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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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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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An almost accidental stew. Turkey, tamarind-date paste, and some root veggies simmered together to form lovely, deep flavors. Sitting atop a jazzed up cauliflower puree. Originally, I wanted to make this stew with organic lamb, but organic turkey was on sale, so I got that instead. You can make the Tamarind Date Turkey stew in a slow cooker or on the stovetop. It's super easy and flavorful either way. Vegetarianize it by leaving out the meat and increasing the mushroom content.

Sometimes random things inspire my cooking. Often enough, it’s a combo of simply using what’s in the pantry and/or fridge, finding an ingredient on sale, and getting a bit creative.

This Tamarind Date Turkey stew came about when I had a jar of tamarind chutney laying about after a dinner party. I’m the queen of use-it-up (I hate to waste!)  Of course, I also adhere to my mom’s rule “When in doubt, throw it out.” ;-) So don’t worry, we eat safely at my house.

I figured it’d be easy enough to give this stew a Middle Eastern flair, and that’s just what I did. It turned out richly flavorful–quite hearty and satisfying. Yet not greasy or heavy, if that makes any sense. That’s how I like to cook in these colder months–food with oomph, but not anything that’s gonna drag you down.

Speaking of which–my original intention was to make this stew with lamb chunks, not with turkey. But when I got to Whole Foods to buy some organic lamb, organic turkey was on sale. In the spirit of being flexible, and budget-minded, I opted for some lovely turkey thighs. The lamb version of this stew can be posted another day.

Tamarind is a pretty interesting ingredient. It grows in pods, and its pulp (edible) has a sour flavor with a hint of sweetness. It’s popular not just in Middle Eastern cookery, but in the cuisines of South Asia, Thailand, and in Latin America, to name but a few. So if you’re not sure where you can find tamarind, try your local Middle Eastern, Latin or Asian mart. Or look for an interesting tamarind chutney in the grocery store.

Tamarind can benefit the body in numerous ways. It’s high in vitamin C as well as B vitamins. It can aid in digestion and has a mildly laxative effect. Gargling it can ease a sore throat. It’s anti-inflammatory when applied topically to the skin.

Tamarind and Date Turkey Stew with Root Vegetables

Serves 4


Ingredients

1 pound turkey thighs or legs, bone in and skin removed

6 ounces tamarind date chutney, or just tamarind chutney

1 medium onion

2-4 large garlic cloves, grated into small bits

Pinch each of ground cinnamon, coriander, cumin, and cardamom

1 pound of root vegetables of choice such as carrots, parsnips, turnips

8 ounces of sliced mushrooms

2-3 cups of filtered water

Neutral cooking oil of choice

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1.  In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat until shimmery.  Season turkey thighs with salt and pepper, and brown in the oil, approximately four minutes per side. Make sure both sides of the meat have good color. As the turkey sears, peel and then slice the onion into half moons. If you have extra time, begin peeling the root vegetables and cutting them into large, uniform chunks.

2. Remove turkey from pot, and set aside. Add the onions, and cook for 3 minutes, adding water as necessary to deglaze pan. Continue cutting root vegetables as the onions cook. Add the spices and garlic to the onions, stir, and cook for another 30 seconds to one minute, until their aromas start to rise.

3. Remove pan from heat. At this point, if you’re using a slow cooker, all of the ingredients go into the slow cooker. However, if you opt to make this on the stovetop, you scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pot, and then add everything into the pot.

4. If using the slow cooker, cook for a minimum of 4 hours on high, or up to 8 hours on low.  If you’re cooking on the stovetop, bring the stew to a boil, then bump it down to a slow, gentle simmer and cook for an hour or more. Add water as needed if the sauce starts to get too thick.

Curried Cauliflower Puree

Ingredients

1 head of cauliflower, rinsed and cut into florets

8 cups of water

2 teaspoons of salt

2 Tablespoons of curry powder

Optional: Oil or butter of choice (just a bit–no more than a tablespoon)

Directions

1. Add cauliflower florets to the water in a large pasta pot. Add salt and stir. Bring to a boil, then drop down to a slow boil for 15 minutes, or until florets are fork tender.

