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Archive for the ‘Iranian food’ Category

Easy slow cooker meatballs with loads of Persian spices.

I feel like such a bootleg Persian, because I don’t grill kebab at least weekly. We did this a lot growing up. And nowadays, I love to visit the fam and eat a good grilled meal or two. Indeed, that’s a trip highlight. But as long as I call my outdoor space free NYC apartment home, I don’t see lots of impromptu, casual grilling nights in my future. The good ol’ George Foreman grill, while perfectly functional, just isn’t the same as open flames.

So for now, I’ve turned to the slow cooker. It’s quite the opposite of grilling,  I suppose: just prep the food, load up the cooker, and walk away. For hours. To that end, I’ve taken a ground chicken kebab mix and turned it into meatballs.

Serve them atop my easy rice, with a veggie side. Traditionally, Persian kebabs are served with a chunk or two of grilled tomato and onions, plus lots of fresh herbs. Here, instead, I’ve gone more in the direction of a khorest/stew, and made a saucy tomato-based mix that tastes quite good indeed. No grill required.

Persian Chicken Meatballs

See note below for stovetop option

  • 1 pound of ground chicken breast
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon grated onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated very finely (I use a microplane for a fine grate)
  • 1/3 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 6 Tablespoons Advieh/Persian Spice mix (sold as in specialty markets, on Amazon, or make your own using my easy recipe)
  • 4 Tablespoons saffron water (pinch of saffron dissolved in hot water)
  • 2 Tablespoons turmeric
  • Couple of pinches each of cumin and coriander
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • neutral cooking fat of choice (I used coconut oil that has no coconut flavor, and a couple of dabs of ghee)

1. In a medium bowl, crack the egg and beat it. Add in onion, garlic, breadcrumbs. Now add in HALF of your Advieh/Persian spice mix, half of the turmeric, and half of the saffron water. Add in a pinch each of cumin and coriander. Finally, add salt and pepper.

2. With your hands or with a fork, gently add in chicken and mix everything together until egg mixture is well integrated into the meat. Don’t overwork.

3. Wet your palms. Grab a couple of tablespoons of meat mixture, and using the palms of your hands, form into a meatball. Repeat until you have 15-18 equal sized meatballs.

4. Heat up cooking fat in a skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Fry 5 or 6 meatballs at a time for a minute or two on each side. You’re looking for a nice golden or golden brown color, not to cook them all the way through.

5. As meatballs cook, place a 14-16  ounce can of tomatoes in slow cooker. Break up tomatoes with a spoon or fork. Throw in the rest of the spices. Mix.

6. Gently add in meatballs to tomato mixture and set cooker for 2-4 hours. (In my cooker, they’re done at 2 hours, so I either switch to “keep warm” mode if I’m home; if not, they’re okay to cook for the full 4 hours. )

7. Check tomato sauce and adjust seasoning to taste.

NOTE: Stovetop Option

Follow recipe through step four. Remove meatballs from pan, then add tomatoes and spices to the pan.  (Make sure you’re using a deep skillet or even a Dutch over here). Mix well and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Lower heat to low, add meatballs, and cover with a lid. Cook for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. If you desire a longer cooking time, add water as needed so the sauce doesn’t dry out. If in doubt that meatballs are cooked through, use a food thermometer to check, or cut one in half to verify it’s cooked completely.

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After all the holiday sweet, I was craving savory. Meaty. Hearty. Fragrant. This is what I put together in my slow cooker,  fork-tender Crockpot Persian Saffron Lamb:

Persian lamb leg cooked in my slow-cooked, along with saffron and many other fragrant spices.

It’s a Persian-spiced boneless leg of lamb on a bed of basmati rice. Saffron enhances both the lamb and the rice. This would make a perfect New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day dish. It’s luxurious, festive, and fragrant. Plus, quite easy to prepare.  Only a few minutes of hands-on work, then the slowcooker does the rest. Time heals all wounds, and time makes this lamb tender.


