November 29, 2011

Sohan Asali - Persian Honey and Saffron Almond Candy

This past weekend marked my third year anniversary blogging about Persian cuisine, which is the kind of food I grew up with and to this day love to make all the time and gladly share it with you. When I ventured into the world of food blogging I never thought that one day I would be celebrating my blog's 3rd anniversary! The title of my blog, "Turmeric and Saffron" best describes my late mother's kitchen, with her spice jars and herb bottles everywhere on the counter and shelves, except for her small container of deep red saffron threads from Mashhad tucked away in a cupboard. Among the blend of intoxicating aromas in our ashpaz-khaneh (kitchen) there were various yellow turmeric-stained wooden spatulas, mismatched kitchen rags, her favorite plasco plastic containers and an array of over-sized pots and pans. Then there she was, in the middle of the kitchen meticulously preparing food for her family while beautifully humming a tune by one of her favorite singers such as Delkash, Elaheh and Marzieh.

Almost every meal that we ate at home was cooked by my mother from start to finish, since she would not allow any helpers to cook for us. She was very picky when it would come to cooking and eating. Of course baking was an exception to this rule. My mother would use zardchoobeh (turmeric) extensively to enhance the flavor and improve the aroma of meat dishes, stews and any recipe that involved using lamb or chicken. When making the traditional abgousht/abgoosht (lamb stew) she would add a full teaspoon of turmeric to the boiling water before adding the lamb shanks and the other ingredients, a cooking technique that I only saw in her kitchen. Zaferan (saffron) on the other hand was used in most rice dishes and some sweets such as shole-zard to give a bold flavor, gorgeous natural orange-reddish color and a delicious aroma. She would usually pour a estekan (small tea cup) of saffron-water mixture over the parboiled rice in the pot before placing the towel covered lid back on the pot to steam. My mother had a vast knowledge of herbal medicine, plants, food ingredients as well as how to make healthy food choices. It is not only writing down my mother's recipes and my memories of growing up in Iran that bring me joy and keep me connected to my roots but more importantly it's the simple sharing of my mother's recipes that I find even more fulfilling.

For this sweet occasion I'm making سوهان عسلی sohan asali (honey and almond candy). For best results I recommend using butter instead of vegetable oil. Even though flavored honey is not used in making this candy I like to use the orange blossom honey for an added flavor. I would also like to lightly toast the slivered almonds to improve the aroma and the taste. While cooking, the content becomes very hot so it would be wonderful if someone could give you a hand at the end when you are dropping the spoonful of the hot mixture onto the parchment paper since it dries quickly and you still need to sprinkle the ground pistachios on top. Otherwise, you've got to be very quick.

Sohan Asali - Persian Honey and Saffron Almond Candy

Makes about 20 pieces

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup slivered almonds
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons rose water
1/2 teaspoon saffron powder
1/4 cup pistachios, crushed for garnish

  1. Cover a large baking tray with parchment paper and leave the crushed pistachios nearby.
  2. In a medium sized heavy pot combine sugar, honey, oil and rose water on medium heat for about 5-7 minutes or until sugar is completely dissolved. Stir and swirl the pot around a few times.
  3. Lower the heat and add in the almonds into the sugar mixture, stir frequently, cook for another 7-10 minutes or until they turn light golden.
  4. Add the crushed saffron and gently stir with a wooden spoon.
  5. When the almonds are well coated with this caramel color syrup, start spooning out the mixture on the parchment paper as quickly as you can and sprinkle the pistachios on top. Allow them to cool completely.
  6. Remove the sohan asali from the tray, store in an airtight container and serve them the next day.
Serve with a hot cup of tea.

* I have tweaked and made some minor changes to the original recipe. I have cut the amount of sugar and made it vegan.


November 14, 2011

Moraba-ye Beh - Persian Quince Jam with Cardamom and Rose Water

Recently, a reader left a comment on my blog asking for a recipe for quince jam and that's when I decided to make this gorgeous colored, delicious and fragrant jam while quinces are still available in the market. مربای به Quince jam was part of the typical Persian sobhaneh (breakfast) back home in Iran and it included freshly baked warm bread (barbari, taftoon or sangak) right out of the tanoor, a fresh brewed hot cup of chai (tea), sarshir (breakfast cream), panir (my fave, lighvan), butter and honey. Among the many different kinds of jams, quince jam added color, flavor and aroma to our busy breakfast table. I suggest making a large batch since this is the kind of jam that you just want to eat right out of the jar. I wish I could say how long quince jam would last when refrigerated but past a 2-3 month time period I wouldn't know. It never lasts beyond that time in our fridge. It's truly amazing to see the transformation of this light yellowish colored, tart, firm and woody fruit into a sweet fruit jam that is a rich stunning shade of red and soft enough to melt in your mouth.

This time of year, when quince is in season, it is the best time to make the hearty one-pot meal known as tas kabab with layers of sliced quinces or the fall recipe khoresh-e beh (quince stew).  Quince has a thin skin and there's usually no need to remove it, just rinse it well and with a sharp knife gently remove the core but don't throw away the seeds which are used for medicinal purposes. As I have mentioned before in one of my previous posts, a teaspoon of quince seeds mixed with a cup of hot water can help soothe a minor sore throat and chest pains. Nothing of this fruit goes to waste!