2. Drain and remove florets from the heat.

3. LET COOL until you could handle them with your bare hands if you wanted to. Not that you’d want to, but it’s seriously important to LET THEM COOL. Not doing so could bust your blender or food processor. No joke!

4. Add cooled florets, 1/4 cup of water, oil or butter (if using) and curry powder to a blender or food processor.  Let it all whir away until well-mixed into a smooth puree. Check seasoning and adjust salt, pepper, and curry powder to your taste, re-blending as needed.

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Shakshuka with eggplant. This is one variation, as there are many types of shakshuka.

Shakshuka is a dish popular in many different countries of the Middle East. Before anyone gets up in arms and says today’s recipe isn’t done “right,” ;-)  please consider this: This is but one version of shakshuka.

Shakshuka is many different things to many different people. There are numerous versions, all too delicious and unique to have one “correct” version. Some use meat; some use eggs; still others are vegetarian. This is the type of food, by the way, that often tastes better the next day.

The shakshuka we’re exploring today is eggplant-based, earth-toned, and mild, but others are spicy and/or pepper based and reddish. There are other differences, which I personally think it’s great, because it means there are infinite ways to enjoy this dish. So if anyone wants to chime in in the comments section with their own take on shakshuka, feel free!

Chinese eggplants, they're called. I love their mild flavor and festive purple hue, but regular eggplants work just as well.Photo: http://www.Stock.Xchng.com

My sources tell me that shakshuka (pronounced shake-shoo-kuh) is a popular dish to use up vegetables and meats, which may explain why the dish is so flexible and has so many variations. Today’s version, while Syrian in origin, somewhat reminds me of Persian eggplant koresh (Koresh e Badenjan). However, that that stew has its own special flavor, which we’ll explore another time.

Speaking of Persian, the Persian girl in me loves shakshuka served over rice with dollop of yogurt on top, but for a more traditional presentation, you could ladle some of the stew on top of warm pita bread or serve the pita on the side. Do try to sprinkle some parsley or fresh cilantro on top for a color pop and flavor boost. Use more water to make the shakshuka more stew-like. For a dip, use less liquid.


Slow Cooker Shakshuka

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

1 bunch of fresh cilantro (about 1 cup, rinsed. Leaving stems on is okay–they have good flavor)

1  medium onion, halved

4 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon salt (can use more or less, according to your  to taste)

1 teaspoon black pepper (can use more or less, according to your taste)

4 Chinese eggplants, or one large eggplant (about 1 pound of eggplant total)

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup ketchup (better to get the kind without cornsyrup if possible)

1 Tablespoon paprika

3-4 cups filtered water

Optional: 1 14-16 ounce can of chickpeas, drained

Optional: Freshly chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish

Directions:

1.  In a blender or food processor, blend the half of the onion plus the cumin, coriander, cardamom, cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper until this all forms a pesto-like paste. Add water as needed to keep things moving.

2. If removing peel from eggplant, remove. Then chop the eggplant into 1/2 inch disks or half moons, or chunks. Chop the remaining onion and add it, along with the tomato paste, ketchup, and paprika, to the slow cooker. Add water and stir everything thoroughly.

3. Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours, or on low for 8 hours.

4. A few minutes before serving, add in the drained chickpeas and stir. Check seasoning and make any adjustments to the amount of salt and pepper.  Garnish with fresh herbs (if using) and enjoy!

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A rich, flavorful dish North African-inspired sweet potato Crockpot stew. This vegan dish takes help from the slow cooker and store-bought or a quick homemade harissa paste.While it's vegetarian (really vegan), you could easily add in meat, though it's plenty hearty and flavorful without any meat.

