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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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…}

Leili's bloody mary

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kookoo {vegetarian herb omelette or frittata}

kookoo

we’ve been enjoying kookoo (i know, bit of a funny name) or the persian version of  a frittata-omelette-quiche in my family ever since I can remember. when i say we, i have to admit that for years I only observed it being made (there are all kinds of variations of kookoo) and eaten by others. starting off in life as a bit of a picky eater, i eventually learned to appreciate a good kookoo (among other things) as i discovered what (real  food) eating was all about. i can still see my grandma’s skillful hands meticulously chopping the herbs, then ever so care carefully pouring the green “batter” in to the pan. herb (green) kookoo is best in the spring when all the fresh herbs it calls for are in  abundance. as i prepare my shopping list for our upcoming (persian) new year’s celebration (no rouz -spring equinox), it becomes clear that herb kookoo contains a  perfectly healthy and good for you combination of ingredients-a rarity for such deliciousness! it is a great vegetarian option, and can be served warm as a side (such as during no rouz where it is served alongside the traditional herbed rice & fish dish, sabzi polo mahi), or as an appetizer (at room temperature) served with yogurt and flat bread. i left this beautiful one whole, and served it sliced like a pie with a yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce.  it was a big hit.

 

kookoo recipe: 

finely clean and chop (herbs should be chopped finely so that they can mix well with the other ingredients) one large organic bunch (1 cup chopped) each of: 

– cilantro, flat leaf parsley, and spinach (about 1 to 1 and 1/2 cup each chopped)

– 2 bunches sliced green onions or chives.

     combine the herbs in a bowl with:

  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3-4 organic eggs
  • 2-3 tbs flour  
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • a touch of cinnamon-about 1 tsp (if you like it)
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tbs barberries (optional)

1. heat 2-3 tbs vegetable oil in a deep skillet, then carefully pour in the egg mixture and pat it down tightly with a spatula and allow  it cook on one side on med/low heat for about 20-25 minutes (with the lid on).
2. carefully flip the kookoo with the help of a round platter (this can be tricky, but is doable-trust me), and cook the other side for another 20-25. flip the kookoo (it should be crisp on the outside) out on to a platter, and let it sit a few minutes prior to serving. you can also cut the kookoo  in to small sized squares and serve as an appetizer with a side of yogurt. 

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ghormeh sabzi ~ persian fresh herb stew with dry omani lemons

ghormeh sabzi black eyed peas

reposting in honor of #internationalghormehsabziday 11/28/15…better get cooking!

cooking ghormeh sabzi: to celebrate our beloved grandma, my sister and i did the one thing we knew would most closely connect us to her in our sadness. we cooked. we cooked all day. we prepared many of the favorite dishes she had so lovingly made for us over the years. we stood side by side and quietly chatted while we chopped, sliced, fried, and simmered our stews. as the familiar aromas surrounded us, we remembered, and we felt the connection-to her, and to the past that is so much a part of the present and the people we have become today. the way we live, love, and feed our families. there was sadness, for sure, but there was also an incredible sense of hope and responsibility towards the next generation and the huge legacy we have to live up to. at the end of the day, we gathered with our loved ones around the table,  said our prayers, and enjoyed the foods we only know how to cook because she taught us so well. we laughed and cried, but mostly we felt enormous gratitude for having been so lucky as to call her our mommoni (grandma) for so many years.ghormeh sabzi recipe

ghormeh sabzi is my favorite persian stew by far, and i requested it pretty much every time mommon asked me what i wanted to eat. since i didn’t like stew meat, she would make tiny little peppered meatballs (with grated onions) and add them to the stew for me. to this day ghormeh (deep fried meat they preserved in oil for the winter months) sabzi (greens-or fresh herbs) does not hit the spot without the little delicious meatballs. mommon also went against general consensus and used black eyed peas instead of the typical kidney beans in her stew. obviously, i do the same thing-in this case, i forgot to take pictures after the beans were added (it was quite an emotionally difficult day), but you can use your imagination*. this is a stew that requires a good bit of time and patience to prepare, and even more time to cook (slow simmer) for the flavors to really build up to where you want them. please don’t let the time factor make you to miss out on trying it. it is worth every millisecond that you spend and more. promise. noosh-e-jan!

* i have since added the photo above with the beans…

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