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Posts Tagged ‘Nuts’

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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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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Persian Sugarplums. These are simple and can be made quickly with any dried fruits and nuts you have on hand.

Merry Holidays, everyone! Does anyone really know what sugarplums are? What confection, precisely, is that Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker dancing for anyways?

Turns out they’re balls of dried fruits and nuts, sometimes with spices added in, perhaps coated in powdered sugar. Well, besides sounding Christmasey, this all sounded very Persian to me. So I tooled around online, found some simple sugarplum recipes, and tweaked them to add a Persian twist. Voila!  Beautiful, tasty, festive holiday treats.

Simple to make, tasty, and these goodies actually taste better as the days go on. Time in the fridge give their flavors time to meld.  They’re plenty sweet, but perhaps a nice change of pace from all the cookies you might be enjoying lately.

 

These easy to make sugarplum are fast to prepare, and excellent with a cup of perfectly brewed hot tea.

Saffron-Infused Sugarplums

Prep time: 20 minutes or less, depending on what method you use to prep your fruits and nuts

Yield: Approximately 20 balls

Note: You can play around with the proportion of fruits to nuts, the types of fruit and  nuts that you use, and the spices. This recipe is extremely flexible.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of slivered almonds
  • 1/3 cup pistachios, shells removed
  • 2 cups of mixed dried fruit. (I used Mariani’s mixed fruit, a blend of tender fruits I get at Costco, which includes apricots, plums, peaches, pears, and apples)
  • 1/2 c cup dried sour cherries
  • 1/4 cup honey (if vegan, use a vegan friendly option like molasses, agave, etc)
  • Pinch saffron dissolved in about a tablespoon of hot water
  • 1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice blend or Persian Spice Blend (Advieh)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • Shredded coconut flakes and/or confectioner’s sugar for garnish (optional)

Directions

1. Chop nuts into pieces, either via hand, crushing them with a rolling pin inside a bag, or use a blender or food processor to pulse once or twice to chop the pieces.  Chop or food process/blend the the fruits as well. Remove fruit and nut mixture from food processor or blender (if using), and set aside in a bowl.

2. Add honey to another bowl. Infuse honey with saffron and hot water, and then add in the pumpkin pie spice or Persian spice blend and vanilla (if using). Mix well.

3. Combine honey mixture with fruit/nut mixture, and mix very well.

4. Use your hands to form this mixture into balls. (Mixture will be very sticky. Keep a dampened cloth handy to wipe down your hands periodically). Roll in confectioner’s sugar or coconut flakes, if using. Refrigerate in an airtight container and enjoy at your leisure.

 

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and wishing every one of you a fantastic 2011!

 

 

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Baby eggplants stuffed with lean ground chicken, pine nuts, scallions, and walnuts. Topped with a warm sour-cherry pomegranate sauce.

Maybe I”m too easily amused, but a trip to the farmer’s market is one of the highlights of my week. I’m quite obsessed with farmer’s markets, really. To the point that I’ll always try to hit up the local markets when I travel. It’s a cool way to get a feel for a city or town. The vibe, the people, the types of food that grow there. It’s informative, fresh, and chill.

Mini eggplants at my neighborhood farmer's market. A steal at $1.50 per pound.

Right now, eggplant is in season in my corner of the world. In particular, those precious baby aubergines, with hues ranging from lavender to deep purple. They were just begging me to buy them and stuff them silly.

Full disclosure moment: Today’s recipe is a total riff on something Joumana of Taste of Beirut did recently.  Her Eggplant in Walnut and Pomegranate sauce was too tempting to pass up. The first time around, I honored her recipe and it was fabulous. Then I decided to experiment and make a meat-stuffed eggplant with a sour cherry pomegranate sauce.

Fairytale eggplant, to the left. Yes, they're really called that. These petite beauties are delicious stuffed.

The eggplants are left unpeeled, then baked, and finally stuffed with a mixture of ground chicken, ground walnuts, scallions, and pine nuts. Then they’re sauced with a simple mixture of sour cherry preserves (or juice), pomegranate paste, and chili pepper. It’s a meal that’s satisfying without being heavy, and it’s pretty darn good for you too.

So thank you, Joumana and to my local farmers market for providing the inspiration for today’s dish.

So delicious, so healthy!

Stuffed Baby Eggplant with Sour Cherry Pomegranate Sauce

If you can’t find small eggplants, you can use bigger eggplants instead. Adjust cooking time accordingly. Sour (tart) cherry or pomegranate juices/jams can be used interchangeably for the sauce. Good to know in case you don’t have easy access to one or the other.