Inspiration to cook can come from near, far, or simply your pantry. Not far from where I live, there is a thriving neighborhood with many African immigrants. They come from different countries like Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali, to name a few. I noticed that on some of the restaurant menus, they have a stew made with peanut butter, herbs, meats, and vegetables, root vegetables in particular.

Such a stew sounded like a great idea, and I decided to make a sweet potato-based vegan stew of my own with harissa sauce and almond butter providing the flavoring. Harissa is a hot chile sauce made from crushed chilies, tomatoes and paprika, and herbs like coriander and caraway. So you see, I took a distinctly West African dish, put a North African spin on it (harissa is a common ingredient in the cuisines of North Africa), and used my American peanut-butter alternative to come up with something unique, healthy, and fun.

I served this stew with brown rice and a side of collard greens. It was a meal that was hearty without being heavy, and quite tasty.

Spicy North African Sweet Potato Stew

1-2 teaspoons neutral cooking oil of choice (I used coconut oil)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

4 grated garlic cloves

2 cups low sodium vegetable broth or stock

2/3 Cup almond butter

4 medium sweet potatoes in large chunks (peeling optional; scrub thoroughly if leaving peels on)

1 medium potato, diced (peeling optional; scrub thoroughly if leaving peels on)

2 Tablespoons Harissa paste (Don’t have? See Note below this recipe to make your own)

1 Tablespoon turmeric

2 teaspoons fenugreek

Pinch each of cinnamon and allspice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 can black beans, drained

Optional: garnish with herbs of choice. Some good options: cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, watercress.

Directions

1. In a small skillet or saucepan, gently warm coconut oil over a medium flame. Once oil is shimmery, add in onions and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often. Lower heat to low, then add in ginger and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes more. Turn off heat and remove pan from heat.

2. Place all ingredients except for black beans and herb garnish into the slow cooker. Stir thoroughly, making sure to break up any lumps in almond butter and harissa paste.

3. Cook on high for 4-6 hours, or low for 8 hours. Adjust seasoning to taste. Stir in black beans, and garnish with herbs, if using.

NOTE: If you don’t have harissa paste/sauce, whip up a simple version by blending one jarred bell red bell pepper (rinsed) and/or a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste with one tablespoon of paprika, a few chili flakes, and a few herbs. Toss in a pinch of whatever you have of the following: ground cumin, coriander, caraway, allspice, nutmeg, and blend.

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Warm, soothing Persian-inspired barley soup is incredibly easy when you use a few smart shortcuts-- a slow cooker and a simmer sauce. A mere cup each of lentils and barley makes a huge pot of soup. Enough for several people to enjoy, or enough for leftovers.

Most days, I do my best to cook from scratch. But some days, I do take shortcuts. I’m only human, and life gets hectic sometimes.  If it comes down to a meal prepped at home that’s not quite from scratch or some pricey, possibly nutritionally questionable takeout, I’ll generally choose the first option.

Not only is home-prepped food better for  our budgets and bodies, it’s comforting to the heart and mind as well! Oh yes, I’m well aware that some days, nothing tastes quite as comforting as some questionable takeout. ;-)  I’m a New Yorker after all! Takeout is a big part of our go-go-go culture as a city. But we’re talking most days here.

Sometimes I do use simmer sauces, like the ones pictured above. I read the labels carefully to make sure there aren't any nasty ingredients inside--like corn syrup or other weird additives. Photo courtesy of SFGate.com

My go to items on non-scratch cooking days? Canned beans (thoroughly rinsed, of course). Canned or jarred tomatoes. Stocks and broths from a carton (low sodium). Sometimes I even use simmer sauces. Yes, simmer sauces–think marinara sauce, but from pretty much any culture you can think of.

Flipping through the channels recently, I noticed a show where chef Todd English traveled to Southern Thailand. The food and the scenery looked amazing. What struck me the most, though, was that there were entire markets devoted to curry pastes. Essentially Thai simmer sauce starters.

