welcoming spring with sabzi polo {persian herbed rice}

traditional norouz recipes

sabzi polo {سبزی پولو}, or herbed basmati rice has a very special place in a persian household-it (along with the fried white fish that goes with it) is essentially the turkey (or prime rib) and mashed potatoes of the persian new year or norouz. it is the celebratory traditional dish that is served in almost every household on the first day of spring symbolizing the renewal and abundance of the new year. nowruz is time for family gatherings celebrating new beginnings in the year to come.

[google images]: colored eggs, sabzeh, goldfish

as a child growing up, there was nothing like the excitement of watching the adults prepare for the big day (or moment, really). there was the sweet smell of spring flowers and sugary cookies baking, of fish frying, rice steaming, and mountains of fresh herbs being chopped. everywhere you looked there were sprouts growing (sprouted lentils), goldfish swimming, mounds of pastries on platters, silver shining, people laughing, hugging, chatting, fresh bills changing hands, bowls of dried fruits and nuts(ajeel), spring cleaning, music playing, and candles burning. above all, there was the sight of the haft seen (seven S’s) table being carefully laid out with all the symbolic items representing the seven guardian angels: dried lotus fruits (senjed) for love, sprouts (sabzeh) and colored eggs for rebirth, garlic (seer) for medicine, apples for beauty and health, sumac (somagh) for light, vinegar (serkeh) for age and patience, and potted hyacinths (sonbol) i imagine for the heavenly scent they provided as you sat around the table with your family waiting for the exact moment when spring would arrive (vernal equinox~it was announced on the radio with much fanfare) and everyone jumped up kissing and hugging, and shouting eid shoma mobarak (happy new year)! sheer,  pure, happiness. ahhhhhhhhhhh. oh, yes, the sabzi polo….well, it was the icing on the cake: fragrant, fresh, fluffy and delicious-the perfect accompaniment to the fried fish and generous amounts of sour (seville) oranges we squeezed on top. my idea of heaven. almost:) happy happy norouz, spring, renewal, season, new year to all!
for 4-6 generous servings:

  • 3 cups long grain basmati rice
  • 2 large bunches cilantro (2 cups finely chopped)
  • 2 large bunches dill (2 cups finely chopped)
  • 2 large bunches flat leaf parsley (2 cups finely chopped)
  • 1 bunch baby leeks (or scallions)
  • 3-4 stalks fresh garlic, thinly sliced (or 3 cloves)
  • 1-2 tsp ground saffron
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4-5 tbs vegetable oil
  • sea salt
  • 2-3 tbs butter (optional)

1. clean and finely chop all the herbs and allow them to dry while you bring 7-8 cups of salted (2 tbs) water to a boil in a deep heavy pot. clean the rice in a bowl with water until the water runs clear.

2. add the rice to the boiling water and bring up to a boil. stay next to the pot, and stir carefully (softly) a couple of times. allow the rice to boil briskly for just about 7-8 minutes, then add the herbs to the pot and stir them in combining them evenly with the rice with a spatula (be careful not to break up the rice) for just a minute before straining the mixture in a fine mesh colander (see picture below). rinse with about 2 cups of lukewarm water.

3. add 2-3 tbs oil to the empty pot with 1/2 of the saffron dissolved in 2-3 tsp warm water. start adding the rice mixture back to the pot by layering several spoonfuls (about 2 spatulas) of rice at a time, a small sprinkling of advieh (spice mixture of cinnamon, rose petals, and toasted cumin seeds or ground cumin), followed by more rice until you have a half dome or pyramid of rice layered with spices. add remaining saffron to the very top layer of rice. *the advieh is optional*

4. drizzle the remaining oil and about 1/2 cup or slightly less water evenly over the top of the rice & herb dome with the help of a slotted spoon. dot the rice with the butter if using. cover with a clean kitchen (or paper) towel, then tightly with the lid (so the steam stays inside). turn the heat to medium.
5. stay close to the pot and allow the rice to cook on medium for 10  minutes, then reduce the heat to low and cook (steam) for about 50 to 60 minutes.

6. remove the pot from the heat and let it rest for 3-4 minutes to allow the crispy rice (tah deeg) to loosen. open the pot, serve the top layer of saffron rice aside in a plate, then serve the remaining rice in a platter. decorate the top of the platter of rice with the saffron rice you had set aside. detach the crusty rice (aka the BEST part) at the bottom with a wooden spatula and serve in a separate dish.
7. serve with oven baked white fish (fresh halibut or chilean sea bass is good) or fried white  fish, done the traditional way: lightly dusted with flour, sea salt, cracked pepper, and turmeric, then pan fried (on lower heat) in your choice of oil (I have been using avocado oil of late) until crispy golden and delicious. serve with sliced sour (seville) oranges and lemons.