Ingredients:

  • 24 baby eggplants
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2/3 pound of ground chicken (can use turkey, lamb, beef if you prefer)
  • 1 Tablespoon Arabic spice blend
  • 1 Tablespoon sage
  • 2 Tablespoons za’atar (optional)
  • 1/2 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or even grated
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sour Cherry Pomegranate Sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons sour cherry preserves OR 1/2 cup tart cherry juice
  • 2/3 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 dried chili pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • pinch turmeric

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 425. As oven preheats, wash and pat dry baby eggplants. Line your baking pans or dishes with foil. Place baby eggplants on baking sheet or dish. Do not overcrowd. Bake for 30 minutes on the middle oven rack, testing for doneness at 25 minutes.

2. As eggplants roast, make filling. Warm olive oil in a skillet. Once it’s shimmery, add chicken, breaking up the ground chicken as you move it around the pan. When chicken is approximately half cooked (you’ll be able to tell parts of it are still raw), add in spices, including za’atar, if using,  plus scallions and garlic. Cook chicken until done. Next, add in scallions, pine nuts, ground walnuts, and stir. Add in tomato paste and splash of water if mixture is getting dry. Stir again, taste, and adjust seasoning to taste. Cook another minute or two more, then turn off heat.

3. Remove eggplants from the oven. With a fork or knife, test for doneness (fork or knife should slide easily through the eggplants). Place eggplants in a safe place and allow to cool.

4. As the eggplants cool, make the sour cherry pomegranate sauce. Simply mix all of the ingredients together, and cook over a LOW heat for 5-10 minutes, until desired consistency is reached. (If you want the sauce syrupy, feel free to cook for more than 10 minutes).

5. Now split each baby eggplant down the middle. Stuff each with a spoonful of the chicken mixture. If you have leftover scallions, use them for garnish. Or garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Spoon sauce over eggplants, plate, and enjoy!

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FaRAWfel anyone? A fun raw falafel ball recipe to kick of your Meatless Monday.

I’ve been really into raw foods lately. I find that as the weather warms, I like more salads, more smoothies, and lighter, cooler fare. Such choices feel better to me. Raw food fits the bill beautifully, and it energizes me quite nicely. However, there’s no reason we can’t pack our raw goodies with some good old Middle Eastern flair.

Really good falafel can taste meaty. And my raw version tastes very meaty, too!

That’s exactly what my sister Mona and I did with our FaRAWfels. Also known as Raw Falafel. It’s simply a meaty tasting nut pate with Middle Eastern spices tossed in for that special flavah. I noticed a raw taco nut “meat” recipe on Averie’s blog. I tried it and it was awesome. No surprise there. She has great recipes :-) .

Then I decided to take her basic template and put the falafel spices into play and see what happened. Good things, that’s what!

Mona and I enjoyed them for dinner atop a raw kale salad topped with my tahini red pepper dressing. We had this delicious meal recently after taking a nice, long walk around one of NYC’s most vibrant neighborhoods– East Harlem, which is also called el Barrio. Before we get to the recipe, take a look at some of what we saw and we strolled around on a Sunday afternoon. I love that the Barrio has tons of murals and little hidden community gardens:

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FaRAWfels (Raw Falafel)

Modified from a brilliant nut pate “taco meat” recipe of Averie’s on LoveVeggiesandYoga.com. To keep it strictly raw, use all raw nuts and seeds.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Almonds

1/2 Cup Walnuts

1/4 Cup Pecans

1/4 Cup Sunflower Seeds

1/3 C Sun Dried Tomatoes loosely packed (I prefer those that aren’t packed with oil. If you used oil packed, you can probably use less olive oil)

2 Tablespoons Middle Eastern Spice Blend of choice (Click here for my blend)

2 Tablespoons paprika

2 Tablespoons za-tar blend of choice (Optional)

2 to 4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 Tsp Salt (or to taste)

Directions:

1. Gather ingredients.

2. To a blender or food processor, toss in nuts, sundried tomatoes, and spices.

3. Add olive oil and blend until the nuts are broken up and the ingredients nicely mixed. Go slow–I like mine a bit on the chunky side, with some whole seeds left. You might need to add a tiny touch of water to get things moving. Go easy if you choose to add water.

4. Roll into balls and serve.

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Khorest Fesenjan, a classic Persian chicken dish with a sauce made of pomegranate and toasted walnut. Photo by Stacey Young.

