Yakh dar Behesht - Ice in Paradise


The other day I sat down under the pear tree in the back of our garden to take a brief break from the intense summer heat and to also enjoy the refreshing sweet creamy taste of یخ در بهشت  - Yakh dar Behesht. Ice in Paradise is a rice flour and milk dessert recipe infused with cardamom and rosewater and topped with pistachios. This dessert's intriguing name is a combination of the term "yakh " meaning "ice," "dar" meaning "in," and "behesht" meaning "paradise." According to the online Encyclopedia Iranica entry on Garden "From the time of the Achaemenid empire the idea of an earthly paradise spread to the literature and languages of other cultures. The Avestan word pairidaeza-, Old Persian *paridida-, Median *paridaiza- (walled-around, i.e., a walled garden), was transliterated into Greek paradeisoi, then rendered into the Latin paradisus, and from there entered into European languages, i.e., French paradis and English paradise." An ancient earthly Persian Paradise consisted of a majestic castle surrounded by lush pastures, magnificent Cypress trees, a large shimmering reflecting pool covered with water lilies and streams gently flowing through the pomegranate trees and fragrant rose bushes.


I cannot tell you much about the origin of the name of this dish -- perhaps it was given its name by a king or a queen, or a chef with a poetic mind or even a dinner guest with a knack for exotic names. The word pardis/paradise means different things to different people. It may remind some of us of heaven above or perhaps earthly Persian-style paradise gardens. To me, paradise is a state of mind.  It is those precious moments spent with loved ones. It's when you feel safe, at peace with yourself and your surroundings. It's those heavenly moments when you sit back, relax and are able to calm the mind and the inner frenzy and treat yourself to this delicious summertime treat somewhere under the small shade of a fruit tree.


Come, come, whoever you are,
wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter, ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a hundred times.
Come, yet again, come, come.

~ مولوی - Rumi

Whoever comes to this place feed them and don't ask about their faith

~ خاقانی - Khaghani

Isfahanis have a special way with desserts and food in general and I got this recipe from my sister-in-law Shahnaz who lives in Isfahan. According to her Yakh dar Behesht is one of the most popular desserts there.

I changed the recipe a little bit by cutting the required amount of ingredients in half. You may adjust the sugar to your liking.




Yakh dar Behesht

Ingredients:
Serves 6-8

1 cup rice flour
1 1/3 cup sugar or to taste
4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup wheat starch or cornstarch
1/4 cup rosewater
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
Water

Garnish:

Crushed pistachios
Shredded coconuts
Slivered almonds
Dried rose petals

Method:

  1. In a small mixing bowl dissolve cornstarch in 1/2 cup of cool water.
  2. Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stir in rice flour and sugar while whisking continuously until the sugar is fully dissolved. Add cornstarch and cardamom and whisk consistently until thickened to a pudding-like consistency. Reduce the heat, add rosewater, stir and simmer on low heat for another 2-3 minutes. 
  3. Remove from heat and pour into a large shallow glass dish and sprinkle crushed pistachios or shredded coconuts on top. Or generously sprinkle crushed pistachios onto the bottom of the silicon molds, pour the mixture into the molds, smooth the surface and level it out. The third option is to simply pour the mixture into individual serving bowls. 
  4. Allow to cool at room temperature and place in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours or until set. 
Serve cold.


Enjoy!

Chicken Koobideh - Grilled Ground Chicken Kabab


With the arrival of warm weather it's finally time to take my cooking outside to my backyard surrounded by ivy covered trees, tall shrubs and evergreens, and get my grill going to make some delicious کباب کوبیده مرغ - chicken koobideh for my family. The entire process of making کباب - kabab from preparing the meat mixture, shaping it on long metal skewers with evenly spaced ridges, to standing over a hot grill on a hot summer day with all the flames, smoke and smell of charcoal is an especially nostalgic experience for me. کوبیده - Koobideh is a dish that I remember the most from my childhood since my mother would make kabab very often while we were growing up. I remember our portable منقل - manghal (grill) that was placed by the side of the hayat (court-yard), always accessible and never put away even during winter. All it needed was some charcoal, matches and a بادبزن - badbezan (handheld fan) to get the fire going -- rain or shine. Well, of course mostly shine and very little rain where I grew up.


There are many varieties of kabab in Persian cuisine. Chelow Kabab Koobideh (saffron steamed plain rice with grilled kabab) is a national dish of Iran and it is traditionally made with ground lamb. However, when I moved here I found the lamb to have a strong smell and flavor and was very different from what I was used to in Iran. Therefore, I mostly use beef instead of lamb in my cooking. This is a low-fat chicken koobideh recipe for those of us trying to cut back on red meat  A cross between kabab koobideh and joojeh kabab that's worth a try!




Ingredients:
Makes 6 metal flat skewers

2 pounds ground chicken (preferably thigh meat)
1 large onion, grated
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
1-2 tablespoons liquid saffron
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
A pinch of red pepper
Juice of 1-2 limes
Olive oil

Method:

  1. In a large mixing bowl combine ground chicken, grated onion, turmeric, saffron, salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Mix well using your hands. Cover with a plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to come together.
  2. Leave a bowl of cool water next to you on the counter. Take a handful of the chicken mixture, place it around the skewer, dip your hand in the water and shape the meat into a long kabab. 
  3. In a small bowl mix the 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the lime juice. 
  4. Prepare your charcoal or gas grill, place the skewers over the grill, turning them every few minutes until each kabab is fully cooked.
  5. Brush the olive oil and lime juice mixture over the kababs on both sides half way through cooking.
Place the kababs on a platter, squeeze a bit of lime juice over the kababs, sprinkle with sumac. Serve with rice, grilled vegetables, mast o khiar and doogh.

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!