It’s a flexible recipe, too. Not a lamb fan? Use a beef pot roast instead. Into lamb but don’t have a boneless leg of lamb? Use shanks instead. In fact, I prefer lamb shanks, simply because the bone imparts so much flavor. But alas, all I had was a boneless leg of lamb, and still, the result was fantastic.  Friends of friends were begging that I send some their way. And I did ;-)

Persian Saffron Lamb, Slowcooker Style

Delicious!

  •  3-4 pound boneless leg of lamb, or an equal amount of lamb shanks or beef pot roast
  • 1 onion
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, ghee, or neutral cooking oil of choice
  • 2-3 Tablespoons advieh (Persian spice mix) OR pumpkin pie spice (they have similar ingredients).
  • 2 Tablespoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 Tablespoons saffron water (boil 1/4 cup water to the temperature you’d use to make tea. Add a pinch, approx 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads to the water. Refrigerate un-used portion for future use)
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and left whole
  • 1 28 ounce can of tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Remove fat from lamb using a sharp knife.

2. Chop onion into half moons. In a large dutch oven. cooking pot,  or skillet, heat fat over a medium heat and add onion, stirring often.

3. Allow onion to cook about five minutes. As it cooks, salt and pepper the outside of the meat. Either remove onion from the pan altogether or put it aside. Place meat in the pot and sear it for 2-3 minutes per side…enough to get a nice crust on it. Remove meat from the pan and place, carefully, on a heat-safe surface.

4. Place onion back in the pan and add all spices EXCEPT saffron. Stir often, and cook for about 30 seconds, or until you begin to catch the scent of the spices. Put onion into slow cooker immediately.

5. Cut a few slits deep into the meat and insert the garlic cloves. Make sure the cloves are spaced evenly throughout the meat.  (Don’t worry about losing moisture from doing this…the slow cooking method will keep the meat plenty moist).

6. To the slow cooker, add the lamb, canned tomatoes, saffron water, and a pinch or two of salt and pepper (you can always adjust salt and pepper later).

7. Cook on low setting for 6-8 hours. I cooked mine for 8 hours, overnight. Once the meat is done, taste sauce, adjust seasoning accordingly, serve over rice, and enjoy!

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It’s been a minute since I’ve posted a Persianized recipe on here. Sorry about that! These saffron spiced pecans are the perfect remedy to my laziness, and they make a fabulous holiday gift.

Persian spiced saffron pecans are easy to make and make delicious holiday gifts.

I apologize right now for the “spoiler,” because some of ya’ll who read this are getting these as part of your Christmas package. (Sorry, Dad, but you’re just so challenging to buy for!) If anything, after seeing this post, maybe they’ll be looking forward to their nuts.

A nice change of pace from the Yoga pants and ponytail. Tribeca, NYC, December 2011.

Anyways, I’m about done with holiday gifting. I deliberately keep my gifting list short, and am a big believer in showing appreciation and affection to friends and fam throughout the year. I do have a couple of post office runs to make to mail off gifts, and some of you know how I feel about those. Yeesh!

Things have been busy on the part-ay front as well. I’ve already been to like 4 holiday parties, with more to come. Admittedly, it’s kinda exhausting, but fun. And hey, any excuse to trade in the Yoga pants for a cocktail dress and 6-inch heels? I’m there, honey! Sometimes with bells on, literally. Jingle-ling-a-ling!  ;-)

Ok, let’s get it on with these nuts. (Sorry, I’m so incredibly mature…you didn’t think we were gonna get outta here without a nut pun, a Dr. Dre reference, AND an Marvin Gaye shout-out,  now did you?)

Saffron Spiced Roasted Pecans

Recipe an adaptation of one by Dorie Greenspan, from Around My French Table. Easily doubles, triples, and so on. . . .

  •  1 egg white
  • 2 Tablespoons of honey, agave, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, etc. (You choose; I used honey)
  • 2 cups whole pecans
  • 1 Tablespoon saffron water (to make, just put a pinch of saffron thread in 1/4 cup hot, not boiling water. Jar and fridge the unused portion)
  • 2 Tablespoons advieh (Persian spice mix) OR pumpkin pie spice (they have similar ingredients).
  • 1 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 300 F.  As oven heats, in a mixing bowl, run a whisk through the egg white a few times.

