are you thirsty? drink this: {sharbat-e-sekanjebin}

over the week end i found myself (a spectator) at a water polo tournament in 100 degree (f) heat, and all i could think about was how much i was craving sharbat-e-sekanjebin, or vinegar{!!} syrup sherbet with grated cucumbers & mint. growing up in tehran, this refreshing drink was often served along with sour cherry sherbet on hot summer afternoons. i remember how much i liked watching it being prepared because of the lovely aroma the grated cucumbers and fresh mint created in the kitchen. when we had guests, tall glasses of these beautiful green and red (sour cherry) sherbets with crushed ice would be lined up on trays and served along with watermelon, dried fruits and nuts, and pastries. i liked watching people gently mix the syrups at the bottom of their glasses with long spoons as their drinks slowly changed colors. having lunch at a thai restaurant yesterday, i was served a delicate “salsa” made with cucumbers and red onions in a sweet & sour sauce reminiscent of sekanjebin. when i asked about the ingredients i was told it was made with white vinegar and sugar! these are the two main components of sekanjebin syrup- – – i decided it was time to make some…go ahead, try it for yourself-you won’t be disappointed!

for 1 cup of syrup {which is also often served as a dip for romaine lettuce}:
  • 3 cups sugar (i use unrefined cane sugar)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 3-4 sprigs of mint
1. in a saucepan bring sugar and water to a boil together and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sugar has fully dissolved.
2. add vinegar and boil  for about 20-25 minutes longer until you have a thick syrup.
3. add the mint sprigs to the syrup and allow them to seep while the syrup cools. remove the mint from the syrup when it is cooled and pour in to a glass jar with a tight lid or cork.
for sharbat-e-sekanjebin:
grated cucumbers and a chiffonade of mint
add to the syrup the following:
  • peeled & grated persian cucumbers (1/4 to 1/2 per glass)
  • a few thin slices of cucumber for garnish
  • 1/2 -1 tsp per glass freshly squeezed lime juice, plus a few thin slices for garnish
  • fresh mint leaves
  • crushed ice
combine 1 part syrup to 3-4 parts water or fizzy water {you can either mix ahead in a pitcher or use individual glasses and leave the syrup at the bottom of the glass to be mixed before drinking). i like my sherbet with plenty of grated cucumbers, so i add about 1/2 of a grated persian cucumber per glass. a small squeeze of lime juice adds that extra citrus freshness. this drink is always a refreshing reminder of how much i love summer-enjoy.
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a spring stew: rhubarb and fresh herbs with braised beef {khoresh-e-reevas}

yesterday while walking through our local farmer’s market full of wonderful spring bounty i started thinking about the spring seasons of my childhood. the seasons were such an integral part of our lives, mostly because whenever possible we spent time outdoors. after the last of the winter snow had melted, the garden would start to come alive again, and there would be blossoms on fruit trees and fresh sprouts and herbs coming up everywhere. one of our favorite things to do was run around the garden with friends-we pretend-played a lot, and often, i’d end up being the mom of the group, preparing (mostly inedible) meals for my “kids” from the leaves, fruits, and herbs we gathered (this often upset my grandma because we’d waste the not so ripe fruits and baby sprouts of herbs she was waiting for). i remember our excitement as we jumped over the waterways that ran through the garden, the sun gently warming our skin, the scent of sweet blossoms strong in the air, making ourselves “homes” to play in from firewood, fabric, cardboard, and anything else we could find. those were sweet days. i so miss those days. back then, time had a different meaning (we seemed to have an endless supply) and all we worried about was having fun. yesterday i wanted to make a dish reminiscent of the meals i used to prepare in the garden-they were mostly green, and as fresh as you can imagine! at the market, i picked up some beautiful pinkish rhubarb (amazing health benefits) along with bunches of organic parsley and mint. ahhhhh, the scent of it. it was going to be a first for me: a savory rhubarb stew that tasted, looked, and smelled just like spring.