Thai spice vendor. Image courtesy of AllAboutPai.com

Red pastes, green pastes, yellow pastes. Each was gorgeous and I’m sure delicious in its own way. The curry paste markets reminded me of markets I’ve seen in the Middle East where specific spice mixes and zatars are sold. So using such shortcuts works for the Thai people, I figure it can’t be all bad.

Today’s soup is a vegan, slow-cooker Persian Barley Soup. It’s not based on any specific recipe. My friend Nedarah sort of inspired it with her amazing Soup-e-jow, which I’ll share with you guys one day. Soup-e-jow has a lot of dairy in it, and I preferred something vegan on this particular day. So this is what I came up with with when tossing barley, lentils, a simmer sauce, a few extra spices, and some dried lemons into my crockpot.

Creamy, comforting, and filling, but not in a heavy way.

It has a soothing mild flavor and a creamy texture. If there is a Persian soup that’s similar to mine with a specific name, please feel free to leave a comment to give me the heads up. Speaking of heads up. . .

Heads up: a mere cup each of lentils and barley might not  look like enough when you are fixing this soup. Trust me, it IS enough. The barley almost quadruples in size, and the lentils puff up quite a bit too before they disintegrate into a gorgeous mustardy yellow color. Same thing with the liquids–it might seem like too much liquid at first. But trust me, the barley will soak up the veggie stock and water like a sponge!

Vegan Persian Barley Soup in a Slow Cooker

Ingredients:

1 cup of red lentils (rinsed)

1 cup of pearled barley (rinsed)

1 small onion, finely diced

1 potato, diced (okay to leave peel on. I usually do!)

1 large dried lemon or 2-3 small, pierced (a.k.a known as limon Omani)

1 garlic clove, grated or in small pieces

1 Tablespoon turmeric

1 Tablespoon ground fenugreek

3 Cups vegetable stock (low sodium)

2 1/2 cups filtered water

1 Tablespoon Saffron Water (a few pinches of saffron dissolved in hot water and set aside in your fridge to store. Take this out and measure out a tablespoon of it for your soup)

8-12 ounces tomato-based simmer sauce of choice  (I used 8 ounces Seeds of Change Organic Jalfrezi Simmer Sauce; I would have used the entire jar, but wanted to save some of it for another use)

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh chopped herbs of choice for garnish (cilantro, parsley, dill are some possibilities.)

Directions:

1. Toss all dry ingredients into a large slow cooker (mine is a 5 1/2 quart beast). Stir thoroughly. Add liquids. Stir again.

2. Cover and cook for at least 4 hours on high, 8 hours on low. Adjust seasoning to taste and top with chopped herbs of choice when serving.

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Ahhhh winter. In New York City, it’s finally here. November 2009 was the 7th warmest NYC November on record, so the recent dip in temperatures feels even more dramatic, if entirely appropriate.

Soups are a favorite food of mine at any time of year, but in the winter, they taste extra cozy and inviting. Today’s Velvety Chickpea Soup is a winter favorite in my home.


Velvety Chickpea Soup made in a slow cooker. So simple!

I love chickpeas, a.k.a. garbanzo beans. They’re so versatile, filling, and high in fiber and protein.  They’re a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern food. Chickpeas are a staple in my kitchen. In fact, I made this soup from staples in my pantry. It’s simple, flavorful, and comforting. It’s one of those recipes that tastes even better after a day. The spices are key to its bold, warming flavor. Feel free to make a big ‘ol batch of it and enjoy it throughout the week.

Velvety Chickpea Slow Cooker  Soup

Serves 6-8

1 pound organic dry chickpeas

1 small onion

2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger

2 large garlic cloves

1 teaspoon of coconut oil or neutral cooking oil of your choice

Spice blend: Mix together 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander, cardamom, paprika, fenugreek, plus 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and  1 Tablespoon tumeric

1/2 cup of sundried tomatoes, diced.  (An 8 ounce can of whole or diced tomatoes could work here as well)

1 large carrot

Salt and black pepper to taste

2 cups of fresh, washed spinach leaves

Optional: 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, or flat-leaf parsley for garnish (or a mix of the two)

Directions:

1. Soak dry chickpeas overnight or do a quick soak. To quick soak, place chickpeas in a large pot. Pour in enough water to just barely immerse them. Bring the water to a boil, and then turn it off and remove the pot from the heat. Let soak for one hour. Soaking ensures the chickpeas will cook evenly.