2. Add in honey (or sub), salt,  and spices. Whisk some more until well blended.

3. Fold in the nuts and mix to coat well with spice mixture.

4. Line your baking sheets (I used 2) with foil, and then pour nuts and any liquid into a single layer on each sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, checking for crispness at 20 minutes. If you need to bake more, do another 5 minutes. I’ve never had to bake these for more than 25 minutes.

5. Remove from oven. Let cool slightly, then carefully remove from foil. Let cool more, then bag them up in cute gift baggies.

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Buckets and buckets of dates. Date syrup is an easy way to use up dates so you can enjoy snacking on premium dates like the ones in the pic. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

I’m loathe to waste anything. Perhaps this is a Persian thing. Or perhaps not. It’s definitely a “me” thing.

Recently, I lucked into a big, fresh batch of medjool dates. They’re creamy, caramel-y, and just perfect. But wouldn’t you know it? I had some other dates lying around that were looking pretty sad.

You know I was not going to let those sad, dried out little dates go to waste. I’d feel too guilty enjoying the plump, sassy ones I’d just been given knowing that the dry, pathetic ones were just sitting there, dessicating even more. Ha!

So date syrup to the rescue.

Me, my student Mythili, and Meera, at the Wanderlust Festival in Vermont earlier this summer. It was one interesting and fun June weekend!

Now I have a sweetener for my tea, baked goods, no-bake sweets, and whatever else I can think of. Best of all, it’s natural and makes good use of mineral-packed dates. And I get to snack on those other awesome dates guilt free. Well, not completely guilt-free. I don’t fast for Ramadan. Mad props to those who do, but I don’t. So in an act of restraint, I’ll try not to eat too many dates during the day as the fasting month kicks off in a few days. (Dates are a popular food to break the daylong fast with).

As to the recipe, it’s so simple, I’m not typing out a formal recipe. Because it’s summer and I roll super simple in the summer. Ha!  In my Vita-mix, I blended:

  • 20 dates, pits removed
  • 1 and a half cups of water
  • 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

This yielded a good two cups of syrup. I just blended until it was smooth, which made the syrup liquidy and pourable. If you’re looking for a thicker texture, use less liquid.

I’ll be back at some point with a re-cap of some of my summer travel adventures, including my taking to the streets of NY on my bike. But for now, I’m off to enjoy more watermelon, which I’ve been eating tons of lately, and a chill evening. You all take care and stay cool.

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Pistachio Nut Butter with a touch of honey. It's actually very easy to make your own pistachio butter.

Lately I’ve been “shopping” in my own pantry and fridge to use up goodies already on hand and keep some money in my pocket. There is so much upheaval and need in the world on any given day, but lately it seems like so much is going on. It gets a bit overwhelming sometimes. So I’m focusing on having an attitude of gratitude and creating more with less.

It just so happens that I am lucky enough to have a surplus of pistachios at the moment, so I decided to make a nut butter with them. It took all of five minutes, turned out great, and I already have some easy recipes ideas in mind to use it in. Anything that’s good, I’ll share with you.

Of course, it’s quite delicious on its own. Or melted a bit on top of ice cream, in a sandwich, or mixed into oatmeal. Those are just a few ideas; as you can see, there are tons of uses for this stuff, as with any nut butter. Leave your ideas in the comments.

Stay tuned for some upgrades to West of Persia. I’m working on an Amazon store for the site, and also have a cool giveaway coming up.  Have a great day!

NOTE: Take a look at your blender or food processor’s instructions for making nut butters, and adjust your use of your machine as needed when making this, or any,  nut butter. I made mine with my Vita-Mix, and just used the wet blade (I don’t own the dry blade).

