Nowruz - Persian New Year 2015


With the arrival of the first day of spring I wish you all a year filled with happiness, good health and prosperity. As my grandmother used to say: "May all that is good for you come your way!"  I would like to also say a big thank you to all my faithful readers and the new ones and I also wish you lots of glorious Persian food in the coming New Year! For any Nowruz recipes, photos and information please check the following link: Nowruz

Somagh

Samanoo

Sekeh

Senjed

Seer

Seeb

Serkeh


Sabzeh

Sonbol

Tokhm-e Morgh Rangi


Mahi Ghermez

Laleh




Bahar o Nowruzetan  Mobarak! Happy Spring & Happy Nowruz!

Nan Panjarehi - Nowruz Window Cookies


Vernal Equinox - The first day of Spring is only a few days away and one thing that is common among all Iranians is our shared passion for all things Nowruz, an ancient festival of Spring dating back 3000 years ago. In most households there's a frenzied rush to complete the task of khane tekani (spring cleaning), growing sabzeh (seeds), shopping for haft seen items and buying new clothes for the children, all before Sal-e Tahvil occurs. Nowruz is about feasting on traditional food such as kookoo sabzi, sabzi polow ba mahi, reshteh polow and ash-e reshteh among many other fresh and mixed herb-based dishes. There's also a rich tradition of baking New Year's desserts and each region has its own traditional shirini (sweets) to celebrate this traditional festival. Nowruz celebrations are a chance to nourish the body and the spirit by enjoying delicious meals with your family and friends.


Whether I engage in an all out khaneh tekani or choose to minimize it down to the necessary basics, I must always remind myself of the greater message of this celebration: purifying the heart, mind and soul. Nowruz, is about starting a "New Day," rejuvenating the mind and body, purifying the heart, welcoming light and good health into your life and getting rid of any negativity.


It has been a harsh winter here in the north east which makes the arrival of Spring all the more exhilarating. The force of life runs deep within the bare trees, hidden blooms and all living things like a winding river on the way to its destination, touching, turning and shifting everything in its path. The long-awaited joyous celebration of Nowruz (New Day) breathes optimism and joy into the world.


In our home Nowruz was always celebrated with mouth-watering sweets, fresh seasonal fruits and fancy ajil (Persian mixed nuts). One of my favorite Nowruz sweets that reminds me of home is nan panjerehi, a crunchy and lightly sweetened cookie. Nan Panjarehi/shirini panjarei translates to window cookies in Persian. Nan means bread and panjareh means window and making a window cookie is so befitting for springtime festivities. Nowruz holidays were the most beautiful time of year to be in Khuzestan province with its vast open fields of shaghayegh flowers and endless green hills.

This is an Iranian recipe with a touch of Scandinavian influence. I like that they use fewer eggs and add milk to the recipe. I opted to use 2 eggs and a cup of 2% milk. For this recipe you'll need a rosette iron, a candy thermometer (highly recommended) and a bit of patience. Typically, the first couple of cookies will not come out right.


Nan Panjerehi

Ingredients:
Makes about 40 pieces

1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup wheat starch
2 large eggs
1 cup milk (I used 2% milk)
4 tablespoons rosewater
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Vegetable oil (canola oil)
Powdered sugar

Method:

  1. Place the starch in a large mixing bowl, add the rosewater, stir to blend.
  2. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat with a fork lightly. 
  3. Add the whisked eggs, sifted flour, milk and ground cardamom to the mixture, mix with a wire whisk until well blended and smooth.
  4. Pass the mixture through a sieve. 
  5. Cover with a plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator for an hour.
  6. Heat 2-3 inches of oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit in a deep pot.
  7. Heat the rosette iron in the hot oil for one minute, remove and tap on a paper towel.
  8. Deep the iron into the batter just up to the edges, remove and place into the hot oil for 30 seconds or until golden. Remove from hot oil and place on paper towel lined large plate to remove any excess oil. 
Dust nan panjerehi with powdered sugar and serve.


Enjoy! Sale-e No Mobarak! Happy Nowruz!



Ode to Choghondar (Beets) + Recipes for Laboo and Kookoo Barg-e Choghondar (Beet Greens)


One wintry day long ago, during one of our trips to Tehran, I remember accompanying my mother as she went all over town running errands and shopping. It was getting late and we were hurrying to get home before dark when my mother stopped at a دکه ی لبو فروشی - dakeh-ye laboo forooshi (street vendor stand selling beets). A bunch of large, glazed purple/red beets were stacked neatly with some floating in their juice on a large tray. How do they make such simple and inexpensive street food so delicious? There must be an ancient secret recipe among the beet vendors in Iran - one that I would really love to get my hands on. Biting into a perfectly sweet, tender and warm laboo in the snow after a seemingly endless day was especially gratifying. لبو/ چغندرپخته Choghondar pokhteh/Laboo (cooked beets) happens to be one of Iran's popular street foods throughout the winter months. And this recipe brings back the cherished memories of my youth back home in Iran.


