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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easing into spring: minty fresh taboule and a green bean salad with blood oranges

green bean salad with blood oranges and feta cheesei’ve been so obsessed with quinoa lately that i’ve neglected to make taboule the traditional way, with bulgur rather than substituting my favorite grain-seed (q-u-i-n-o-a}. at our house we really enjoy a good spicy quinoa-taboule (almost on a weekly basis), but there is something soothing and familiar and frankly more “substantial” about the original version-so, in planning the menu for a small gathering of friends last night i decided on a bowl of super fresh lemony taboule loaded with mint leaves (the way my lovely lebanese friend taught me way too many years ago in france) to go with my all time favorite chicken dish, adda’a morrocan chicken (which turned out better than ever i think- possibly because

minty fresh taboule

of the last minute addition of a cup of fresh orange juice). one of the best things about taboule is that the leftovers taste almost better the next day-which brings me to the most important factor in making a good one-the ingredients: they must be fresh and abundant (more fresh parsley, mint, and lemons than you think you need).

taboule ingredients

if you plan to make some, and you really should, because nothing makes you feel as spring(y) fresh as this dish-be ready to become pretty good friends with your favorite sharp knife….you’ll have to do some chopping, but it WILL be worth it. speaking of chopping, my green bean, feta, and walnut salad requires very little of it. it is so often my go to {delicious and easy} salad/side dish/almost-a-meal when i entertain-here i added the last blood oranges of the season for a citrusy punch and their beautiful color. it made the perfect side for the medium rare tri-tip roast i served with it. okay, now i’m hungry, and my mouth is literally watering. i’m hitting the fridge for a nice bowl of that leftover taboule~wish you could join me:-)

ingredients for 4-6 servings of bulgur (or substitute quinoa) taboule:

  • a bowl of mint fresh taboule2 large bunches of organic flat leaf parsley (about 1.5-2 cups) washed, allowed to dry, and finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch organic fresh mint leaves (1/2-1 cup), washed, allowed to dry and thinly sliced/chopped
  • 6-7 organic scallions, thinly sliced
  • 4-5 ripe roma (or 3 medium ripe) tomatoes, finely cubed
  • 3/4 cup (i prefer less bulgur-adjust amount to your taste) cooked bulgur or quinoa (boil in lightly salted water for just a few minutes then drain excess water and allow it to cool)
  • 2 lemons, freshly juiced (adjust amount to taste-but keep in mind the bulgur soaks up the lemon juice and olive oil quite a bit)
  • 3-4 tbs good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste-red pepper flakes, optional for spicy

place all the ingredients other than olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl (leave ingredients in separate piles until ready to toss). if making ahead, cover and set aside until 30 minutes prior to serving, then dress (with lemon juice to taste, evoo, and salt & pepper) toss well. taste and adjust seasoning. enjoy every bite. {see below for green bean salad recipe}

for green bean salad with blood oranges:

blood oranges in salad

  • 2-3 cups organic green beans, cleaned and quickly boiled in lightly salted water until just tender-do not overcook them. drain in a collander and quickly place in an ice bath or rinse with cold water. drain well.
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup crumbled french feta cheese
  • 1-2 blood oranges (or you can use pomegranate seeds), peeled and sectioned into small pieces.
  • 1/4 cup of my shallot vinaigrette

combine ingredients in a bowl, drizzle with dressing, toss just before serving. simple as that.

the dinner table with the famous blood oranges front and center

the dinner table with the famous blood oranges front and center

 

my chicken dish with olives and lemons just getting started (adda's morrocan chicken)

my chicken dish with olives and lemons just getting started (adda’s morrocan chicken)

 

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spring fava beans with pesto & brown rice spirals

every time i think about what to cook in the spring time (yipee! loooonger days, warmer days, brighter days, and…more fresh local produce days) i seem to think greeeen food! right now there’s nothing that makes my mouth water more than minimally processed fresh green produce in our meals. that’s why when i came across the beautifully glistening fava (broad) beans at the market yesterday i couldn’t wait to add them to our dinner menu. these beans were particularly tender, so i decided to boil the larger ones in their skins as an appetizer served with lime and angelica seeds, and use the smaller ones in a quick and easy brown rice pasta dressed with home made lemony pesto (the basil is looking/tasting amazing at the moment). the trick to double peeling these beans (relatively) easily is to remove them from the outer skin (or pod) and quickly boil them in water for just a few quick minutes (5-7) before popping them out of their inner skins by pressing lightly on one end. i’m not sure about you, but i find these types of tasks oddly relaxing and get through them rather quickly (alternately you can purchase double peeled frozen fava beans at most middle eastern markets). having tasted (and consumed way more than intended) the dish last night, i urge you to make some before the season is over-it will be sure to please your taste buds! Continue reading
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