Homemade Pistachio-Honey Nut Butter

For approx 2/3 cup of nut butter:

  • 1 cup pistachios, shells removed
  • 2-3 Tablespoons oil (I used grapeseed oil)
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1-2 Tablespoons water

1. Grind the nuts in your machine until they’re broken down into chunks, but NOT pulverized.

2. Now add in oil, a Tablespoon at a time. Also add in honey and about half a tablespoon of water. Grind on low as a paste begins to form.

3. Stop blender, scrape down sides, and re-blend, adding water IF NEEDED little by little to get (or keep) things moving. Repeat this step as needed. Stop blending when the desired consistency is reached. I like my nut butters chunky sometimes, so I left this pistachio butter on the chunky side this time.

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Avocados star in this creamy, vegan milkshake, along with pistachios and coconut milk.

You won’t believe for one second that my Creamy Pistachio Almond Milkshake is healthy. No way. In fact, anyone who drinks it will swear it’s decadence in a glass. It’s a great way to get the good fats and other awesome nutrients from avocados, coconut milk, and pistachios into your body. Remember, don’t fear the good fats!

This is one of those recipes that came together in no time, with ingredients I had on hand, including an avocado that needed to be used up pronto. The avo gave it a beautiful pale green color, almost minty.

Creamy Pistachio Avocado Milkshake (Vegan)

For one milkshake, 16-20 ounces, or two smaller shakes, combine the following in a blender:

  • 1/2 avocado, ripe, flesh removed and seed discarded
  • 1 banana (can use 1 frozen banana)
  • 1/4 cup pistachios, shelled (unsalted is best, but salted is fine)
  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used So Delicious Plain. Canned works, too.)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom or rose water (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon French Vanilla So Delicious Coconut Creamer (optional)

1. Place all ingredients in a blender.  Blend all ingredients together until well incorporated, smooth, creamy, and thick. Use additional milk if you desire to thin the milkshake. Pour, serve, and enjoy.

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In a former life, I once wrote restaurant reviews.

Yes, it’s true. I had the (freelance)  job that many people would kill for: eating and getting paid for it. For a number of reasons,  both circumstantial and otherwise, I transitioned away from this. But from time to time, I feel compelled to put my opinions on record regarding a dining experience.

So that bring us to my thoughts today on Shalezah (formerly Shalizar),  a much-touted Persian restaurant in NYC that’s the recipient of a Michelin star for the 2011 New York City Michelin Guide.

Let me preface this write-up with the caveat. This isn’t a full-on review. It’s a few of my thoughts regarding one dining experience. One that cost around $50, and left me feeling oddly unsatisfied.

I can sum it up in a word that pains me to even type regarding a Persian restaurant: disappointing. Why?

The food, while mostly tasty, didn’t taste Persian to me. Or just barely.

I wanted so badly to like Shalezah. But ultimately, I just couldn’t, at least not on this particular visit.

Had I not known what Persian food can taste like, the friendly service and “good enough” food would have lulled me into submission. And honestly, I might not have been impressed and might have even wondered what all the fuss is about regarding this Persian cuisine. But because I know better, and the food wasn’t up to par, I felt somewhat, dare I say it, betrayed.

Persian food is so much more refined, nuanced, and beautifully spiced that what was on offer at Shalezah that evening. I want the world to know this, and I want this Michelin starred restaurant to step up to the proverbial plate.

One of Few New York Options

New York City has a dearth of good Persian dining options. Another sentence it pains me to type.  Los Angeles has New York walloped in this regard. How, of the few options we do have in New York City, this particular restaurant ended up with the Michelin star, I don’t quite understand. Nearby sister restaurant Persepolis executes Persian food much more fluidly and authentically, in my opinion.

When we were viewing the menu posted outside of the restaurant one recent Friday evening, one of the employees stepped outside and invited us in. This straddled the line between friendly and slightly aggressive, I suppose, but we were planning to dine there anyways, so I mentally shrugged and went with it. It beats the cold shoulder some New York restaurant staff often turn towards their patrons.

