I’ve been a little run down lately!

Therefore, I thought I’d prepare something delicious and nutrient rich to help keep me and my family healthy and energized. Khorest-e Esfanaj is the perfect remedy to exhaustion. A nourishing stew of braised beef with spinach, golden onions, and dried plums, this dish is loaded with protein, iron, B vitamins, zinc, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A and fibre. This stew could be the next best thing to a double shot of espresso in keeping your energy up!

Khorest-e Esfanaj
(Serves 4-6)

3 tbsp canola oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp turmeric
1 lb stewing beef, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/2 lbs fresh spinach (approx 4 bags), washed, well dried and coarsely chopped or torn.
1/2 cup chopped chives
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 cups pitted dried plums (prunes)
juice of one lime
salt & pepper

In a large pot (or Dutch Oven), 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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Turn the heat up slightly to medium-high and add the beef to the pot. Brown the beef well on all sides, about 5-10 minutes.

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Add the spinach and chives to the pot (you might have to add the spinach in batches until it wilts down). Cook for about 5-10 minutes until all the spinach is wilted.

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Add the chicken broth, lime juice, prunes, 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

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Serve with steamed basmati rice. Enjoy!

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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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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 Ghaimeh Bademjan (Vegan Persian Eggplant and Yellow Split Pea Stew)

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A couple of years ago I flirted with veganism. I had started seeing a holistic nutritionist and she suggested a wheat-free vegan diet. Needless to say it didn’t last long…….I missed lamb chops and spaghetti bolognese way too much! But, it did instil in me a respect and appreciation for meat-free cooking and I must admit it was the healthiest I have ever felt.

My mother taught me this vegan version of Khorest-e Ghaimeh Bademjan years ago when I was having a vegan friend over for lunch and was at a loss as to what to prepare. Rich and  nourishing, this stew combines caramelized onions, eggplant, mushrooms, yellow split peas and aromatic spices in a silky tomato sauce. Khorest-e Ghaimeh Bademjan is so delicious and hearty that I can guarantee you won’t miss the meat!

Khorest-e Ghaimeh Bademjoon

canola oil
2 medium eggplant or 5 japanese eggplant
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp turmeric
8 oz cremini mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
4 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water
juice of one lime
1/2 cup dried yellow split peas
salt and pepper

Cut the top off the eggplant, peel them and quarter them (if using Japanese eggplant just half them).  Put them in a colander and liberally sprinkle salt on them to remove any bitterness. Leave them for 30 minutes – 1 hour.

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Meanwhile, in a large pot (or Dutch Oven), 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 mushrooms and fry for about 5 minutes until starting to brown.

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Add the tomato paste and fry for one minute. Add the vegetable broth, the split peas, the lime juice and the saffron water. Cover and bring to a gentle boil. When boiling turn the heat down to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

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Rinse the salt off of the eggplant and pat dry. In a separate non-stick frying pan, heat about 1/4 canola oil over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant in batches until browned on all sides (about 2-3 minutes per side). Add more oil if necessary as the eggplant will absorb it.

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Add the eggplant to the stew and simmer for another hour to hour and a half or until the split peas and eggplant are tender.

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When ready, taste and season with salt, pepper and more lime juice if necessary.

Serve with steamed basmati rice. Enjoy!

Taas Kabob (Persian Beef and Vegetable Stew)

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There is nothing more comforting on a cold winter day than a bowl of warm stew. That’s exactly what Taas Kabob is: soul satisfying, belly warming, delicious and simple comfort food. A stew of tender braised beef with potatoes and vegetables in a savoury tomato based sauce.

Every Persian has their own version of Taas Kabob. The following is my mothers recipe that I grew up with, but feel free to use this as a jumping off point. We use potatoes and carrots but you can use any vegetables that you desire. In fact, many Persians would make Taas Kabob at the end of the week to use up whatever vegetables they had left in the fridge. You may add peas, mushrooms, fried eggplant or green beans. Fruits such as apples, quince, prunes or dried apricots would also be delicious.  You may use whatever you prefer or whatever happens to be in season.

Taas Kabab
Serves 4-6

3 tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 lb stewing beef, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 heaping tbsp tomato paste
2 cups chicken or beef broth
3 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper

In a large pot (or Dutch Oven), 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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Turn the heat up slightly to medium-high and add the beef to the pot. Brown the beef well on all sides, about 5-10 minutes.

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Add the tomato paste and fry for one minute and then add the chicken or beef broth.  Bring to a boil and then turn down heat to low. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

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Add the potatoes, carrots (or whatever vegetables you are using), lemon juice and cinnamon. Cover and simmer for another one and a half to two hours.

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Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with bread. Enjoy.

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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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