FESENJAN & THE NEW PERSIAN KITCHEN

newpekMany, many years ago, when I lived in California with my first husband, we would often go to a Persian restaurant located in Palo Alto. The food was simply outstanding, and the atmosphere perfect.  A quiet place, beautifully decorated, and with a menu full of dishes that sounded magical to us, two Brazilians with no experience in that type of food.   We would usually ask the waiter to pick something for us. One day he served us a braised lamb over rice with fava beans that completely awed our taste buds.  I remember the fresh dill sprinkled all over it. And I also remember that I hated fava beans, but would gladly spend each day of my life enjoying that rice.  Persian cooking can perform miracles.  In those days, I had no way of knowing that the man I would marry many years later was also under the spell of Persian food.  Phil had a friend from Iran who often invited him for dinner and prepared tahdig, best described as “rice with a crust”.  Like my lamb dish with fava beans, that rice stayed forever in Phil’s memory as one of the best things he’s ever had!  With all that in mind, when I read this review on Louisa Shafia’s book it took me 95 seconds to order it.

plated

FESENJAN (WALNUT POMEGRANATE STEW)
(reprinted with permission from Louisa Shafia – The New Persian Kitchen)

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
2 pounds skinless chicken legs or breasts
2 teaspoons salt, plus more, to taste
2 yellow onions, finely diced
1 cup walnuts, coarsely ground
½ cup pomegranate molasses
2 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
1 cup peeled and grated red beets
Pomegranate seeds and fresh mint leaves for garnish

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Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat and add oil. Lightly season chicken with salt and sear until well browned, 6-7 minutes per side, then transfer to a plate.

In the same skillet, sauté onions over medium heat for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Add walnuts, pomegranate molasses and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir to coat the onions. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and return chicken to stew. Cover and cook 25 minutes.

Stir in beets and cook, uncovered, until stew is thick and beets are tender, 15-20 minutes. Adjust salt to taste.  Pull out chicken pieces with tongs and cut into halves or thirds, if you like. Put a few pieces of chicken on each plate, along with plenty of sauce. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and mint.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

composite-001It was not easy to choose a recipe to highlight this great cookbook. You’d think I would pick either that magical lamb or a tahdig from our past, but I could not find fava beans, and tahdig is a bit intimidating for a first timer.  Indeed, according to Louisa herself, tahdig is the type of dish that requires practice. Your first won’t be your best. So, I opted for this amazing chicken concoction. Once you make it, you’ll realize why it is usually reserved for special occasions.  The intensity of flavors is hard to describe – it is sweet, sour, the walnuts give it body and texture, and the beets offer the most gorgeous color ever!   Don’t even think about omitting the beets, by the way. First, you won’t detect their taste. Second, remember that Persian cooking perform miracles…  😉  I could not find fresh pomegranate seeds to sprinkle on top, but the dish was festive enough without it.

bookcoverTo order, click here

A little review of Louisa Shafia’s book.  Some cookbooks capture you from the moment you open the first page.  I started reading it late at night, and could not put it down for a couple of hours.  Louisa starts the book answering the simple question “What exactly is Persian food?” – and from there she takes the readers through a beautiful journey that covers not only its exotic flavors (sour cherries, rose petals, pomegranate molasses, dried limes, sumac, tamarind) but also the history of a fascinating region of the world and how it influenced the gastronomy of other places.  You will learn a lot more than cooking through Louisa’s words. Even Persian poetry will be there for you…

Reading her book, I learned the correct way to deal with saffron (so now I am on a quest to find a small mortar made of brass ;-)), and also opened my horizons to using dried mint. Louisa states that dried mint in many instances is better than the fresh herb, and recommends searching for Egyptian mint. I followed her advice, and she is right, it delivers great flavor.

The book has 80 recipes, divided in courses.  I will list a couple of recipes I found particularly tempting from each course just to give you an idea of what to expect.

