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.

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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

EVERYBODY LOVES CARROTS!

And to prove my point, a photo straight from one of my favorite websites, Dogshaming.com (published with permission)

Carrots Phil and I try to eat a varied diet.  We don’t exclude fats or  carbs, only moderate the intake of overly caloric stuff. Over the years we made some changes in our nutrition that we follow as strictly as possible.  We do the seafood at least once a week, often more.  We limit red meat to once a week. We save desserts for special occasions. Recently we decided to increase our consumption of carrots. Our goal is to have them as a side dish twice/week. Carrots are a fantastic source of beta-carotene, a compound that is metabolized into vitamin A and retinal in humans and other vertebrates. Retinal (vitamin A-aldehyde), is a key compound in the vision process.  Interestingly, carotenes are poorly absorbed from raw carrots. For optimal absorption, the carrots should be cooked, and preferably consumed with a little oil, as carotenes are oil-soluble.  I am sure the cute dog above compensates the poor absorption by maximizing uptake and grabbing each root available in the backyard…   😉  This recipe solves the problems for H.sapiens, as the carrots are roasted with a bit of olive oil. Plus, to pump the “good-for-you” index even further, they are mixed with pomegranates, themselves chock full of nutrients.  Interestingly enough, did you know that both carrots and pomegranates originated in Afghanistan?  That may be why they go so well together!

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POMEGRANATE MOLASSES GLAZED CARROTS
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

8 carrots (any color), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

Heat oven to 425°. Combine carrots and oil in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, spreading out in an even layer. Clean any excess oil left in the bowl and reserve it. Roast carrots, turning occasionally, until just tender, 12-15 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk honey and pomegranate molasses to blend in reserved bowl.

Transfer carrots to bowl with honey mixture; toss to coat well and spread out on baking sheet, scraping out any remaining glaze from bowl. Roast  until glaze is reduced and sticky and beginning to brown in spots, 5-8 minutes longer.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

I loved this recipe not only for its flavor, but also its simplicity.  At first, I thought that the honey would make it overly sweet, because molasses sound sweet enough to start with. Not the case. The pomegranate component of the molasses wins the battle and the honey is needed to compensate its sharpness.  Since the final roasting takes less than 10 minutes, you can pre-roast the carrots in advance, and finish the dish right before sitting down to eat. I am all for easy during weeknights.

Note to self: make a lot more carrots than you think you’ll need. Yeah, they are that good…  😉

Note to readers:  if you are a dog lover and have not been introduced to Dogshaming.com,  make sure to stop by.  My day is not complete without a visit!

ONE YEAR AGO: Codruta’s Rolled Oat Sourdough Bread

TWO YEARS AGO: Roasted Corn and Tomato Risotto

THREE YEARS AGO: Light Rye Bread

POMEGRANATE WALNUT DELIGHT

This unusual salad will take the center spot in any meal with its intense flavors and contrast of textures. I spotted the recipe around Thanksgiving last year, saved it to my Pinterest cooking board, and finally made it.  Please, don’t drag your feet like I did, make it sooner rather than later. Green olives, walnuts, pomegranate seeds… What a treat!
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GREEN OLIVE, WALNUTS & POMEGRANATE SALAD
(adapted from Alexandra’s Kitchen,  original recipe at Turquoise)   

3/4 cup shelled walnuts
1/2 cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
3/4  cup pomegranate seeds
1 red Serrano chile, seeded and finely minced
shredded flat-leaf parsley to taste
1 tablespoon walnut oil
splash of pomegranate molasses
juice of ½ lemon
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350⁰F. Scatter the walnuts onto a jelly-roll pan and roast for 5-10 minutes, until deep golden brown.  Chop the walnuts coarsely and toss in a sieve to remove any remaining skin or dust.

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently. Leave to stand for 5 minutes or so before serving to allow flavors to meld. Taste and adjust seasoning. I ended up adding more lemon juice.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Confession: I tend to be salad-lazy.  I don’t mind making a recipe that involves plenty of steps, be it reducing a sauce, braising for hours, or as you probably know, bake a loaf of bread that took 12 hours to proof.  But, ask me to make a multi-ingredient salad and I am invaded by a sense of pure exhaustion.  Washing the greens, cutting all ingredients, preparing the dressing…  However, this salad never left my mind from the day I saw it at Alexandra’s site, which, by the way, is a site worth subscribing to.  And, did you notice?  No greens to wash. Yeaaaaaah!   😉

Everything works in this recipe. I am a lot more fond of black Kalamata type olives than green, but trust me, they taste unbelievably good here.  Together with the unique heat that only a Serrano pepper delivers, you’ll enjoy the sweet and sour taste of pomegranate molasses, the toasty walnuts, the herby parsley, the lemon, and last but not least the pomegranate seeds!  Like little pine nuts dressed for a gala party…
We love them!

Three words for you: Make this salad.

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TWO YEARS AGO: Ziti with Artichokes and Meyer Lemon Sauce

THREE YEARS AGO: Blasted Broccoli, Stove-top version