the {so happy i thought of this} lunch bowl!

almost every time i decide to restrict my diet i pick up a pack of organic brown rice cakes at the market. having these rather cardboard like cakes (?!) in the pantry makes me feel like i’m halfway there (to the diet restriction results, that is). i eat them with sliced tomatoes and sea salt, a thin spread of peanut or almond butter, or with sliced avocados. yesterday for my (rather late) lunch i was feeling like a bowl of something light, filling, and fresh. it had to be fast and easy. bright idea: after lightly toasting it, i crumbled a rice cake as the base of my bowl-I then added chunks of avocado, a chopped up hard boiled egg, sliced tomatoes (vitamins E, B6, C-besides, i add them to everything), fresh oregano, and finally a few drops of my lemony shallot vinaigrette. quick taste. yum. crunchy goodness. something was missing, though….looked in the refrigerator for ideas. fresh spicy salsa? scooped over a couple of spoons of that, too. another taste. aha! crunchy spicy zesty deliciousness. i will do this again. and again. it’s thaaaat good!
my new favorite lunch bowl, con salsa, below:
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zereshk polow (barberry rice) with braised saffron chicken: the ultimate comfort food for a lazy sunday

there are times when you are so hungry and tired, (or simply in need of a meal that provides pure comfort) that you can’t really decide what you want to eat. this happens often at our house (not so pleasant for everyone else when i’m the hungry one). typically one of the only meals that gets a collective thumbs up under these circumstances is persian style chicken and rice or “morgh polo,” (aka life saver)-a simple steamed basmati rice served with slow braised saffron infused chicken. Traditionally in my family, we layer the rice with a blend of fragrant rose petals (gol-e-sorkh) , whole toasted cumin seeds, cinnamon, and yes, more saffron! if you want to make “zereshk polo“, or barberry rice, you leave out the spices (other than saffron) and top the rice with slightly sweetened barberries(recipe below). today i’m making the dish as my grandma prepared it for us hundreds of times. I wish you could smell the wonderful aroma surrounding me as the fragrant rice steams along with the butter and spices. this time i’m adding the barberries. you can (and should) play with this general recipe to make it your own by adding (to the barberry mix) nuts such as toasted slivered almonds or pistachios, and raisins or currants-or by subtracting any of the spices you might not like. let’s start with the braised* saffron chicken, for about six:
scroll down for SHIRAZI salad recipe:

BRAISED SAFFRON CHICKEN:

  • about 2 pounds of organic skinless chicken-(either whole cut up chicken, or a combination of thighs, breasts, and drumsticks)
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced (see below)
  • 2 tbs turmeric
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbs safflower (or your preferred vegetable) oil
  • 1 tsp ground saffron (or a few strands seeped in warm water)

*braising is the cooking method where the food is seared (browned in a pan at a high temperature) first, then simmered with a small amount of liquid in a closed pot (pot with a lid) until tender.

chicken with water added, ready to simmer for 1 and 1/2 hour
1. heat the oil in a deep skillet, add the onions, and sautee until almost golden, then add the chicken to the pot and sprinkle with the turmeric, sea salt, and cracked pepper. sear chicken pieces on both sides on meduim/high heat (be careful not to burn the onions).
2. add a small cup (slightly less) of water and the bay leaves, cover (letting the steam out slightly), and allow the chicken to simmer softly on med/low heat for at least one hour, preferably an hour and a half. check the chicken often to make sure you don’t need to add water, adding only a little at a time if necessary-after about 1.5 hours, the onions should be almost melted, and the chicken should be very tender. 
3. add the saffron (diluted in a tiny bit of warm water) and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. don’t add the saffron any sooner, as it will lose intensity of odor and flavor. you can cook the chicken ahead (leaving the saffron out), and reheat (add saffron) for 10-15 minutes prior to serving. your chicken should be falling off the bone-if you use boneless, it is ready to serve, otherwise, remove any extra (unattractive) bones, and serve over the rice with the wonderful juices (which should be slightly thickened).
for the rice:

  • 2-3 tbsps kosher salt
  • 3 cups long grain basmati rice
  • 2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbs dry rose petals (gole sorkh)
  • 1 tsp (or about 10-12 whole strands seeped in water) ground saffron
  • 1/2 to 1 cup barberries (cleaned)
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1-2 tsp brow cane sugar or 2 tsp good orange marmalade
  • 2-3 tbsp oil (safflower)

1. boil about 8 cups of water with 2 tbs kosher salt. clean and wash your rice about 4-5 times until the water is clear, and add it to the boiling water. now the tricky part-keep a close eye on the rice while it boils briskly (on high) for about 6-10 minutes, and gently stir a few times (not too much). when the rice looks like it has softened (at about 7 minutes), drain it in a large fine mesh colander. rinse with warm water.