Starters and Snacks:  Winter Squash Fritters with Rose Petals & Turkish Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Dip

Soups: Saffron Corn Soup & Oat and Mushroom Soup (her description of this soup made me dream…)

Salads: Shaved Celery Root and Pomegranate Salad & Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds

Vegetable and Egg Entrees:  Herb Frittata with Walnuts and Rose Petals  & Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers (click here for Louisa’s own blog post about it)

Meat and Fish Entrees: Grilled Shrimp with Lime Powder and Parsley-Olive Oil Sauce & Turmeric Chicken with Sumac and Lime (both of these dishes plus Fesenjan were my final contenders to cook for this post)

Main Dish Stews and Casseroles:  Fesenjan (the featured recipe) & Persian Gulf-Style Spicy Tamarind Fish Stew

Rice and Grains:  Jeweled Brown Basmati Rice and Quinoa (hard to resist this one…) & Rice with Favas and Dill (the rice of my past…)  Several of her rice recipes can be turned into tahdig, and she does a great job advertising this spectacular take on rice.

Sweets: Rhubarb and Rose Water Sorbet with Rice Noodles (I simply HAVE to try this at some point) & Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamon and Coffee.

Beverages: Salty Mint Yogurt Soda & Watermelon, Mint, and Cider Vinegar Tonic

Pickles and Preserves: Fig Mustard (wow!) & Sour Cherry and Rose Preserves

You probably noticed that Louisa is one of those chefs who is in top shape, and that definitely influences her cooking style.  She always offers variations that make a classic dish lighter and better for you. If you are particularly interested in cooking with whole grains and healthy oils and sweeteners, this book covers it all. Her chapter on ingredients closes with a wonderful list of grains and gluten-free flours and tips on how to cook with them.  Can you tell I love her book?

Louisa, thank you for allowing me to publish a recipe from “The New Persian Kitchen”. I intend to cook a lot from it, and that includes tahdig…  😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Quinoa Salad with Roasted Beets

TWO YEARS AGO: Pasta Puttanesca

THREE YEARS AGO: Miche Point-a-Calliere

RED THEME FOR A SALAD

As the weather gets warmer, I opt for a light lunch whenever possible. However, after a workout session with  Tony Horton, I need a lot more than a serving of lettuce with some parsley sprinkled all over it.   😉 Last week I prepared a salad based on red quinoa with a bit more substance, but still compatible with the 90F day.  It turned out delicious!  It lasted a couple of days in the fridge, and got even better.  If you do that, just bring it to room temperature half an hour or so before lunch time.

QUINOA SALAD WITH ROASTED BEETS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

for ginger-orange vinaigrette
1/8 cup rice vinegar
1/8 cup fresh orange juice
1 tsp orange zest
1 Tbs sugar (or less, if you prefer)
1 Tbs grated ginger
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
salt and pepper to taste

for salad:
1 cup red quinoa, rinsed
2 medium beets, peeled and cut in large chunks
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 celery stalks. diced
fresh mozzarella cheese. diced
walnut pieces, toasted

Place the rinsed quinoa in a rice cooker, add 2 cups of water and a little salt.  Cook, adding a little more water if when the machine turns off you think the quinoa is too crunchy for your taste.   It should be ready in 15 to 20 minutes.  Fluff the quinoa with a fork, and let it cool.   Reserve.

In a medium bowl, place the pieces of beets, add a little olive oil just enough to coat the pieces, season with salt and pepper.  Transfer the pieces to a baking sheet, and place in a 400 – 420 F oven to roast until done (about 40 minutes, depending on the size).  Reserve.

Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegar, orange juice and zest and the sugar, until the sugar dissolves.  Add the oil slowly to form an emulsion, and season with salt and pepper.   You won’t need to use it all, save the leftover in the fridge, it keeps for about 1 week.

Assemble the salad by mixing all the ingredients and adding as much dressing as you like.  Adjust seasoning, and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

My little rice cooker does a great job cooking all sorts of grains (and seeds, like quinoa).  I usually don’t bother with precise amounts of water, I try to add less rather than too much.  In case the cooker turns off but the grains are not exactly how I want them, I add a small amount of water and switch it back on for a few minutes.

I wanted to have this salad over a bed of baby spinach, but forgot all about it when I first made it.   On the following day, with the spinach, the salad looked really nice, but then I forgot to take pictures.   Such is life.  But, please feel free to  use your imagination!    😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Couscous Salad with Zucchini and Pine Nuts

TWO YEARS AGO:  A Simple Salad a la Jacques Pepin

(that proves that three years in a row I’ve got salad in my mind! ;-))

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