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.

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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!

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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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!