چغندر - Choghondar (beet) is highly nutritious, low in calories, quite versatile and has a gorgeous color. Beets can be thinly sliced or grated raw into salads, steamed, boiled or baked. Beets can also be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Those who love the earthy taste of beets can enjoy them throughout the year since they're always available in the market.


I have tried various ways of preparing beets. The simplest one is to roast them until tender and just serve them plain. Beets have a very high sugar content and there's really no need to add any sugar/sweeteners. However, I am on a quest to achieve the delicious and flavorful taste of the laboo I had in Iran.


I like to add honey for sweetness to the dish. You can use table sugar, brown sugar, or honey, whichever you prefer and you can adjust the sweetness to your liking. In addition, adding a good squeeze of lemon juice will enhance the color as well as the flavor of beets. For this recipe I peeled and sliced them before cooking. You can cook beets whole instead of slicing them. Just remember that beets stain everything and you may want to wear gloves while peeling and slicing them.

Laboo - Beets

Ingredients:
Serves:
4-6

4 medium-sized beets, trimmed, peeled, sliced
2 teaspoons white sugar or brown sugar or honey (I used raw unfiltered honey), use more if you like.
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Water

Optional garnish: chopped pistachios, sliced almonds

Method:

  1. Place the beets in a large heavy saucepan. Add enough water to cover the slices by 2 inches, bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 30 minutes.
  2. Add the lemon juice and honey, cover and simmer over low heat for another 10-15 minutes or until beets are tender and glazed. Make sure there is some liquid left in the bottom of the pan.
To serve place the beets in a deep serving platter, pour 2-3 tablespoons of the remaining liquid over them. Sprinkle with almonds and pistachios and serve immediately as a side dish or snack.


Beetroot greens (leaves and stems) also have nutritional value and can be substituted into most recipes that call for spinach. It can be added to ash reshtehkookoo sabzi or even ghormeh sabzi for a great flavor variation. After I cooked the beets I decided it was about time to make a dish just using its greens, the under-appreciated and often discarded barg-e choghondar, and that's how this beautiful and delicious kookoo barg-e choghondar was created.




Kookoo Barg-e Choghondar - Beet Greens Kookoo (leaves and stems)

Ingredients:
Serves
4-6

2 cups beet leaves, chopped (I gave them a quick rough chop)
2 cups beet stems, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
4 eggs
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
A pinch of cumin *optional
A pinch of cayenne pepper *optional 
Vegetable oil

Method:

  1. In a medium frying pan heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil, add onions and saute over medium-high heat until light golden brown. Add turmeric powder and garlic, saute for another 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove fried garlic and onion from oil, set aside.
  2. In a large bowl whisk the eggs until well mixed.
  3. Add the green beet leaves, red stems, fried onion and garlic, flour, salt, pepper, cumin, and cayenne. Mix thoroughly.
  4. In a large skillet heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat, gently pour in the mixture. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 35-40 minutes. There's no need to turn them over. This way they'll maintain their gorgeous color and fresh rustic look.
Serve warm or room temperature with warm bread, salad, mast o khiar and torshi.

As I am sure many of you may already know, since I have already shared the news on my Facebook and Instagram page, I was recently chosen by Yahoo Food as their blogger of the week. The following three recipes: Zucchini and Yogurt Salad, Fesenjoon and Khoresh-e Karafs were featured during the week along with a Q&A. I am truly honored and delighted.

Enjoy!

Shab-e Yalda 2014: Baslogh Recipe to Celebrate the Persian Yalda Night


The early sunsets, short days and long nights of autumn will be coming to an end this upcoming Sunday, December 21st. The earliest sunsets of the year occur during the week leading up to the winter solstice and on the shortest day of the year the sun sets at 4:32 PM and rises again at 7:17 AM the next day here in New York. Starting on the 1st day of winter the days become longer and of course the change happens far too slowly to be noticeable until several days later. The longest night of the year is called شب یلدا / شب چله  - Shab-e Yalda/Shab-e Cheleh in Persian. The word Yalda means birth and it refers to the birth of Mithra (god of light and justice) thousands of years ago. Traditionally, the night of Yalda is celebrated with friends and family gathering around a کرسی - korsi or سفره  - sofreh (tablecloth) spread or a table with festive fruits such as a bowl of ruby colored pomegranates, a platter of sliced sweet watermelons and fully ripened delicious persimmons. Also, on the table would be a bowl of ajil (nuts, seeds and dried fruits), sweets, and poetry by Hafez. This festival usually starts after dinner and continues into the late hours of the night with poetry reading, storytelling and music to celebrate the victory of light over darkness, the start of a new season, and to make the long hours of the night go by faster! For me, it is also a way of honoring all those who have celebrated Yalda long before us, during the cold and dark nights of winter huddling around a little oil lamp or a wood burning fire pit with limited food. And yet they still managed to keep the spirit of shab-e cheleh alive for many centuries to come.