Hey guys! We recently explored a vegetarian (actually vegan) version of today’s Persian dish, Khoresht Fesejan. Today, here’s the more classic version of this luxurious Persian stew with pomegranate, walnuts, and chicken. Enjoy this dish on top of the delicious rice dish of your choice. Classic chelo rice would work beautifully, or you could try my super easy basmati rice technique. Enjoy this richly flavored, slightly sweet, slightly sour stew.

Khoresht Fesenjan: Persian Pomegranate Walnut Stew

Note: Since pomegranate juice is so popular now and pretty easy to find in supermarkets, you can use that instead of pomegranate syrup. However, pomegranate syrup/molasses is available in some grocery stores, and also in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean stores. A lot of oil will come to the top of the dish. This is normal and nothing to worry about; it is the oil from the walnuts.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil, ghee, butter, or neutral cooking oil of choice
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 pound bone-in chicken thighs, legs, and/or breasts, skin removed
1/2 pound walnuts, finely ground (shells removed)
4 cups pomegranate juice or 1/2 cup pomegranate syrup/molasses diluted in 2 cups of water
1/4 teaspoon saffron, dissolved in 1 tablespoon of hot water
Salt, to taste
Honey or sugar
Cardamom pod (optional) OR 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
Pinch of allspice (optional)

Directions:

1. Heat the fat in a large pan Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Remove onions.

2. Salt chicken. Add chicken and brown on both sides, about three minutes per side. Remove from pan, and set aside.

3. Place the ground walnuts in the remaining oil in the frying pan. Cook and stir over low heat 5 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

4. Return the onion and chicken to the frying pan with the walnuts. Stir in the pomegranate juice or diluted pomegranate syrup. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear. (You can simmer longer to deepen the flavor, adding water as necessary so the pan doesn’t dry out).

5. Adjust seasoning to taste. If stew tastes too sour, add a little honey or sugar and simmer a bit longer. Serve over basmati rice. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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Pomegranate is a base flavor for today's Persian stew, Fesenjan. It gives the stew depth and a bit of a sweet and sour taste. Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

The lively, warm, and rich flavors of pomegranate and walnuts seemed like a perfect way to send winter packing. Koresht fesenjan combines those flavors and more. It’s actually a dish I discovered as an adult. I read about it in a book, “Guests of the Sheik,” did some research, and eventually came up with a version of it that’s pretty traditional, but with a couple of my personal tweaks. It’s become a favorite!

In a stroke of dumb stroke of luck: I recently had everything on hand to make this koresht fesenjan except for the meat (typically chicken or duck is used.) Grinding the walnuts is usually the most tedious part of this recipe for me, so I was thrilled that I had some pre-ground walnuts on hand. I wasn’t in the mood to rush out and buy meat, and anyways, I’m always down with a good vegetarian meal. I remembered butternut squash being part of the recipe in a version of this dish byNajmieh Batmanglij.

Madame Najmieh? She’s kind of the Queen of Persian Cooking, by the way. She literally wrote the book on it. Several, actually. So I figure that if butternut squash is good enough for her, it’s good enough for me! And this would be my chance to finally explore a vegan version of this lovely dish, something I’d been meaning to do.

Earthy walnuts give this stew a filling and meaty quality, even though the recipe is meatless. Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

So in the butternut squash went, along with some leftover sliced mushrooms I had on hand from another night’s salad. (Yes, the mushrooms were my addition, and I admit I felt nervous as I tossed them in. No need. The stew turned out great and the mushrooms absorbed the other flavors beautifully).

This recipe calls for pomegranate syrup or juice. Since pomegranate juice is so popular now and pretty easy to find in supermarkets, you can use that instead of pomegranate syrup. However, pomegranate syrup/molasses is available in some regular grocery stores, and also in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean stores. Another thing: A lot of oil will come to the top of the dish. This is normal and nothing to worry about; it is the oil from the walnuts. And walnut oil is good fat. Anti-inflammatory and great for the heart and the skin, as a matter of fact.


Khoresht Fesenjan: Persian Pomegranate Walnut Stew

2 tablespoons olive oil or neutral oil of choice

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1/2 pound walnuts, finely ground (shells removed)

1 pound of butternut squash, peeled and cut into large chunks

8-10 ounces of sliced mushrooms (optional)

4 cups pomegranate juice or 1/2 cup pomegranate syrup/molasses diluted in 2 cups of water

1/4 teaspoon saffron, dissolved in 1 tablespoon of hot water

Salt, to taste
Honey, agave, or sugar

Optional Spices: Cardamom pod  OR 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder and/or a pinch of ground allspice

Directions:

1. Heat the oil in a large pan Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook 5 minutes more. Remove onions and mushrooms.