2. in the same pot heat the oil (you can use clarified butter if you’d like) with 2-3 tbsp water, and a small touch of your ground saffron (1/4 tsp). start with a few spatulas of rice at the bottom of the pot over the oil, followed by a sprinkling of  cinnamon, cumin, and rose petals. keep layering this way creating a pyramid-rice then spices until you have finished your ingredients.  pour 1/2 cup water (i use a slotted spatula to evenly distribute). place a clean dish towel (or you can use paper towels) on top of the pot and cover firmly with your lid. do not remove the lid after this.

3. cook on medium high for about 10 minutes *(don’t move away from the pot or you’ll forget-set a timer if you have to)*, then reduce heat to medium/low and cook for 50-60 minutes more without lifting the lid (lets the steam escape).

4. serve your rice with the chicken all around, drizzle all the juices on the rice, then top with your barberry mixture:
melt butter in a small sauce pan, then add cleaned barberries and either some cane brown sugar or the orange marmalade (mostly the syrup)-keep the heat on low as barberries can burn very easily. add saffron (diluting it with a few drops of warm water prior to adding). combine well, turn off the heat.




SHIRAZI SALAD:

combine together in a bowl (4-6 servings)

  • 6-7 peeled or un-peeled finely cubed organic persian cucumbers
  • 3 medium cubed ripe tomatoes
  • 3-4 sliced green onions (or 2 tsp finely minced red onion)
  • small bunch finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 3-4 tbs lime juice (freshly squeezed)
  • 2-3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper
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clay pot chicken and vegetables with brown rice

i’ve been obsessed with clay pot cooking (more like eating) ever since i took my first bite of clay pot chicken at the corner vietnamese restaurant during my freshman year in college. whenever my friends and i wanted to treat ourselves to a good meal away from the cafeteria (which was quite often, come to think of it), we headed there and ordered the deliciously fragrant dish before we even looked at the menu. i had never tasted vietnamese food before moving to California, and this delicate combination of flavors and textures was a wonderfully welcome surprise to my taste buds- as i remember it (unfortunately the restaurant is no longer there), the dish combined an assortment of mushrooms, fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, spicy peppers, and cilantro with fragrant jasmine rice and tender chicken. these ingredients were slowly steamed together in a small clay pot to create an intoxicating combination of aroma and flavor. it could have been that we were simply hungry students with cafeteria food as our other option, or perhaps it tasted as delicately delicious as i remember it. when i came across a blue clay pot at the store a few days ago, i had no choice but to bring it home, and today i made my very own version of clay pot chicken with brown rice flavored with kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk. The resulting dish was good enough to share:)
ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 1 cup brown rice, parboiled 
  • (cooked until just tender with 2 cups of water for about 20-25 minutes until water is absorbed)
  • 2 organic chicken breasts, cubed * for vegetarian option omit chicken and reduce baking time to 30 minutes-you may also substitute chicken with sprouted organic cubed tofu)*
  • 2 small red bell peppers, cubed
  • 10-12 mushrooms, cubed
  • 1 small onion, cubed
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 3-4 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2-1 cup light coconut milk
  • 3-4 tbs soy sauce *(braggs aminos for gluten free)
  • 1 sliver fresh ginger, thinly sliced or minced (about 1 tsp)
  • 2 tsp unrefined virgin coconut oil
  • 1-2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 3-4 thai peppers, thinly sliced (spicy)
  • a few sprigs of fresh cilantro
  • 5-10 baby roma or cherry tomatoes, sliced (optional)
1. in a small wok or medium sauce pan quickly stir fry together with the heated oil (combination of both oils) on high heat: minced garlic, onions, red peppers, mushrooms, peas, ginger, and sliced thai peppers until tender for about 5 minutes. add the lime leaves and most of the soy sauce and stir fry for another 2-3 minutes.
2. add par boiled (almost cooked) brown rice to the clay pot (or dutch oven), then add the cooked vegetable mixture and mix well with the rice.

3. add the cubed uncooked chicken to the rice and vegetables and combine to distribute evenly, then pour the coconut milk and remaining soy sauce with a touch of sesame oil over the rice and chicken combination. stir everything together carefully, then cover firmly.

4. bake in a 350-375 degree preheated oven for about 45 minutes. you won’t believe the aroma when you remove the lid! carefully remove the lime leaves and sprinkle with cilantro leaves and sliced tomatoes before serving.

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my noosi’s dill herbed rice {شوید پلو} with black-eyed peas {loobia cheshm bolboli}: shevid polow

 

persian style dill herbed rice with blackened peasas soon as i saw the beautifully green bunches of fresh dill at the market i knew what i wanted (or almost had) to make with them. dill-herbed rice, or shevid-polow as we call it in farsi. dill is one of my absolute favorite herbs i can never resist buying when it is in season looking all fresh and darkish green and beautiful. i love the scent it creates and leaves in my kitchen as i chop it, and the slightly different aroma that surrounds me as it steams away with the basmati rice. [talking

black eyed peas and rice

about scents and aromas reminds me of a side note: this post on the lovely perfume blog kafkaesque references mine on baghali polow, another dish loaded with fresh dill]. as with most my food obsessions, i first fell in love with dill in my grandmother’s kitchen in Tehran-it seems to me she was always chopping herbs-or maybe i was so often around when she did, because i loved watching (and smelling) her doing it so much. it was the way she bunched them tightly together with one hand while gracefully slicing them ever so thinly with the other. she was a true expert with the knife. and so many other things. thinking back on it, hers was not a sophisticated kitchen with many fancy gadgets-but trust me when i tell you some serious magic happened there. and boy was i lucky to be a small part of it as taster/assistant/taster/observer/taster in chief.

