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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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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"kotlet" making {or how to make persian beef cutlets}

Persian Kotlet

how to make kotlets

the only reason i don’t make kotlet {persian meat patties} more often is because preparing these delicious treats can be quite a production, AND, because frying them makes the whole house smell like, well, …kotlet! which is a good and bad thing-growing up, it’s a smell i was happy to come home to because it told me one of my favorite dishes was on the menu-on the other hand, although the smell is super delicious and appetizing, i’d rather it not cling so lovingly to my living space long after the last of the kotlets have been consumed. there are a few solutions to this minor bump in the road towards enjoying these delicious treats-obviously, having a good strong hood {as in, good ventilation} is key-although i have a hard time with the (rather annoying) sound many hoods create (ouch). when i make kotlet, i begin at least an hour or two ahead (they are really good served just warm or at room temperature and can easily be re-heated), and i open all my windows while i cook. this seems to do the trick-now if you live in a colder climate, you might consider making this dish in the spring and summer months! for more about kotlet (making), and my love for it, you can go to my post on vegetarian quinoa-lentil cutlets-which have become one of the most popular recipes on this blog. this time the kotlets turned out more delicious than usual-probably because of my mom’s magical touch (she helped me). thanks, noni!

ingredients for about 15-20 kotlets (i like mine on the smaller side):
  • 1 pound ground beef (or lamb)-i use grass fed organic beef (with 7% fat at most)
  • 2 large russet potatoes, cooked, peeled, and grated or smashed (about equal parts meat & potatoes)
  • 2 large or 3 small organic eggs
  • 1-2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp cinnamon (ground)
  • 2-3 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, grated (i processed mine in a small food processor/chopper)
  • 1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely minced (optional-this is how we do it in my family)
  • 1/4 tsp saffron (ground or seeped in a tsp or two of warm water)
  • 1 cup good quality bread crumbs (natural, no added spices)
  • 1/2 (or so) cup oil for frying (lately i’ve been using safflower oil for frying)
  • tomato slices, mint leaves, and flat leaf parsley for garnish
kotlets with a side quinoa “taboule” with heirloom tomatoes, fresh parsley, & mint

1. in a large bowl combine the beef, potatoes (making sure they are cooled off), eggs, spices, minced parsley, & grated onion, then combine (preferably by hand) for about 5 minutes or so (mixing all the ingredients well) to create a paste.

2. shape the meat mixture in to small balls the size of an egg, then flatten them carefully into oval shaped patties. pour the bread crumbs onto a cutting board, then bread the patties on both sides, being careful to keep them in one piece.

3. heat the oil in a large skillet, and fry (brown) the meat patties (medium heat) on both sides. allow the patties to cook fully on one side before turning them to cook on the other. if they seem to be falling apart, you may need to adjust your potato amount (as in add more).

4. carefully remove the cooked kotlets from the skillet and place them on a platter with a few paper towels to drain the excess oil.

5. once all the kotlets are done, remove the paper towels and add sliced tomatoes and fresh herbs to the platter before serving. kotlets are often served with french fries and a salad or wrapped in flatbread with dill pickles, tomatoes, and parsley as a sandwich.

all gone…nothing like kotlet leftovers the next day-make plenty of them! for my vegetarian version of kotlet (see picture below) go to:  vegetarian quinoa-lentil cutlet recipe

 

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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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