2.  Place the ground walnuts in the remaining oil in the frying pan over low heat. Cook and stir 5 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. If using optional spices, add now and allow to cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant.

3.  Return the onion to the frying pan with the walnuts. Stir in the pomegranate juice or diluted pomegranate syrup. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning to taste. If stew tastes too sour, add a little honey or sugar.

4.  Serve over basmati rice. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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Did you know the cookie was actually invented in ancient Persia (now Iran) in the 7th century, A.D.? My Vegan Biscotti with a Persian twist are a much more recent addition to the cookie lexicon.

Up until a few days ago, I’d never made biscotti at home. I don’t know what switch got flipped in my brain, but suddenly it seemed like a great idea. Plus, adding a Persian twist (Persianizing, as my friend My Persian Kitchen says)  would be a way to get creative. What if I upped the ante and tried to make them vegan? Hmmm, now that’s a thought.

By the way, did you know that the cookie dates back to Ancient Persia? From WikiAnswers:

The earliest cookie-style cakes are thought to date back to 7th century Persia A.D. (now Iran), one of the first countries to cultivate sugar (luxurious cakes and pastries in large and small versions were well known in the Persian empire). According to historians, sugar originated either in the lowlands of Bengal or elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Sugar spread to Persia and then to the Eastern Mediterranean.

With centuries of culinary history behind me, you’d have thought my cookies would be perfect on Take One. Ehhh, not so much. My first attempt looked promising, but ultimately ended up overbaked. It was totally due to miscalculations and wrong assumptions on my part.  I thought the cookies weren’t done, so I kept baking them. I swear they looked undercooked. Almost raw in spots.

Thankfully they didn’t burn, and still tasted fine when dunked in tea and allowed to soak, but unless soaked a bit, they were a hazard to my dental work, and that of anyone else who ate them. Lesson learned.

The very next morning, I made another attempt. Humbled, I learned from past mistakes, followed the recipe to the letter, and got perfect biscotti:

Biscotti jazzed up with pistachios, cardamom, and dried cranberries. Sour cherries would work well, too!

I made two types– for half of the biscotti I added pistachios, cardamom powder, and dried cranberries to the dough. For the other half, I did sour (tart) cherries, almond extract, and slivered almonds. Tart cherries were on offer at my local Trader Joe’s this week, by the way. Love that, because they’re not always there, and their dried bing cherries get a thumbs down from me. Sorry, TJ’s. I call ‘em like I see ‘em.

The Cherry Almond Biscotti were, taste-wise, my favorites. They're in the foreground, on the the plate. The Pistachio Cardamom Cranberry biscotti were quite good as well, and more photogenic.

Taste-wise, the sour cherry biscotti were my favorites. But the pistachio cranberry cookies, while no slouch in the taste department either,  were notably more photogenic. This is probably due to the interplay of the green pistachios against the dough and in contrast to the jewel-toned dried cranberries.

So yes, while the combo of tart/sour cherries and almonds was my personal favorite, the cool thing about biscotti is how easy it is to customize them to fit your own tastes and pantry. Next time, by the way, I think I might just have to dip these biscotti in chocolate. And/or add in some vegan chocolate chips. That would be awesome. But I’ll make sure to stay true to the recipe’s general directions! Wouldn’t want to disappoint my ancestors too much, after all. ;-)

Persian Biscotti

Adapted from a recipe on RecipeZaar.com  http://www.recipezaar.com/Vegan-Almond-Biscotti-32416

Makes 30-40 biscotti

Ingredients:

3 cups of flour (I used equal amounts of organic pastry flour and all purpose flour)

1 Tablespoon baking powder (Yes, a Tablespoon!)

1/2 teaspoon of salt

3/4 cup of agave necar OR 3/4 cup of granulated sugar

3/4 cup of smooth unsweetened applesauce or apple butter

1-3 Tablespoons neutral tasting oil of choice (I used coconut oil; Use more oil for softer biscotti, less oil for crunchier biscotti)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

For Sour Cherry and Almond Biscotti: 1/2 cup tart (sour) cherries AND 1/2 cup almonds

For Cranberry Pistachio and Cardamom Biscotti: 1/2 cup cranberries AND 1/2 cup pistachios AND 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 325 F and lightly oil one large or two smaller cookie sheets.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together flours, salt, baking powder, and cardamom powder if using.