Interior Motives: Comfortable, if Sedate

Inside, the restaurant was slightly over halfway full, and the decor was sedate and warm: hardwood floors, exposed brick, wine bottles as adornment. No Persian carpets, miniatures, or other adornments. At that moment, I didn’t take this as anything other than the restaurant going for a more sedate, less “ethnic” decor approach. It was, however, a sign of things to come on the culinary front.

Service overall was friendly and prompt. Yet the problems started with the yogurt spinach dip appetizer we ordered to accompany the complimentary pita, lavash bread, an tahini sauce. Advertised as combo of yogurt, spinach, and garlic, the spinach dip seemed to be studded with feta and/or blue cheese. Odd, and while not terrible, I had to pass, as I can eat small amounts of yogurt, but wasn’t banking on so much cheese. Especially when the dish was advertised mainly spinach and yogurt with no mention of cheese. Instead, I dipped some of the lavash and pita bread on offer into the tahini sauce. I squeezed in some lemon juice, pondered the oddity of tahini as an app at a Persian restaurant, and looked forward to the entrees’ arrival.

Substitutions Abound

The unacknowledged menu substitutions continued with the entree of fish and what was supposed to be accompanied with rice studded with herbs and fava beans. I’d really wanted my friend to try this dish, as it’s a lovely, very typically Persian way,  to enjoy fish and rice. Instead, Shalezah’s kitchen subbed two rices–sour-cherry studded rice, and rice with raisins and lentils. Huh? No explanation was offered until we asked for one. Apparently they were out of the rice that normally accompanies the dish. I’m sorry, but fish doesn’t taste good with sour cherry rice. A simple saffron rice would have been a more compatible choice for this dish in any case.

Instead of pointing this out lack of herbed rice to us or giving us the chance to change the order, they brought us the entree and the two rices “so you can try them both” as if this were some sort of ingenious favor. No, not really. A simple acknowledgment of the pending substitution would have been the appropriate course. As it stood, the fish fillet portion was tiny, and served with the “ugly” side up.  It was slightly fishy in aroma (worrisome), but butter and salt were used to even out this element. Twenty dollars for this entree felt like a real stretch.

More Saffron, Less Salt, Please

The overuse of butter and under-use of spices cropped up so much during the course of this meal, it became a theme. I found all of the rices overcooked (too soft, but at least they used basmati rice), overly salty, and buttered to the point of being greasy. Keep in mind that I like salt, perhaps a bit too much, and definitely appreciate butter in my rice.

The lamb shank entree was the best part of the meal, but it, too, suffered from a lack of distinct flavor, Persian or otherwise. Texture-wise, the shank was cooked until tender enough to separate easily from the bone. Having wrestled with cooking more than a few lamb shanks into submission in my lifetime, I know it’s not always an easy task. So while the meat’s texture was quite enjoyable, again, the spicing was off. That is to say, nearly non-existent, unless we count salt, of which there was too much. I could have been eating a lamb shank in any type of restaurant: a Greek, Italian, or even French.

By the time the dessert offerings were mentioned, I’d had enough, and we decided to pass. Yes, I was full, but no, not satisfied. It seems the sedate decor Shalezah employs indeed telegraphs a  sedate approach to Persian food, at least on this particular occasion.

Hope For The Future

My advice to Shalezah?

  • More saffron, less salt, please.
  • Shalezah should ease off of the butter.
  • Pay better attention to the actual cooking technique and spicing of the dishes.
  • Finally, substitutions happen. But they should be acknowledged. Give your diners a choice to opt in or out if you don’t have the foods advertised on your menu.

Perhaps we should’ve made different menu choices. But perhaps not. Heaven knows I’m no purist. Anyone who reads this blog knows I mix and match and play around with fusion, or at the very least, have no problem sometimes tweaking traditional recipes. When restaurants do the same, the results can feel elevated, deflated or just odd. Mastering the basics first, though, is a worthy start. A re-start Shalezah would do well to consider, if their Michelin star hasn’t lulled them into complacency.

If you’ve tried Shalezah and would like to share your thoughts, please do.

Shalezah

1420 Third Avenue (between East 80th and 81st Streets)

New York, NY

10028

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