Yalda Night (Winter Solstice) 2015 and Shami Haveej - Carrot Shami Kabab with Sweet & Sour Tomato Sauce


شب چله/شب یلدا Shab-e Yalda/Shab-e Chelleh, the ancient Persian celebration of the longest night, dates back thousands of years ago to the birth of میترا Mithra the god of light who was born on the eve of yalda (winter solstice). After the longest night of the year the days will gradually become longer symbolizing the victory of light over darkness. The word یلدا yalda means birth in سریانی Syriac language and for Iranians, the eve of yalda is a time for joyful celebration filled with poetry, music, and delicious food.  For me, celebrating the Iranian festival of light is a meaningful جشن jashn (festivity) perhaps because it was always celebrated in our home growing up in Iran. The night of yalda is a time to reflect and appreciate how our ancestors kept this tradition alive for several millennia. Looking at our history, I can only imagine how many of those shab-e yalda gatherings took place amid uncertainties, unrest, battles and frightening dark times. However, they did not succumb to the madness of their times and held on to the belief that light will prevail over darkness. It inspires us to light the candles on this night, serve the traditional winter fruits, nuts and sweets, read poetry, share happy memories and pass on the tradition to future generations.


Almost all of the dried autumn leaves in my yard have been raked and the grill cleaned and put away for the season. I'm going to miss the whole experience of outdoor cooking -- the taste and the smell of food cooked on an open fire outside. Perhaps on one or two occasions I'll brave the cold and pull out the grill from under the plastic covers and make some koobideh. kotlet, shami and kabab deegi are stove top alternatives to grilled kababs although they can be cooked any time of year regardless of the season.


 شامی هویج (Carrot shami) is a favorite in our home. This shami kabab is made with chickpea flour or you can use mashed cooked chickpeas as well. Chickpea flour adds a nutty flavor to these meat patties and the shredded carrots add a little sweetness. This recipe can also be made with زردک zardak (parsnip) instead of carrots. Carrot shami may be simmered in a sweet and sour tomato sauce dressing and it's best served with rice. You can also add a handful of finely chopped herbs to the meat mixture for extra flavor and aroma.


Shami Haveej- Carrot Shami

Ingredients:
Makes about 16 patties

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, lamb or turkey
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
3 tablespoons chickpea flour
1 large yellow onion, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
Oil for frying

Ingredients for the sauce:

1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Water


Method:

  • In a large bowl combine meat, carrots, chickpea flour, onion, garlic, eggs, turmeric, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly until well blended. 
  • In a non-stick skillet or a cast-iron skillet heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium heat.
  • Take a handful of the meat mixture, shape into a small ball, flatten it as the size of your palm and make a hole in the center with your finger. You can also make oval shaped patties. 
  • Fry the patties until the meat is nicely browned on both sides.
  • In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onions, saute until soft and golden. 
  • Add the tomato paste and saute for a couple of minutes. 
  • Add 2 cups of water, pomegranate molasses, sugar, salt and pepper to taste.  Stir well and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, layer the shami kababs in the skillet. Cover and simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes, 
Serve warm or at room temperature with sabzi khordan, torshi, mast o khiar, and polow.

P.S. I'd like to take a moment here to say it's my seven year blog anniversary and I would like to express many thanks and my deepest gratitude to my faithful readers and welcome to the new readers!

A collage of  past Yalda nights

Happy Shab-e Yalda! Happy Winter Solstice!

Khoresh-e Holu - Persian Peach Stew with Chicken


I was planning on making this savory peach khoresh during the summer when the lush peaches were at their peak but somehow I just didn't get around to it. Now, several days past the autumnal equinox, I think this savory peach chicken stew is the perfect farewell to summer as well as a delicious way to celebrate the beginning of fall and مهرگان - Mehregan. Mehregan is the annual ancient Persian festival of autumn's bounty and the feast of Mithra the symbol of kindness, friendship, love, and light. I believe now more than ever that we need to reach deep within and incorporate the message of مهر و محبت  mehr-o-mohabat (love and kindness), compassion and respect for everyone into our lives. Here's a link to my previous post on Mehregan.


As much as I love the fall season it's always hard to say goodbye to the sweet flavor of peaches as well as the many other flavorful summer fruits. And for those that are not crazy about the fuzzy peach skin there's always the option of smooth, sweet and juicy nectarines. The best way to enjoy a fresh summer fruit is to make a beautiful fruit platter or a colorful fruit salad. Many try to make the most of the fruits that are in season by making sweet and creamy summer deserts. In Persian cuisine fresh and dried fruits such as apricots, quince, raisins, plums and pomegranates are frequently used in savory dishes. Here are three examples of recipes made with fruits: Apple Khoresh with Dried Apricots, Fruit AshQuince Khoresh


This خورش هلو - peach khoresh is well balanced between sweet and sour due to the slight acidity of the fresh lime juice and the slightly sweet brown sugar. For a more sweet flavor you may use honey or white sugar instead of brown sugar. This dish may be made with lamb, beef or chicken. I didn't peel the peaches but if you find them extra fuzzy you may want to remove the skin. I made khoresh -e holu using tomato sauce but after tasting the two stews I do prefer the taste of the stew without the tomato sauce. Both dried peaches and fresh peaches are used in this recipe. Dried peaces are added in the beginning to cook along with the chicken pieces for added flavor and the fresh peaches are added toward the end of cooking since we don't want them to get mushy. You can substitute the dried peaches with dried plums or dried apricots.


Khoresh-e Holu - Peach Stew

Ingredients:
Serves 4

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 firm, slightly under-ripe yellow peaches, peel, remove the pits and cut into slices
4 dried peaches, cut in half
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil or olive oil
Water

Method:

  • Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a pan, add the sliced onion and saute until light brown over medium-high heat. 
  • Add the minced garlic and turmeric and saute for another 2 minutes or so. 
  • Add the chicken, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and saute until the chicken is no longer pink in the center.
  • Add the dried peaches, cardamom and stir to combine.
  • Add water to cover the chicken pieces. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover and cook for 40 minutes.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced peaches and saute lightly on both sides for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the sliced peaches to the pot with the chicken. 
  • Add cinnamon, lime juice and sugar, stir gently,  cover and simmer for another 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve warm with rice and salad shirazi.

Happy Autumn. Happy Mehregan!

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 -Ice In Paradise

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!


Kabab Koobideh Morgh - Chicken Koobideh

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 kabab, 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 cookies. نان پنجره ای  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 کوکوبرگ چغندر 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!