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!

Ash-e Haft Daneh - Persian Seven Bean Hearty Soup - Mehregan Festival Recipe


Mehregan/Mehr is an ancient Iranian festival celebrating the start of the beautiful fall season. With its vibrant foliage, crisp days, and harvesting of crops, مهرگان (Mehregan) is traditionally celebrated a few days after the first day of fall (Autumnal Equinox) on the 10th day of  (Mehr) (the seventh month of the Iranian calendar). In the past, festivities would last for several days. Opinions about the exact date of Mehregan may differ since the historical records show that the date has been changed a few times throughout history. The wordمهر "Mehr" in Mehregan means 'sun, kindness, love and friendship' in Persian. جشن مهرگان Jashn-e Mehregan is attributed to Mithra/Mehr, the goddess of the sun and brightness and also the angelic divinity of friendship, justice and oath dating back to the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism. One of the most valuable lessons of prophet Zartosht (Zoroaster), that is still cherished today, is his teachings of good thoughts, good words and good deeds.


It's also believed that Mehregan marks the triumph of Kaveh Ahangar, the blacksmith who fought the tyrant king Zahak and defeated him, saving the people from his brutal reign which resulted in the crowning of Fereydun as king in the epic Shahnameh (Book of Kings), written by the great Persian poet Ferdowsi. Therefore, Mehregan is also considered a day when good destroys evil, a common thread in many old Iranian fables.


Growing up, my family celebrated Nowruz (Persian New Year) and Yalda (the longest night) every year more grand than the year before. However, I don't have any recollection of any Mehregan celebrations. I can't think of a particular reason why we didn't celebrate Mehregan at home other than perhaps the timing of it being inconvenient for my parents. The first day of fall is the first day of school in Iran. My guess is that for my parents having to deal with a bunch of kids and getting each of us ready for school must have been overwhelming enough around that time of year! And so when the dust was settled Mehregan had come and went. Now, more than ever, I'm passionate about paying a long overdue ode to this centuries-old Iranian festival for the purpose of introducing it to my children as well as others and preserving it for future generations. Plus, we can always use a little more mehr, light and good cheer in our lives. This festival also serves as a necessary reminder that similar to how the struggles and efforts of Kaveh Ahangar came to fruition beautifully, we too can overcome our personal challenges and obstacles.


Food is an integral part of most celebrations and Mehregan is no exception. On this date, fresh fruits such as grapes, pomegranate, apples, quince, figs and persimmon were served along with an assortment of nuts, dried fruits, sweets and rosewater. In my research for a Mehregan main dish I came across the  آش هفت غله - Ash-e Haft Daneh (seven bean soup) in a few written records of a typical mehregan feast. And in my quest for preserving traditions I decided to recreate this recipe which was perhaps once served on our ancestral sofreh (spread).




I chose to call it a seven bean soup but this is more than just a soup and it's more than just beans.
آش هفت دانه - Ash-e haft daneh is a combination of beans, seeds, whole wheat and some vegetables. The main ingredients in the original recipe were listed as wheat, barley, rice, chickpeas, lentils, mung beans and millet. There are many different variations of this traditional ash (stew/soup). You can make this soup with lamb shank or lamb/beef stock and add vegetables such as parsley, cilantro, chives/leeks, spinach and dill. However, since this is a hearty and flavor-packed soup I didn't think adding any kind of meat was necessary. Also, it is not loaded with vegetables like ash-e reshteh and it does not have noodles either. I replaced millet and mung beans with two other kinds of beans and used tomatoes for added flavor.


Ash-e Haft Daneh

Ingredients:
Serves 8

1/2 cup chickpeas
1/2 cup pinto beans
1/2 cup white beans
1/2 cup lentils
1/2 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup bulgur
1/3 cup rice
2 large tomatoes, grated
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 bunch chives or scallions/leeks, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
Juice of a lemon
Water

For Topping:

Piaz Dagh:
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon dried mint
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Oil

Liquid kashk (whey) or yogurt

Method:

  1. Place the chickpeas, pinto beans, white beans and barley in a large bowl, rinse, add a quart of water, soak for six hours.
  2. Drain and place in a large pot.
  3. Rinse the rice, lentils and bulgur and add to the pot.
  4. Add water to cover by at least two inches, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, cook for one hour over medium-low heat.
  5. Add the grated tomatoes with their juices to the pot. 
  6. Heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions, saute for 20 minutes until golden, add the garlic and turmeric and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add the dried mint, saute for an additional minute or two. 
  7. Add parsley, chives and 1/2 of the sauteed onions to the pot. Add salt and pepper. Cover and cook for another 45-50 minutes on low heat or until the beans are all very tender. Add lemon juice toward the end of cooking. Add more water if needed and adjust the seasoning.
Ladle ash into a serving bowl and top with kashk and fried onion. Serve hot with warm bread and yogurt.