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fresh quinoa lentil salad with rainbow radishes and lemony cumin dressing

some of my fondest childhood memories are of my family preparing for big dinner parties or celebrations. sometimes the preparations would begin days in advance, and i loved the buzz this created in the house. friends and family would come over to help, and it was a communal experience- women sitting around the table slicing and dicing vegetables, mincing herbs, preparing shrimp (i used to love watching as they carefully de-veined big bowls of them), looking at recipes, taste testing (this is where i came in), baking, mixing drinks, chatting, and laughing. there was always a lot of laughter, and that is what i remember the most-the giddy happiness that took over us all. the merriment rubbed off on us kids as we roamed around happily and begged to help-mostly we were given small duties like folding napkins or laying out the cutlery while what we really wanted to do was “play” with the food. i remember when my sister and i were given a rather big bowl of peas to shell, and asking for more when we were done-somehow we took such great pleasure in performing those simple tasks. sometimes my grandmothers would be asked to contribute their special dishes to the dinners, but i don’t ever remember any guests bringing food with them, which is why the concept of the “pot luck” dinner was so unfamiliar to me when i first came to california (i have come to embrace it). we often do a pot luck dinner at our monthly book club meetings, and to our amazement, without discussing what each of us is bringing, we always end up with a perfectly harmonized and balanced dinner (did i say delicious)? last night i brought a quinoa lentil salad which went perfectly with gitu’s indian chicken meatballs, margo’s spicy shrimp ceviche, and britton’s mache salad with papaya & goat cheese. don’t get me started on claire’s dessert: (out of this world) home made burnt honey ice cream with peaches in a verbena infused syrup….heavenly! (i’m hoping to get the recipe soon).
ingredients:
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 cup small green or black beluga lentils, cooked
  • 1 bunch organic rainbow radishes, thinly sliced (about10-12)
  • 2 heirloom medium tomatoes, finely cubed
  • 3-4 scallions thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch organic flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (about 1/4-1/2 cup)
  • 1 large or 2 small lemons (or limes), juiced
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt to taste
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (spicy)
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
1. cook the quinoa and lentils separately in lightly salted water. drain extra water, and seat aside to cool
2. chop the tomatoes, parsley, and scallions, and thinly slice the radishes (you can use a grater or a mandolin). add to a bowl with cold quinoa and lentils.
3. in a small bowl combine lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin, whisk together, then pour over the ingredients and mix well.
quinoa lentil salad alongside gitu’s delicious indian chicken meatballs
margo’s lovely ceviche platter!
britton’s mache salad with papaya, goat cheese, & almonds: yum!

 

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a lesson in {yummy} restrictions: vegetarian lettuce rolls with oyster mushrooms, chinese eggplants, and shishito peppers

cooking minette's salad rollsyes, i’ve been away for a little while now, but i have a perfectly good excuse-i’ve been challenging myself of late to {enjoy} a lighter, healthier diet, and have said goodbye to many of the fun stuff (for the moment)-the grains, sugar, and generally pesky carbohydrates i hate to admit i love so much. not quite sure how long this phase will last, but i’m determined to give it a good old try. can you imagine how hard this is for someone who likes to think

wok fired oyster mushrooms

about, talk about, and experiment with (as in EAT) food all the time? well, it was hard for the first few days, but i’ve fallen into a good rhythm of sorts (which means i’m beginning to like it AND the way it makes me feel)- i’ve learned to carry good snacks with me: bananas, almonds, awfully delicious (and somewhat sweet, although unsweetened) coconut flakes, berries in a bag (yes, they do get mushy sometimes), roasted seaweed. it also helps to keep the fridge packed with lots of fresh vegetables and greens, (the aforementioned) berries (although they are out of season and i feel slightly guilty), cooked quinoa (hopefully not really considered a grain-looked it up: quinoa is the seed of the chenopodium or goosefoot plant-interesting quinoa article), hardboiled eggs, and greek yogurt (latest obsession). keeping in line with the new diet, i thought i’d treat the family to a fun (and surprisingly satisfying) dinner a few nights ago-it turned out to be one of the best dinners we’ve had in a long while: salad rolls made (rolled) with all sorts of delicious goodies courtesy of the lovely korean market. basically, i set up a {salad roll} “bar” with lots of fresh and wok fired veggies and one amazing peanut sauce (recipe below). everyone then made their own delicious little bundles the way they liked them (slightly less work for me). after we had devoured several rolls a piece, my husband declared that this really was (is) the way to eat! i smiled wide knowing how easy and fun the well appreciated meal had been to prepare. one happy mina :)

for wok fired shishito peppers, eggplants, & oyster mushrooms:

  • in a wok, heat 1-2 tsp of vequick fired shishito peppersgetable oil (i used virgin unfiltered  coconut) and 1 tsp  of toasted sesame oil. add the peppers (do each item separately, same method) to the hot wok and stir fry on high for just a few minutes (3-5), then add a splash of soy sauce (or a sprinkle of seasalt), and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
  • eggplants: cut them in evenly sized pieces and repeat the process above-eggplants may need slightly more oil, and time.