2. Warm oil over medium heat. As oil warms, dice the onion and carrot. Cook onion in the oil for 3 minutes, turning often. Add in the garlic and ginger, and lower heat to low. Cook for another minute. Then add half of spice mixture, and cook for 30 seconds, stirring frequently to ensure spices don’t burn. This process brings out the flavor of the spices. Remove from the heat.

3. Drain water from soaked chickpeas. Pour chickpeas into a slow cooker, and add cooked onion mixture. Add in the rest of the spices, the sundried tomatoes, and carrot pieces. Stir. Add enough water to just barely cover the chickpeas. Put in a bit of salt and pepper. You can add more later if needed. Cover with lid, and set slow cooker to desired time. (Slow cookers vary. I always set my slow cooker for at least 4 hours. Check your manual to see how long beans typically take to cook i n your cooker.)

4. Once the chickpeas are done (fork tender), you have a perfectly amazing meal or side dish without even taking this next step. But if you’re motivated and really want a velvety soup, try this: Remove 1 cup of the cooked chickpeas from the soup with a slotted spoon. Set aside. Next, blend remaining chickpeas in either a regular blender or by using an immersion blender. Add water as needed to get the desired consistency of the soup. Use less water for a thicker soup, more for a thinner soup. This is when the soup becomes velvety!

5. Place soup back in the crock, and add in baby spinach leaves and reserved chickpeas. Don’t worry about turning the crockpot back on to a cook setting–the heat will wilt the baby spinach leaves very quickly. The reserved chickpeas will provide a chunky treat against the velvety soup.

6. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Garnish and serve or let cool and save for later.

Tips and Notes:

1. Make extra spice mixture and save for another use.

2. The sundried tomatoes are a nice touch, but fresh or canned tomatoes will do. The tomato flavor gives the soup a richness and depth.

3. A squeeze of lemon or lime on top of the soup before serving is a nice touch, as is a drizzle of olive oil.

4. If you don’t have ground cinnamon, you can put a cinnamon stick in the slow cooker. Just make sure to fish it out before serving.

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Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes with a Persian flair. The secret? Saffron and a dash of cumin. Topped with raw apple and mint salsa, it's autumn on a plate.

I love fall. Love it! The beautiful colors, the cooler temperatures, the gorgeous bounty at the produce stand. The season inspired today’s recipe (pictured above): Sweet potatoes with a Persian flair! They’re topped with a fresh raw apple-mint salsa.

One of the farmers at the market told me that this year’s apples in New York and the surrounding region are particularly good. The heavy rainfall we experienced in these parts this year made them grow big, juicy, and tasty. Yum!

apple on a tree

This year has been a banner year for New York State apples. I can confirm--they're even tastier than usual this year. I'm hooked!

The sweet potatoes also seem to taste quite delicous this year as well. I wonder if that has anything to do with the increased rainfall? I’m no farmer, and certainly not a good gardener (much to my chagrin), so maybe I’m wrong. Sweet potatoes grow in the ground and not on a tree. Hmmmm, I wonder.

sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are not just for pie.

Anyways, my favorite way to cook sweet potatoes lately is in the slow cooker. It’s so easy. Fast, it isn’t, but they can cook as you go about your day. The gentle heat gets them really tender and sweet. So the crockpot method is the one we’ll use for the benefit of this recipe, but you can use other cooking techniques as well.

Note: this recipe can easily be doubled or halved.