for 4 portions {serve with steamed basmati (or brown basmati) rice}

  • 1 pound fresh rhubarb, cut in 1-2 inch pieces
  • 1 large bunch (2 cups) organic parsley, washed, finely minced
  • 1 bunch (1 cup) organic mint leaves, finely minced
  • 1 large onion, peeled thinly sliced
  • 1 pound grass fed organic stewing beef (cut in cubes), or veal shanks (like for osso bucco)
  • 1-2 tbs sugar (to taste)
  • 2-3 tsp turmeric
  • vegetable oil (i use olive oil)
  • sea salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup good quality tomato sauce (or 2 tbs tomato paste dissolved in water)
  • 1 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 1-2 tbs warm water (optional)

 

1. in a dutch oven cook the meat (click here for recipe with pictures): add 3 tbs oil, 1/2 of the onion thinly sliced, turmeric, sea salt and pepper. sautee until browned, about 5 minutes or so, then add about 2 cups of water, cover and cook on med/low heat for at least 1 hour-or more until very tender.
2. in a skillet, add 1tbs oil and fry mint & parsley with a touch of salt for about 10 minutes on medium/ low heat until all the moisture has evaporated.
3. in a small saucepan, fry the remaining onion slices in oil to make “piaz dagh“, set aside on paper towel to drain the extra oil.
4. preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). add the saffron and tomato sauce to the cooked beef, stir, and taste for seasoning (adjust if necessary). transfer the beef mixture (or add everything to the dutch oven) to a baking dish (casserole). add the rhubarb, fried herbs, and piaz dagh (fried onions). cover with aluminum foil (with a few holes poked) and bake for about 30-40 minutes (make sure the delicate rhubarb does not fall apart or dissolve).
5. taste the stew-if too sour, dissolve sugar in a few teaspoons of water, add and bake for a few more minutes-if you’d like it more sour, then add a few teaspoons of fresh lime juice.
6. serve hot with a side of chelow, or plain steamed basmati rice (leave out spices).
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one heavenly meal: chelo-kabob {persian style steamed basmati rice with grilled beef kabobs & tomatoes}

kabobs on the grill (manghal)

chelo kabob tablechelo-kabob (probably iran’s semi-official national dish)  is single handedly responsible for bringing me back from being a vegetarian to (mildly) eating meat again. years ago, shortly before i left home for college a good friend of my parents shared a book with me that changed the way i ate and looked at food forever. i don’t really remember the details, but reading it made me acutely aware of how our food consumption directly affects our health and well being. much to my parents amusement, i became a vegetarian, began questioning the quality and source of the foods we were eating, and consumed a lot of the lentil patties my mom made in order to add enough protein to my diet-moms are the best.tomatoes and peppers on the grill

because of where we came from, we’d never been big fans of processed and packaged foods, and in france we were surrounded by an abundance of seasonally fresh produce in the local markets-oh how we loved those morning farmers markets! my sister and i spent more time than you’d expect from a teenager wandering through the stalls (especially in the summer months) taking it all in-smelling the cheeses, melons, and oh-those-peaches, biting into warm chocolate croissants still oozing with soft chocolate, pinching the tops off of the baguettes our mom ordered (yes, we ate those, too), eventually carrying our heavy basket loads back home. i was a vegetarian for about two years until i could take it no more-grilled kabobs

the smell of the grill at my uncle’s (after my grandma, the best kabob-maker i know) house in los angeles finally did me in! watching the family dig in while i “enjoyed” my rice, grilled tomatoes, and salad, and realizing i could never really give up chelo-kabob for good-it was too much a part of me. i feel like i grew up with the smell of grilling kabob in my nostrils-it still takes me right back to my childhood and makes me feel so warm inside, reminding me of lovely family gatherings at my grandmas, the beautifully set round table, yellow slices of butter neatly lined up, bowls of sumac and fresh herbs, raw egg yolks in their half shells, all waiting for the piping hot fragrant steamed rice (see recipe-omit all spices but saffron) and glistening kabobs my grandma had so lovingly prepared.taking kabobs off the skewer with lavash bread

