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flower on stone“We have come into this exquisite world to experience ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom and light!” — Hafiz

What a perfect quote to embody New Year. Persian New Year, that is, aka  Nowruz!

To me, it just feels right and natural to have a new year start with the promise, rebirth, and blossoming of spring.

Spring is a reminder of the inner light within each and every one of us. That’s worth celebrating!

Persian Card_New_YearsScroll down below for a roundup of highly celebratory (and symbolic) recipes from fellow Persian food bloggers. 

Thanks to the fabulous Sanam, of My Persian Kitchen, for putting this together!

Oh, technically the big day of the Persian New Year is always the spring equinox, which falls on Thursday, March 20, this year. Now’s as good a time as any to spread the happiness and to prepare for a fresh new season.

At the moment, I’m in a bit of Spring Cleaning Mode. (Oooof, those closets needed every ounce of attention I gave them last weekend. Ha!) I’m also prepping to host another yoga retreat, in upstate New York/in the Hudson Valley area.  March 14-16—perfect timing to get us ready for spring.

Looks like 2014 is a year of new beginnings for me in many ways. I’m headed to India at the end of the month. This trip has been a dream of mine for many years. At just the right time,  the stars aligned, the Universe and those I love are shining their support and approval on me, and I’m flying off on the night of the new moon. It’s happening!

As for Spring Cooking:

This is a classic clip for my (somewhat limited) TV archives. Here I am cooking kuku sabzi on live TV for Nowruz. This was on Good Day New York a.k.a Fox 5 a few years back:

More blogger Persian New Year goodness:

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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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At my recent Yoga retreat, quinoa was on the menu, but we ended up not making it. We had so many other delicious things, so it fell out of the rotation. I didn’t miss it, because I thought I didn’t really like it. Until now. You will, too, I bet. You could even take this to any Fourth of July festivities you might be celebrating this weekend. It’s easy to make and travels well.

I used white, also known as yellow, quinoa in my recipe. Look for it in the rice/grain section part of your store. Technically, it's not a grain. It's a seed. And it's gluten-free and very high in protein as well. Photo via wikipedia.

Back to my quinoa breakthrough. Imagine, cooking quinoa according the package directions, and it turning out awesome? Who’d have known? Certainly not me, as I’m not always one for following directions. I can barely make my own recipe the same way twice, much less another person’s. Ha!

I stumbled upon this recipe the other night when “shopping in my cabinets.” I decided to do something novel for me and made the quinoa according to the package directions (fry a cup of quinoa for 20 seconds in butter or oil, add two cups of boiling water, cover, simmer for 20 minutes, covered, over a low heat).

Happy Birthday, America. You're 235, you say? Well, you're forever 21 to me.

As it cooked, I chopped up a bunch of veggies that were hanging around unused: some roasted red peppers, celery, a couple of artichoke hearts. I added a can of (drained) white beans. Then I mixed this all into the fluffy quinoa, along with a couple of drizzles of olive oil, some ground cumin, and some Trader Joe’s 21 Salute seasoning (salt-free and very versatile!) I threw in some nutritional yeast, too.

It was a hit, and a new summer staple was born. It tastes lovely hot, cold, or at room temp. It travels well, and it’s light yet filling. It’s a flexible recipe: vary the veggies and spices and come up with  your own combos. Plus, quinoa is high in protein; along with the beans and veggies, you have a balanced one-dish meal or side.

Quinoa, I’m sorry for my past indifference and for leaving you out of the retreat festivities. I promise I’ll make it up to you somehow, someday!

Fluffy Summer Quinoa Salad

Ingredients to serve 4 as a side, 2 as a main dish:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • oil or butter of choice
  • water
  • veggies of choice (such as peas, peppers, onions, artichoke hearts, asparagus, olive chunks, scallions, whatever you desire/have on hand)
  • 1 can of bean of choice, drained (I used white beans)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • spice blend of choice (I used Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute)
  • ground cumin (couple of pinches)
  • nutritional yeast or parmesean cheese, grated (optional)

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.

2. As quinoa cooks, chops up veggies, drain beans, and gather spices.

3. Once quinoa is done (takes about 20 minutes), remove from heat.  Fluff with a fork, add spices. Lightly stir. Add oil. Fluff a bit again. Add veggies and beans and stir again. Taste and adjust seasoning, oil, and veggies amounts if   needed. That’s IT!

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A kale stalk grows in Brooklyn. No, seriously. I snapped this pic at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden recently.

Some people have a way with words. I, apparently, have a way with kale.

Three very unexpected individuals went slightly crazy over this kale recipe:

  • A friend who isn’t much of a veggie eater at all. To the point that I always bring a green salad or a side to contribute to dinner at her place, because otherwise, we’re green-free; to her credit, she’s gracious about this habit of mine, and she loves this kale).
  • Another friend who isn’t a big food person at all, much less a fan of greens. The friend who says, “I don’t eat sides.”  Ha!
  • And my cat.

Yes, you read right. My cat loves this kale. At first I thought he was simply licking the chicken sausage juice off of the plate. But no, the little boy started eating the tiny leftover pieces of greens. With gusto. We’re talking purring and coming back to look for seconds gusto. I trust my cat’s taste in food. He’s quite the foodie, actually. He enjoys hanging out in the kitchen with me, likes chicken only when it’s prepped a certain way, and loves coconut yogurt by So Delicious. He’s got great taste, that one.

