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Archive for the ‘Healthy’ Category

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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Ginger, garlic, and chile are the foundations of this simple soup. I used chipotles that were pre-cooked in adobo sauce, but you could use other peppers if that's easier for your. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

What’s that old saying?  “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

That’s what this week feels like. Here I was with big plans to do the following:

  • A thorough, if late, deep housecleaning to prep for Persian New Year (Nowruz).
  • Batches and batches of cookies baked (and photographed and blogged about!)
  • To send out some of said treats as gifts.
  • A delicious Persian New Year feast over the weekend.
  • Oh, and to teach just shy of 20 classes. . .
  • . . . AND to serve as a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding this weekend.

Yeah, right. That sound you hear? That’s the Universe laughing at my plans.  Loudly. I’m laughing now, too, at myself for thinking I could get all of that stuff done, even under the best of circumstances. You see,  I started feeling not so great late last week, and haven’t been quite able to shake the feeling since. So I scaled back on my ambitions, focusing on resting and working and, quite frankly, just getting through the week. (Don’t worry, I don’t teach with a fever and I’m not doing adjustments this week just to be on the ultra-safe side).

I have so much garlic around my place. It's slightly ridiculous, and no, I don't fear vampires ;-) Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

I also threw everything but the kitchen sink (and the doctor) at this annoying bug. You name it: Vitamin C, immune supplements, kombucha, juices, garlic, ginger, spices, cake, sleep, TV, movies, tea, menthol, baths, books, carbs, probiotics, Swedish bitters, and probably at least a half-dozen more things.

It’s been quite stubborn. Very strange, considering I’m rarely sick.

On the positive side, I did make a soup that truly helps me feel better. I breathe deeper and feel less achey when I eat this. It’s super simple to make, otherwise I never would have made it. Ha! It’s not Persian, not even Middle Eastern. It IS good, though, and I’m so grateful for the simple healing powers of ginger, garlic, and chili. When tossed in my slow cooker, they created some kind of magic:

Spicy Soup with Ginger, Garlic, and Chili Pepper

Ingredients

  • 1 chunk of ginger, peeled (about 2 Tablespoons)
  • As many garlic cloves as you want, peeled (I did about 5)
  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (can sub other chiles if that’s easier for you)
  • 1/2 medium onion, in chunks
  • 32 ounces chicken or veggie broth
  • 2 potatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup of baby carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (14-16 ounces)
  • Slivered scallions for garnish (optional)
  • Avocado as a topper (optional)
  • 1 Teaspoon cumin (optional; if you don’t use chipotles in adobo, use some cumin to pick up that smoky flavor)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a blender, combine ginger, garlic, chili, onion, and broth. Blend until smooth.

2. Pour mixture in a slow cooker. Add potatoes and carrots, and cumin, if using. Stir. Cook for 4 hours.

3.  Stir in chickpeas. Taste and adjust seasoning (the broth can be salty, so make sure to taste first before adding salt)

4. Ladle into bowls and serve topped with scallions and/or avocado chunks.

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Harissa sauce, or paste, can range in color from relatively light, like my orangey spread, to a much deeper red.

My homemade harissa is a fast, simple, saucy paste of red peppers, walnuts, garlic, and any number of optional spices. It can be as fiery or as mild as you wish, but it tastes fantastic pretty much any way you put it together. It’s a super flexible recipe, so ingredient amounts don’t have to be exact.

So where exactly does this stuff come from? Well, according to Wikipedia:

Harissa is a Tunisian hot chilli sauce commonly eaten in North Africa whose main ingredients are Piri piri chili peppers, serrano pepper or other hot chillis and olive oil. It is a standard ingredient of North African cuisine,[1] most closely associated with Tunisia and Algeria[2] but recently also making inroads in Morocco according to food expert Paula Wolfert.[3]

Recipes for harissa vary according to the household and region. Variations can include the addition of cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. In Saharan regions, harissa can have a smoky flavor. Prepared harissa is also sold in tubes, jars, and cans.

I have a feeling this versatile sauce, which can be used as a dip, condiment, pasta sauce, soup topper, meat marinade, and more, will make an appearance at my upcoming Upstate New York Yoga retreat. I’m so excited about the retreat. I’m planning all sorts of fun activities, like a meal made on the grill, a farm tour, and lots of great Yoga classes and downtime.

Looking for a more immediate use of harissa? It’s a key part of another my North African-influenced sweet potato stew.

Harissa Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 jar roasted red bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (you decide how big or small)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each (or more) of any or all of the following: cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, cardamom, allspice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Rinse and drain jarred bell peppers.

2. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding a bit of water if needed to get/keep things moving.

3. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Add more of the other spices if you wish. Re-blend. Taste, and serve immediately, or jar it in an airtight container and put it in the fridge.

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Chocolate and banana is a winning combo any day.

Dunno about you, but the recent events in the Middle East, combined with the relentless weather we’re having here in New York City, make me want to crawl under the covers and hide, preferably with a delicious, comforting dessert in hand.  Alas, hibernating isn’t really an option for me, or for most of us, I imagine.

But we CAN have a luscious dessert every now and then when we desire escapism. As my English Lit prof used to say, “Why the hell NOT?”

Maybe a chocolate cherry trifle made with leftover chocolate cake?

Or how about a creamy, dreamy pudding parfait? Yeah, sounds good to me right about now. Plus, it’s the perfect excuse to bust out my parfait glasses. But. . .

Making pudding from scratch certainly not my thing. In the immortal, hyperbolic words of my friend Denise, it “ruins my life.” Yeah, safe to say that custard making and I don’t get along. Ugh, I simply hate making custard. It always breaks or curdles on me, and frankly, I have limited patience for endless whisking, or for recipes that take too much time.

Avocados are the surprise ingredient in the easy, fast, chocolate pudding element of today's recipe. Vegan chocolate pudding? Yes, it does exist, and it's easy to make.

Luckily, when in the mood for something custard-y, I’m not above using instant pudding and have figured out, via my blogging friends, a fast, healthy way to make a chocolate pudding that involves nothing but the blender and a few ingredients you likely have on hand already: avocados, cocoa powder, bananas, a bit of liquid, and sweetener. It’s a pudding that’s actually quite healthy. It’s full of good fats from the avos and chocolate is healthy in moderation. (Yes, you read right: avocados and chocolate, so read on!)

The bananas in the chocolate pudding give it sweetness, so go easy on the added sweetener (taste as you go).

Milk Free Banana Chocolate Pudding Parfaits with Cardamom

Ingredients

  • Banana pudding mix (3.5 ounce box; check ingredients for milk if this is a concern)
  • Coconut milk in the amount prescribed by the pudding box directions (usually 2 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons cardamom powder (optional)
  • 2 small, ripe avocados or 1 large avo
  • 1 medium banana
  • 4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Sweetener, options include: agave, maple syrup, date syrup, simple syrup. (Start with a Tablespoon and add more to your taste as needed. If using liquid stevia, start with a drop or two, then work your way up as needed.)
  • Chocolate chips or shavings for garnish (optional)
  • Fresh banana slices for garnish (optional)
  • Whipped topping for garnish (optional; use non-dairy if you’re staying milk-free)

Directions

1. Make banana pudding according to package directions, adding 1/2 of the cardamom powder to the mixture as you blend. Place in the fridge to chill for at least 5 minutes while  you make the chocolate pudding.

2. In a blender, place flesh of avocados, chunks of banana, cocoa powder, remaining cardamom powder, sweetener (if using), and a splash of coconut milk or water to help things blend. Now blend until smooth. Add more cocoa powder if you need to thicken. Thin it out with liquid if needed. Test for sweetness, and add more sweetener if needed.

3. Make sure banana pudding is set and “scoopable” with a spoon. Once it’s set, in a decorative parfait glass, layer puddings in alternating layers, starting with chocolate pudding first (it is denser than the banana pudding). End with a layer of banana pudding, then top with garnishes of choice, if using. Settle in under the covers or on the nearest couch, and enjoy.

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Fesenjan is a beloved Iranian pomegranate-walnut stew. It can be made with chicken, duck, or without meat. What you see above is a version made with mushrooms and chickpeas, a departure from the classic recipe. Note my greenery "garnish" isn't really edible ;-) This is my fast, 15 minute version of khorest fesenjan.

Yes, you read right. A 15-minute version of beloved Persian koresht fesenjan.

What??????

For the uninitiated, it’s a stew of ground walnuts, pomegrante molasses, and, often, chicken. It has a sweet and sour flavor that might sound weird on paper, but tastes oh-so-good on the palate. It also has a bit of a reputation: a rep as something that takes a good while to cook.

We chatted about this recipe on here before:

But today’s offering is a quickie take on the slow-cooking classic. Over the weekend, a reader, Almaz, and I were chatting on Facebook. She loves the blog and had such kind words of encouragement for me. I was really touched. So I asked her if there was anything in particular she’d like me to post about. She jokingly (I think), said “15 minute fesenjan.” I immediately thought about a slow cooker version, that potentially could have only 15 minutes of hands on time.