A group of Iranian food bloggers have prepared delicious recipes to celebrate the ancient Persian Festival of Mehregan. Please check out the following links:

Mehregan 2014 Round Up:

Ahu Eats: Badoom Sookhte Torsh
All Kinds of Yum: Jeweled Carrot Salad
Bottom of the Pot: Broccoli Koo Koo
Cafe Leilee: Northern Iranian Pomegranate Garlic and Chicken Stew
Coco in the Kitchen: Zeytoon Parvardeh
Della Cucina Povera: Ghormeh Sabzi
Family Spice: Khoreshteh Kadoo | Butternut Squash Stew
Fig & Quince: Festive Persian Noodle Rice & Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Yummies 
for Mehregan
Honest and Tasty: Loobia Polo | Beef and Green Bean Rice
Lab Noon: Adas Polo Risotto
Lucid Food: Sambuseh
Marjan Kamali: Persian Ice Cream with Rosewater and Saffron
My Caldron: Anaar-Daneh Mosamma | Pomegranate Stew
My Persian Kitchen: Keshmesh Polow | Persian Raisin Rice
Noghlemey: Parsi Dal Rice Pie
Parisa's Kitchen: Morasa Polow | Jeweled Rice
Sabzi: Ash-e Mast, Yogurt Soup with Meatballs
The saffron Tales: Khoresht-e Gheimeh
Simi's Kitchen: Lita Turshisi | Torshi-e Liteh | Tangy aubergine pickle
Spice Spoon: Khoresht-e-bademjaan
The Unmanly Chef: Baghali Polow ba Mahicheh 
ZoZoBaking: Masghati


روز مهر  و ماه مهر و جشن فرخ مهرگان 
مهر بفزا ای نگارماه چهر مهربان 
مهربانی کن به جشن مهرگان و روز مهر
مهربانی کن به روز مهر و جشن مهرگان  
  
مسعود سعد سلمان ~


Happy Mehr & Happy Mehregan!

Ranginak - Persian Date Dessert (Recipe #2)


We are in the midst of خرما پزان - khorma pazan season, a term used by locals in the south of Iran when the temperature reaches its peak of 100+ degrees Fahrenheit combined with an elevated humidity above 60 percent, thus making outdoor activities unbearable. However, it's due to this intense heat that dates become fully ripened/"cooked" while on the tree and ready for harvest. This recipe is an ode to the traditional Khuzestani-style ranginak, a delicious date and walnut dessert. This is an easy recipe that requires just a little bit of patience to stuff the plump pitted dates with lightly toasted walnuts, arrange them onto a platter and slather them with a warm mixture of melted butter and flour infused with cardamom and cinnamon. The sweet taste of ranginak brings back memories of home.

Dates have been a part of the Persian cuisine for hundreds of years. The palm dates grow southward along the Persian Gulf and the warm regions of Ilam, Bushehr, Fars, Khuzestan, Sistan & Baluchestan and Kerman. To most people, pomegranates may be considered the national fruit of Iran but in my opinion dates are the national fruit of Khuzestan! Many years have gone by since I lived there but it's the many images and memories that still run through my mind. I remember Khoramshar's vast fields of date palms, the stacks of tin buckets filled with dates in small shops, barely-ripe or half-ripe bunches of dates spread about on the woven mat and then of course my mother's date dessert.


Dates were a snack for when we got home from school back then and now whether they are fresh, dried, large or small, dates will go perfectly with your hot cup of tea anytime of the day. They are so addictive that you'll be tempted to reach for a date with every sip and let the sweetness of the dates mingle with the aroma and slightly bitter taste of the strong, freshly brewed loose leaf chai. Dates are naturally sweet and substantially tastier than any other sweet fruits and they come in many different varieties and depending on when they are harvested dates may range from unripe to partially ripe or fully ripe.


I wrote my mother's version of this recipe a long time ago which is a bit less time consuming than this version. In that recipe, instead of stuffing the dates one by one, you would combine them together and heat them through before you add the butter and flour mixture since you don't need to one by one stuff the dates with walnuts. My mother's approach to cooking was a no-fuss, no-frills way of cooking. On an ordinary day she had to prepare meals for her large family and cooking was the only thing that she did not like to delegate at all.

Ranginak

Ingredients:
Makes about 24 pieces

1 pound dates, pitted
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup walnuts, halves
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
2-3 tablespoons pistachios, finely crushed

Method:

  1. Toast walnuts in a small dry skillet for 3-5 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until fragrant. remove Stuff the toasted walnuts into the cavity of the dates.
  2. In medium sized skillet toast the flour for about 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the edges turn a light golden brown. 
  3. Add the butter and cook for 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat. Add the cinnamon, cardamom and sugar, stir well. Cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat.
  4. Spread 1/2 of the batter on the bottom of the serving platter and arrange the stuffed dates in a single layer on the dish.
  5. Spread the remaining batter over the dates, gently press down. Garnish with pistachios. Let cool for a couple of hours.
Serve with hot tea.

Enjoy!