Grainy Blackberry picture of my cat :-), whose name is Bise. (Rhymes with the last syllable of resume).

The recipe is so simple. And good!

Simple Skillet Kale Saute with Chicken Sausage

Note: Feel free to leave out the chicken. The kale still tastes fabulous without it.

Ingredients to serve 2:

  • 2 or 3 links chicken sausage, cut into ovals
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • cooking oil of choice, up to 2 tablespoons
  • Seasoning blend of your choice (I’ve been using Trader Joe’s “Everyday Seasoning” for my kale lately)
  • Salt (ONLY if seasoning blend is unsalted)
  • Nutritional yeast or grated cheese of choice (optiona)
  • 2 Tablespoons sundried tomatoes, slivered (optional)
  • Splash of pomegranate molasses (optional)
  • Splash of water or broth of choice (might not need)

1. In a roomy skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over low heat. Once the oil is warm, add chicken sausage and allow to brown on one side (check after about a minute).

2. Meanwhile, prep kale (rinse, cut or tear into pieces)

3. Flip chicken sausage. Now add kale to skillet and on one side for a minute or two. Then turn it to coat with oil and sausage juices, then add spices, plus sundried tomato slivers. Turn and cook the kale on for another minute or so. Taste kale for texture (I like mine tender-crisp), and adjust spices, including salt, if desired. Add a drizzle of pomegranate molasses, if using. (If at any point the kale becomes too dry in the pan, add a bit or water or broth of choice)

4. Remove from skillet, sprinkle with nutritional yeast or grated cheese (if using), and serve warm. It can also travel well and makes a tasty cold salad or side dish.

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Oven fried chicken nuggets stay moist thanks to a coating of nut butter, and crunchy courtesy of panko crumbs. Early-season broccoli rabe is my veggie side, and Trader Joe's Mango Ginger Chutney serves as the dipping sauce du jour.

I love chicken nuggets. I know, really sophisticated of me? Ha!

Edited to Add: I was born and (mostly) grew up in Texas, where fried chicken was on the weekly menu rotation, at least in my earliest years. I’ve always loved it. Just the smell of it makes me nostalgic. But I can’t always eat it, for obvious reasons. These flavorful nuggets satisfy the crunchy, chicken-y craving, and aren’t as messy and hot as frying up a batch of chicken. Plus, my fried chicken never seems to taste quite as good as my mom’s.

Luckily, I’ve figured out how to give chicken nugget morsels a healthy, grown-up, and tasty upgrade.

The key ingredients? Nut butter plus panko bread crumbs (that stuff that makes tempura so crunchy and awesome at your favorite Japanese spot. Panko bread crumbs have become increasingly common in regular grocery stores in recent years. Progresso brand makes them, as does Roland. Roland is the brand I used in this recipe. I paid about $1.25 on sale for my 7 ounce bag, which will last awhile).

Yum!

Coating chicken chunks with the nut butter of your choice is a great way to get crunchy panko crumbs to stick, and stick well, to the chicken pieces. Then just pop them in the oven for 15-20 minutes, and you have an irresistible nugget delight. The nut butter gives them another boost of flavor, and keeps the breast meat, which often tends to dry out, nice and juicy.

No panko crumbs? Try regular breadcrumbs from the store. Gluten free needed? Then coat the nuggets in nut butter, followed by a dusting of the ground nuts of your choice.

You can use the nut butter of your choice. I’ve tried this with almond butter, peanut butter, and sunflower seed butter. All work equally well, as does pistachio nut butter, which I made a batch of recently. Here’s the recipe link to Pistachio Honey Nut Butter:

Pistachio nut butter. Easy to make at home and a worthwhile option to coat your chicken nuggets in before dredging them in panko bread crumb awesomeness.

Bonus Tip: Prep extra nuggets and freeze them in a single layer, covered well. When it’s time to eat, just remove them from the freezer and bake them according to the directions below. No thawing necessary.

Baked Nut Butter Chicken Nuggets

Ingredients to make 2-4 servings (2 as entree, 4 as an appetizer):

  • 1 pound of chicken breast, cut into chunks
  • Seasoning blend of your choice
  • Salt (ONLY if seasoning blend is unsalted)
  • 1/2 cup nut butter of choice, more if necessary
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (or alternatively,bread crumbs from a can, or ground nuts)
  • Splash of water (might not need)

1. Preheat oven to 450 F.

2. Season the chicken with the seasoning blend, adding salt if necessary.

3. Spoon nut butter into a mixing bowl.  Mix well. If it seems a bit dry, put in a tiny bit of water to loosen it up (it should be a texture that is slightly thinner than honey).

4. Place chicken chunks in nut butter and toss to coat, using your hands or a spoon to coat all sides.

5. Throw panko crumbs on top of chicken and mix well. If necessary, press crumbs into the chicken so they adhere. Make sure all sides of the chicken are coated with crumbs. Shake off excess crumbs.

6. On a baking sheet, in a single layer, bake the nuggets for 15 to 20 minutes.You don’t even need to turn them!

7. Serve with the side/s and or dipping sauce of your choice.

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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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