Then today, while tinkering around in the kitchen, I realized a truly fast fesenjan, made in 15 minutes from start to finish, IS doable. If you have the following, already ready:

  • Pomegranate PASTE or MOLASSES (pre-thickened, you see!)
  • Ground walnuts.
  • Pre-cooked chicken (if using).
  • Pre-cooked rice (if serving over rice). Or you could use quick cooking rice. (Not as tasty as homemade, but just sayin’)

So here we go. Don’t blink, guys, or else this recipe will be over before you know it:

15-Minute Khoresht Fesenjan (Pomegranate Walnut Stew)

Time: 15 minutes

Yield: Approximately 4-6 servings. ( The nuts make this a very rich dish.)

Ingredients

  • Neutral cooking fat of choice (butter, grapeseed oil, etc)
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1 cup pre-ground walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses or pomegranate paste (can find on Amazon)
  • 10 ounces of mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 cup of chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
  • 1 14-16 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed (optional)
  • 1 cup of pre-cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces (such as leftover roasted chicken)
  • Honey, sugar, or agave nectar to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Over a low heat, heat oil or butter in a Dutch oven.

2. As fat warms, dice onion.  Add it to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring periodically. (Chopping the onion very small will help it cook through faster).

3. As the onion cooks, slice mushrooms (if using) and drain and rinse chickpeas (if using).

4. Lower the heat, and add walnuts to the onions. Toast walnuts lightly, turning often, for 30-60 seconds, or until you smell a hint of fragrance. Immediately add in spices, and cook for about 30 seconds more. Turn heat off.

5. Add in the pomegranate molasses/paste, stock or water. Stir well, then add in any of the following that you’re using: chicken, mushrooms, chickpeas. Put the heat back on, then increase heat to high until stew boils. Drop the heat down to low.

6. Cook for 5 minutes more, until mushrooms are cooked through and chicken, if using, is warmed through. (You can cook this dish longer if you wish, up to half an hour, but the shorter cooking time works if you’re in a hurry).

7. Adjust seasonings to your taste. If you want it sweeter, add in sweetener of choice, stir, taste. Repeat until you’ve reached your idea sweet-sour ratio.  Serve over rice of choice and enjoy.

That’s IT!

Enjoy it over rice of your choice.

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Spicy Winter Tea with cookies.Yes, tea served in a coffee mug. I have so much tea, I don't have space for actual tea sets. ;-) Plus a student gave me these mugs, and I happen to really like them.

Nothing warms my heart quite like a cup of hot tea and a plate of cookies on a cold winter’s afternoon.

Have I ever told you guys about my tea collection? No joke, I have about fifty, as in 5-0, different types of tea. taking up a fair amount of precious real estate in my kitchen. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that I’m rockin’ a cramped New York City Prewar galley kitchen that, outside of the appliances,  hasn’t seen an update since the Nixon administration.

Quality tea deserves quality cookies. I didn't make these. I let the experts at my fave Middle Eastern pastry shop, Laziza in Astoria, NY, do that.

Percentage wise, tea takes up a huge amount of my storage space, but I’ve no regrets. That’s because I’m the type of person who sometimes looks forward to the post-meal cup of tea more than to the meal itself.

Yes, Persians love their tea, and I’m no exception, as my dedication to my collection shows. My fam might consider my stash of all sorts of teas–from green jasmine, to chocolate mint, to Tiramisu–a bit weird. In Iran, the teas I remember were always black teas brewed to a beautiful dark amber, served with cubes of sugar and savored often.

The way the cookie crumbles. . .when it crumbles in my tea, I love it. Love to drink up those little cookie bits. Ha!

A quality black tea, maybe an Earl Grey, is where it’s at when we’re chatting about Persian tea. P.G. Tipps brand works for me, but even good ol’ Lipton will do the trick.

About the only bad memory I have about tea is the time in Iran when I knocked over my uncle’s tea cup and got a blister on my foot. Whoops! That taught me a valuable lesson: awareness of hot beverages!

Today’s tea is super simple. You just brew the black tea of your choice, and add in a few chunks of fresh peeled ginger, a cinnamon stick or two, cardamom pods, and a shake of rose or orange blossom water. That’s it.

Afternoon delight!

If you’re hot where you are now and want a cool tea option, try my Persian Iced tea with a Rose Water and Cardamom Infusion, which was featured on Saveur Magazine’s “Best of the Web” a few months back. For now, the hot pot:

Warming Winter Spiced Tea

Brew black tea of your choice according to package instructions. For each cup of tea, add in the following:

  • A chunk of fresh, peeled ginger
  • A cinnamon stick
  • Up to 3 cardamom pods
  • A splash of either rose water or orange blossom water

Serve with cookies (or “biscuits”) of your choice, and enjoy.

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