Moraba-ye Beh - Persian Quince Jam

Makes about 4 pint jars 

7 medium sized quince, rinse well under water and pat dry, remove any brown spots and core, slice or cut into bite-size pieces
3 cups sugar (can be adjusted to your liking)
3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom or use 2-3 whole cardamom pods (I used green cardamom)
1 tablespoon rose water *optional
Water, 4 cups

  1.  Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice over the quince slices.
  2. In a large heavy-bottom saucepan combine the sugar and water, bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, uncovered. Reduce the heat and boil for another ten minutes on medium-low heat or until it thickens a little bit. 
  3. Add the ground cardamom and quince slices to the sugar syrup, bring back to a boil on medium heat. Pour in the rest of the lemon juice and add a little more water if needed.
  4. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours on low heat. It is recommended not to remove the lid during the cooking to ensure that the quince slices develop the desired rich ruby red color. You can wrap the lid in a clean kitchen towel. I didn't wrap the lid with any cloth and a few times I gently stirred the content.
  5. Add a tablespoon of rose water and simmer for another few minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and let cool.
  7. Ladle the jam into sterilized jars. Cover tightly and refrigerate.
Serve with butter, cheese, thick yogurt and/or as a topping with vanilla ice cream. 


November 04, 2011

Borani Kalam Ghomri - Persian Kohlrabi and Yogurt Dip

I have been planning to make this super delicious recipe for quite some time now. بورانی Borani is a Persian side dish/appetizer that's made with plain yogurt and the vegetable of your choice such as borani esfenaj, borani bademjan and borani laboo, which are the most well known and popular among other borani recipes.
 A week ago I made my usual early morning visit to the vegetable market. Most times when I walk in there some of the shelves are still empty while the workers are taking the products out of their boxes and arranging the produce on the shelves. I prefer this not-so-hectic time at the vegetable market so I can walk through the aisles looking for different fruits and vegetables while enjoying their fresh aromas and not having to maneuver my shopping cart through the packed aisles. On that day my eyes spotted kohlrabies once again and since I had بورانی کلم قمری borani kalam ghomri recipe on my mind I picked up a few. As I was placing them into the plastic bag another customer quickly came and took a couple of kohlrabies without any hesitation. I was wondering what kind of a dish she was planning to make with these gorgeous kohlrabies. By the time I decided to ask this random stranger for a recipe in a vegetable store she had walked away onto the next aisle. I walked away thinking that if my mother were there she not only would have found out what this lady was going to make for dinner that night but she would also get to know her personally and find out so much about her in the course of one simple conversation!

In my mother's case, standing in saf-e noon o goosht (store lines) whether to buy freshly baked bread or the good quality hand-cut meat at the butcher shop, it was a precious moment to get to know her neighbors and the people in the community. She loved a good conversation and was always eager to hear ordinary people's real-life stories and that's what she would miss greatly every time she came here for a visit. Not being able to communicate in English with our neighbors, people in the markets or the parks was quite troubling for her emotionally. We were all so busy each time she visited us that we could not accommodate her as fully as she would have desired. I would try to do my best translating her questions which at times were a bit too personal for my taste. She was very much interested in learning how and when someone had migrated to this country, what it was like in the beginning and how the transition and the assimilation process was like for them. At times, I felt so uneasy interpreting this line of back and forth communication between my mother and a non-Iranian guest at a party. But that was the kind of story my mother was interested in, not what people did for a living, how much they were worth or what kind of a house or car they owned. I suppose it was her genuine interest in the human story of displacement and diaspora that people often responded well to her questions by giving lengthy answers.

Borani Kalam Ghomri - Kohlrabi and Yogurt Dip

Serves 4

2 1/2  cups thick yogurt (strained)
3 medium-size kohlrabies, peeled, thinly sliced or coarsely shredded or cubed
1 bunch of fresh parsley, hard stems removed and chopped
1 small bunch of fresh chives or scallions, chopped
A few sprigs of fresh mint, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried mint
1 large onion, chopped or thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
A small pinch of turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper (may be adjusted to your liking)
Olive oil (extra virgin) or Vegetable oil

  1.  Place the sliced kohlrabies into a skillet, add 1/2 cup of water and cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes until they soften slightly. Add a pinch of salt. Discard water.
  2. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil/vegetable oil in a frying pan, add onions and saute until golden brown. Add a tiny pinch of  turmeric and the minced garlic, stir and saute them in the olive oil for another five minutes. 
  3. Add the kohlrabi pieces, salt and pepper to taste. 
  4. At the end add the chopped parsley, chives and mint and mix well.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine the yogurt with all the ingredients and gently stir together. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Let cool for an hour.
Scoop the borani into a serving bowl and garnish with fried onion and garlic. I layered the top with extra slices of kohlrabi.This could be served as a side dish or an afternoon healthy snack with warm bread or pita chips.