Saffron Sweet Potatoes with Raw Apple Mint Salsa

4 medium sweet potatoes

2/3  cup of filtered water

Pinch of saffron

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

For the sweet potatoes: Clean tubers thoroughly. Make sure all traces of dirt and grit are removed. Pat potatoes dry and place in slow cooker. Pour in filtered water and cook for 4 hours on high, or 6 to 8 hours on low. (Note: If not using crockpot, prick the sweet potatoes’ surfaces with a fork, wrap them in foil, and roast them in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a fork through the sweet potato. You might have to cook them longer.)

Once cooked, remove sweet potatoes from slow cooker or oven and let cool a few minutes until you can handle them safely. Peel the skins from the sweet potatoes. Don’t worry if they fall to pieces; this is fine. Place sweet potatoes back in the slow cooker or baking dish and smash with a fork or potato masher. Then mix in the spices and a bit of water if needed. Cook  on high for ten minutes to integrate the flavors. If using oven, ten minutes will suffice, also at 375.

Raw Apple Mint Salsa

2 apples

1 small onion

2 tablespoons of dried cherries or dried cranberries

2 tablespoons of fresh mint, chopped

1 tablespoon of fresh cilantro, chopped

2 tablespoons of roasted chestnuts (you can buy these bagged!)

1 tablespoon of roasted pumpkin seeds, or any other seeds you like.

Sprinkling of pickled beets

For the dressing

1 tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon of honey

2 tablespoons of olive oil

For the salsa: Dice the apples and onions. In a roomy bowl, mix together with mint, cherries, chestnuts, seeds, and beets. Push aside the chopped mixture and use the bottom of the bowl to make the dressing by mixing the apple cider vinegar, honey, and olive oil vigorously with a fork to emulsify. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

To put the two together:

Scoop out a portion of the sweet potatoes and top them with the apple salsa.

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Dried sabzi herbs

Today we’re going to talk a bit about herbs. Cooking herbs! While the photo attached to this post certainly looks like something that’d get you detained in airport security, in reality, it’s a mixture of dried herbs, including parsley, leeks, chives, and fenugreek.

I love these particular sabzi herbs, which is what they’re collectively known as around my place.  It’s also a tiny bit cool outside, perhaps one of our last cool days for a while. So I decided to see if I could whip up a treasured Persian stew, ghormeh sabzi,  using my slow cooker. Cooking this particular stew on the stovetop can take two or more hours, so finding a shortcut is definitely in order. Some nights you need home-cooked food, not takeout Chinese.

For the record, the dish is also known as khormeh sabzi and Qormeh sabzi. (The transliteration into English from Farsi is what accounts for these variations). There are probably other spellings, too but these are the more commons ones.

Ghormeh sabzi is often called the national dish of Iran. Besides herbs, it’s  typically made with chunks of lamb and/or veal. Wikipedia describes it thusly:

The main ingredients are a mixture of sauteed herbs, consisting mainly of parsley, leek, and a smaller amount of fenugreek leaves. The herb mixture has many variations; spinach and coriander may be added. This mixture is cooked with kidney beans, green onions, chives, dried limes, and lamb or veal meat. Traditional Tabrizi Qormeh sabzi is almost always cooked with lamb and uses black-eye beans (Lubia-e-Cheshm-bolboli Persian: لوبیای چشم بلبلی) in place of kidney beans. It is then served with polo (Persian rice).

Some prefer to leave out the fenugreek, while most people consider it to be an essential ingredient. The Shirazi version substitutes potatoes for the beans.

Ghormeh (and gheimeh) may refer to diced meat. Sabzi means green and also describes various green herbs.

Good ghormeh sabzi has layers of flavor. It is not bitter at all. Since this is all an experiment and the final product is many hours away, I’ll report back later. So far I know this much: The hands-on cooking and prep time for the slow cooker version of ghormeh sabzi was about 20 minutes.

Why not post the recipe straight away, you ask? First off, we have to make sure the slow cooker version is worth posting in the first place. I wouldn’t want to steer anyone wrong. So stay tuned.


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