it was one of my favorite thing to do-watching her skewer the tender beef with her skilled hands, then line them up in perfect rows on trays going out to the grill, or “manghal” (more of a charcoal tray than a grill-the meat should not sit on the grill, but directly above the fire) as we call it. i could’nt be happier when my sister sent a text this past sunday saying “last minute chelo-kabob at our house-moms coming to help-be there at 1:30”. i got dressed quickly, grabbed my camera, and practically ran out the door-i wanted to be there for the preparation, of course!

a nice plate of chelo-kabob!

a disclaimer of sorts: my mom and sister weren’t too happy i’d picked this particular day to take pictures for a post about chelo-kabob…they had decided to do it all very “last minute” and weren’t happy with the look of things-the filet kabob was not the typical “barg” (translates to leaf) flattened style we make but more of a “chengeh” or chunky style, and the koobideh (ground beef kabobs) were not as perfectly lined up (as in matching and all pretty looking) as my mom would have liked due to lack of time-but let me tell youdeliciously grilled kabob koobideh-it really didn’t matter…it was all way beyond delicious! we had quite a feast. the perfectly spicy  drinks my sister served while we waited? i’ll have to ask her for the recipe. {click on (CONTINUE READING) for recipes & inspiration…}

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let’s go bananas: decadent fried bananas with cinnamon & walnuts!

i’m often reminded by friends of this blog that i need to add more recipes to my dessert category. believe me, i am well aware of this fact. it’s not that i don’t want to, i do…but i’ve never been one to make them (unless we’re talking berries with lightly sweetened cream or the occasional cake or brownie out of a box)! i think the main reason i don’t do desserts is because baking requires measurement and precision, and even the thought of it makes me anxious!! cooking has always been a fun, instinctive, and relatively fluid process for me-i don’t even know where my measuring cups or spoons are most of the time. as a child, i remember sitting on the kitchen counter and watching (with my mouth watering) as my grandma meticulously (and with such pleasure) created my favorite dessert: what she called the napoleon (or nuppeleeown): unbelievably delicate, buttery, and flaky (and tediously prepared) home made puff pastry layered with real sweetened whipped cream, flavored with ground cardamom, and carefully topped with ground pistachios- also known as the “most heavenly dessert ever!” even back then i never thought i’d attempt such a task, and i still haven’t! maybe soon…..
yesterday, in order to save several bananas that had not made it into the morning smoothies, i decided to make an easy, relatively low calorie, possibly good for you dessert that admittedly ( & truly) hit the spot (okay, it was not quite the napoleon, but it came kind of close…)! the ingredients are as good for you as it gets: bananas, cinnamon, virgin unrefined coconut oil, coconut milk, & raw walnuts. see what i mean? take out your skillet….here we go: sweet dessert, at last!

ingredients for 4-6 servings:
(prepare right before serving)

  • 4-6 bananas, peeled, sliced in half, then sliced in half again, horizontally
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1-2 tsp virgin unrefined coconut oil
  • 1 tbs or so chopped raw walnuts
  • 2-3 tbs coconut milk
  • a small squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1. heat the oil in a heavy skillet, then add the bananas and fry on one side on medium/high heat until golden (about 3-5 minutes), sprinkle with 1/2 of the cinnamon. turn the bananas carefully with a spatula, sprinkle with remaining cinnamon, and fry the other side. turn them (very carefully) back up. reduce the heat slightly.
2. add the walnuts (scatter over) to the skillet and shake carefully to distribute them and allow them to incorporate for a minute or two.
3. add a squeeze of lemon juice over the bananas, allow the liquid to be absorbed (1-2 minutes), then add coconut milk. remove from heat as soon as the sauce thickens (2-3 minutes). serve right away with another fresh sprinkle of ground cinnamon . voila!
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