 

cooking minette salad rolls

delicious spicy peanut sauce:

  • 2-3 tbs organic peanut butter (use peanut butter that is peanuts only-no additives, and chunky works well)
  • about 1/4 cup (more or less) coconut milk
  • 1-2 tsp sriracha sauce (or other favorite hot sauce or cayenne pepper will do)
  • 1-2 tbs soy sauce,  2-3 tsp fish sauce (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1-2 tsp brown sugar or raw honey (or omit the sugar altogether)

**another good sauce option: spicy green cilantro sauce aka green sauce at our house.**

  • other ingredients you will need (give or take): sprouts (bean sprouts and radish sprouts here), organic lettuce, basil, mint, or cilantro leaves (i had none this time), and optionally rice paper wraps (see this other recipe).

wok fired chinese eggplants

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khoreshe-e-fesenjan: traditional persian walnut & pomegranate stew

pomegranate {انار} tree in napa valley, california

please don’t be discouraged by the image of this very (deservedly) popular and delicious traditional persian stew made from the most ingenious combination of ingredients: finely ground walnuts (superfood in its own right), pomegranates (well known antioxidant powerhouse), onions, and poultry (duck or chicken) simmered together to create the most magical and addictive combination of textures, flavors, and aromas that is khoresh-e-fesenjan { فسنجان }. the flavors of fesenjan are sweet and tangy (or rather, tart) with a satisfying nutty depth, and they intensify (and improve) over time, which is why the dish not only travels well, but is possibly better the day after (which also makes it a good one to make ahead)it is traditionally served with steamed basmati rice or chelow (follow this recipe, leaving out the spices), but can also be served with tah-chin (without the chicken & spices). one of the main ingredients for a good fesenjan is pomegranate molasses (or rob-e-anar) which is easily found (at least in southern california) in specialty middle eastern markets, as well as on line-if need be, you can substitute it with reduced (pure) pomegranate juice and a few spoonfuls of sugar. 
the pomegranate continues to be a rather mysterious and difficult-to-eat fruit for some, but it’s actually a nutrient-dense food packed with antioxidants originating in persia (modern day iran) where khoresh-e-fesenjan was also born many hundreds of years ago. although cooking this dish might seem like a daunting task at first sight, (in my humble opinion) it is by far one of the easiest persian stews to prepare, and well worth the efforti strongly urge you to try it…you will make your friends and family very very happy, over and over again! nooshe-jan :)  

ingredients for 6-8 (generous) servings, and some leftovers!

  • 1.5 to 2 pounds fresh shelled walnuts (finely ground in a food processor)
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 cup (or slightly more-adjust to taste) pomegranate molasses~i use a combination of a sweeter and a more tart one: sadaf (more of this) & cortas (slighly less of this)
  • 1-2 tsp turmeric
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • 2-3 tbs cane sugar (optional)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1-2 tbs vegetable (olive) oil
  • 8-10 pieces skinned organic chicken (thigh is best)

1. in a food processor with a steel blade grind up the walnuts (make sure they are fresh and not bitter or rancid) with one roughly chopped onion and enough water to help the processing. pour the mixture into a heavy pot or dutch oven, add about 2-3 cups of water (not too watery, and not too thick-like above), and allow it to come to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer on medium/low~more like low (while stirring occasionally) for about 50 minutes to an hour.
2. while you wait, finely chop the other onion and brown in 1-2 tbs of oil in a shallow skillet. add the cleaned chicken, turmeric, ground pepper, and sea salt and brown on both sides, then add about 1/2 cup water and slow cook or braise (simmering on low) for at least an hour until tender. set aside.
3. start preparing your chelow (steamed basmati rice) at least an hour before serving-link to recipe above.

3. the color of the walnut mixture will slowly darken and intensify, and the oil will begin to separate (you want to see this). add sea salt (to taste) and the molasses and stir until fully incorporated.  taste and adjust for salt, add 2-3 tbs of sugar if it is too tart for you. allow the mixture to simmer on low for another 30-45 minutes and up to an hour (stirring occasionally so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pot).
4. add the fully cooked chicken to the mixture about 10-15 minutes prior to serving. the photo below reflects the color and texture you want to see when you are ready to serve.

 

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