finely chopped dill even though i didn’t fully realize it then, she was constantly, indirectly, and deliberately teaching me things every time i was with her.  i can hear her voice in my head: sharing, reminding, cautioning, praising, cautioning some more. one of the dishes she taught me was shevid polow layered with her favorite beans: black-eyed peas, or “cheshm bolboli” (translates to parrot eyes for obvious reasons). It is the type of absolutely delicious nourishing dish that reminds you of all good things and fills you with pure (stomach) contentment. well worth the work and the wait.

how to make shevid polow  {for 4-6}:

  • making persian rice with herbs2-2.5 cups finely chopped fresh dill (remove the thicker stalks, wash, allow dill to dry, then chop)
  • 2-3 cups basmati rice, washed several times in water until it runs clear
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1-2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp dry rose petals (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground saffron
  • 1-1.5  cups black-eyed peas, cooked (soak overnight and cook until just tender)
  • sea salt to taste (and for boiling the rice)

persian steamed rice with herbs

    1. bring a big pot (non stick) of salted water to boil (about 6-8 cups). add washed and drained basmati rice. allow it to come to a rolling boil and  keep the heat on high for about 7-9 minutes. turn off the heat and drain the rice in a mesh colander. wash with cold water and allow it to drain. also see this recipe for inspiration.
    2. add about 3-4 tbs of vegetable oil, 2-3 tsp of water and 1/2 of the ground saffron (or 4-6 saffron strands seeped in hot water) to the nonstick pan. heat together for 1-2 minutes on high. remove from heat and add a thin layer of rice, followed by a generous layer of dill and black-eyed peas (see pictures above). sprinkle evenly and lightly with cumin seeds, sea salt to taste, and cinnamon. (with your hands or a spatula) carefully combine everything together as you go.
    3. repeat this process until your ingredients are used and you have created a “dome” or pyramid of layers. top with remaining saffron and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon, cumin seeds, and rose petals. drizzle with another 3-4 tbs of oil (using a slotted spatula to evenly distribute) and about 1/4 cup of water.
    4. cover the pot first with a paper towel or clean dishtowel and then tightly with the lid. Heat the pot on high for about 8-10 minutes (stay close to the pot)-this will help create the favorite crispy rice (tag-deeg) at the bottom of the pot. reduce the heat after 10 minutes (at most) to med/low and allow the rice to steam for another 45 minutes to an hour. serve with saffron braised chicken, veal or lamb shanks and a shirazi salad (tomatoes, persian cucumbers, green onions, mint, lime juice, olive oil, sea salt & pepper).

shevid polow tahdeeg

 

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Ash-e-mash: a thick and hearty mung bean soup with turnips & herbs

happy new year! it’s hard to believe the holidays are over, and we’ve already welcomed 2013 into our lives. i took a few vacation days away from home and the kitchen (surprisingly easy to do), and found myself thinking about all the food i had cooked (and eaten) in 2012-have you ever thought about how many meals you’ve made in a year? i certainly c-o-o-k-e-d a lot in the last 365 days (what i’d call a good/food year)! here’s to a new year of cooking, sharing, eating, and exploring good~food together
this ash-e-mash is the last meal (other than a simple spaghetti al limone) i cooked (a huge pot of) last year. it is the perfect hearty (and healthy: mung bean health benefitssoup-as-a-meal for the winter months (it’s even cold in san diego now)- – – – >let’s start cooking!
ingredient for 6-8 servings:
  • 1 large onion
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs turmeric
  • 1 cup peeled and cubed turnips
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup dry mung beans
  • 1/4-1/2 cup rice
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions (or about 10-12)
  • 2 large bunches fresh cilantro (roughly chopped)
  • 1.5 cups fresh (roughly chopped or whole baby ones) spinach
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh dill
  • sea salt & pepper (to taste)
  • 4 cups (or more) good chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2-3 tbs vegetable oil (olive oil or virgin unrefined coconut oil)
  • 2 tsp dry mint

1. thinly slice the onion, then fry in the oil with the turmeric in a deep heavy pot or dutch oven. as the onions become golden (about 5 to 7 minutes on medium heat) add the minced garlic and fry for just another minute or two before adding the mung beans.
2. stir the mung beans into the onion mixture, fry for a minute or two, then add the rice and turnips with sea salt and pepper (to taste) and 1 cup of water, along with 3-4 cups of broth and bring to a boil. reduce the heat and allow the mung beans and rice to cook (slow simmer) for 35-45 minutes. add more water or broth if necessary.

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