There are no specific meals or dinner menus associated with Yalda celebrations and in all these years of blogging I have never felt a need to write a recipe for Yalda until now. It is all up to you as to what to prepare for the night. However, among the sweets served, baslogh is commonly known as a yalda shirini (sweets). باسلوق لقمه ای  - Baslogh is a soft starch based candy infused with rosewater and each individual piece is completely coated with shredded coconuts and topped with walnuts. In addition to rosewater, saffron and ground cardamom may be used as well. For this recipe you will need a little patience as it does require constant stirring.


Baslogh

Ingredients:
Makes about 14 pieces

1/2 cup cornstarch
1 cup (8-ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup rosewater
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup walnut halves
1 tablespoon butter, unsalted
1 cup shredded coconut, sweetened

Method:

  1. Pour the shredded coconut into a large bowl. Set aside.
  2. Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil over medium-high heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer.
  3. Mix cornstarch and a 1/2 cup of cool water together in a small saucepan, stir until dissolved. 
  4. Add dissolved cornstarch to the sugar syrup. Bring to a boil, stir constantly until the mixture is no longer lumpy. Reduce the heat to low, simmer, stirring frequently until thickened for about 15-20 minutes. Add the rosewater, butter and  lemon juice, cook for another 5-7 minutes. Stirring constantly.
  5. Drop a spoonful at a time of the mixture into the bowl of shredded coconut, shape the mixture into balls, turning over to evenly coat the sides. You need to move quickly. Place a walnut half in the center of each baslogh. Arrange on a serving platter. Serve with tea.

Happy Shab-e Yalda!


Khoresh Kadoo Halvaie - Persian Beef and Pumpkin Stew


One of the beauties of fall is the abundance of many varieties of winter squashes that come in different shapes, sizes and colors. I typically use butternut squash for its flavor and color in my cooking however this time I chose to use کدو حلوایی - kadoo halvaie, the vibrant orange small sugar pumpkin that is both beautiful and delicious. It is the same kind of pumpkin my mother used to roast in the oven back in Iran and now when I cook it it still has the overwhelmingly familiar taste of home. Orange is a joyous color and pumpkins are nature's gift; a free dose of color therapy on these gray, short and gloomy autumn days. I'm thankful to my lovely neighbors for leaving out all these gorgeous pumpkins on their front porches early on in the fall season until they eventually become food for the squirrels. There are a ton of sweet pumpkin dessert recipes out there. However, pumpkins are also delicious in savory dishes as well. خورش کدو حلوایی - Khoresh-e kadoo is a ملس - malas (sweet and sour) fall flavored dish that will warm your heart.


I'm often asked if there are any Persian vegetarian or vegan recipes. Most people may not think of Persian cuisine as vegetarian/vegan friendly and only think of کباب - Kabobs when they think of Iranian food. Or there may not be many obvious vegetarian dishes on restaurant menus. However, there are many types of fresh vegetables that are served raw or cooked as a side dish. Just to give you a sample check out this link to my vegetarian recipes. As for vegan recipes, I'd like to point out that you can easily omit the meat in many stew recipes that call for stewing lamb/beef, except for the traditional آبگوشت abgoosht/dizi varieties, and still have a delicious and fulfilling meal.



I added a handful of آلو بخارا - aloo bokhara (dried yellow plums) to the stew toward the end of cooking. They may be found in most Persian/Middle Eastern grocery stores. If not, you can substitute them with prunes instead. Typically, potatoes and carrots are not a part of the authentic version of this khoresh but they make the stew more rich and flavorful without changing the overall taste. I also like to add a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon. جوز هندی - Nutmeg is not a commonly used spice in Iranian cooking but in our home it was one of the spices that my mother cherished and she always kept some in her little glass spice jars.


Khoresh Kadoo Halvaie

Ingredients:
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 pounds boneless beef or lamb stew meat, cut into small bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 pounds peeled, seeded and cubed pumpkin or butternut squash
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 large tomato, peeled, chopped
1 medium carrot, sliced *optional
1 large potato, peeled, cubed *optional
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce, organic
1 cup aloo bokhara (dried plums), pitted
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch of nutmeg
Juice of 1 lemon (use more if you prefer)
1 tablespoon table sugar or brown sugar (use less if you prefer)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Vegetable oil
Water

Method:

  1. In a large skillet heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil, add pumpkin and saute lightly for about 7 minutes.
  2. Stir in cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and a dash of salt. Cook for another 5 minutes. Set aside. 
  3. In a large pan heat 3 tablespoons of oil, add sliced onions and saute over medium-high heat until golden. Add minced garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the turmeric powder, stir and mix well.
  4. Add beef and cook until brown on all sides, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add water to cover all ingredients by about an inch, mix well. Bring to a boil on high heat, lower the heat, cover and cook over medium heat for about 45 minutes or until tender.
  6. Add in the sauteed pumpkins, potato and carrots to the stew. Add a little bit of water if necessary. Cover and cook for another 30 minutes over low heat. Add in the plums, lemon juice and sugar. Stir well, taste and adjust the seasoning, simmer for another 10-15 minutes. 
Serve hot with rice, mast o khiar, and sabzi khordan.



Enjoy!