3.  In another bowl, mix together the agave or sugar, applesauce, oil, and extracts. (Use more oil for a softer biscotti, less oil for a crunchier biscotti)

4.  In thirds, gently add and stir sugar mixture into the flour mixture. Batter will be very thick. Add the nuts and fruits. Finish the mixing with your hands.

5. With floured hands, shape the dough into two 3-inch wide “logs” about 3/4 inch thick, with the ends squared off. (Measure if you have to; I did!)

6.  Bake the logs for about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool on a wire rack. As they cool, drop the oven temp to 300 F.

7.  Cool the logs on a rack for 15 minutes. Cut the logs carefully with a sharp knife straight across into 1/2 inch wide slices.

8.  Place the slices cut side down on the cookie sheets and bake for 5-10 minutes more.

9.  Turn the slices over and cook 5-10 minutes more, or until golden on bottom. NOTE: The biscotti might look under-cooked. They almost certainly are not. They will harden up as they sit.

10.  Cool on racks, then store in an  airtight container for up to two weeks.

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Flowers anyone? Pink tulips I bought yesterday in the snowstorm. They add such a fresh burst of color.

Chocolate week continues here on West of Persia, with easy chocolate recipes in honor of Valentine’s Day, and also in honor of chocolate in general. As you may have noticed, I’m sort of in love with chocolate. But as I was melting chocolate at 8 in the morning today, even I had to think , “This is slightly insane!” By the time the actual Valentine’s Day roll around, I may indeed have hit chocolate fatigue. Maybe.

Chocolate-Apricot-Almond Cookies are petite, chewy, and simple to make. They travel well, so feel free to box them up or present them on a pretty platter for a fun and delicious gift.

So this recipe is based on another I posted back in December. Chocolate Drop Cookies with Sour Cherries and Pistachios.

Chocolate drops with Sour Cherries and Pistachios were a hit around the holidays. Like today's cookie, they have a brownie like texture and a rich flavor.

In today’s truffle cookie, we are using slightly different flavorings, plus apricots and almonds as our fruit and nuts respectively.  At right is a not really necessary but still fun pic of the  Chocolate drops with Sour Cherries and Pistachios.

Now on to today’s cookie:

Chocolate-Apricot-Almond Truffle Cookies

Prep time- 15-20 minutes

Cook time- 8 minutes Max

Yield: 5 dozen (or slightly less if you like cookie dough as much as I do)

Ingredients:

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used pastry flour, and it worked perfectly)

1 scant teaspoon cardamom powder

1 scant teaspoon freshly ground allspice

3 egg whites (save the yolks for another use. Perhaps for a custard or for feeding a pet)

Small pinch of salt

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks or chips, melted and cooled (If you are avoiding dairy, check the ingredient list to make sure there are no milk products in the chocolate chips/chunks).

Generous 1/3 cup chopped, dried apricots, plus approx 2-3 Tablespoons more for garnishing.

Generous 1/3 cup slivered almonds, plus approx. 2-3 Tablespoons more for garnishing tops of cookies

Generous 1/3 cup chocolate chips or chunks, NOT melted

Optional: 3-4 ounces chocolate, melted.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa and flour and cardamom powder.

3. With a hand mixer, or a stand-up mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and salt at medium speed until frothy. (You’ll see bubbles). With the mixer running, slowly add in the confectioners’ sugar. When all of it has been added, raise the speed to high, and beat until the egg whites are the consistency of marshmallows. (This took me about 5 minutes with the hand mixer. Yes, I’m low-tech like that. The gorgeous Kitchen Aid stand mixer has yet to make an appearance in my life. St. Valentine, are you listening?) Now beat in the vanilla.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to medium, and beat in half of the melted, cooled chocolate. Then beat in half of the cocoa-flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl to incorporate all ingredients. Repeat with the rest of the chocolate and cocoa-flour mix. Stop the mixer.

5. By hand, gently fold in the apricots, almonds, and chocolate chips or chunks. Let sit until thick enough to scoop, about 5 minutes.

6. As dough sets, prepare parchment paper and place on cookies sheets.

7. Now it’s time to scoop the cookie dough onto the cookie sheets. Scoop by the level teaspoonful. Leave about an inch in between cookies. Try to keep the cookies the same size to ensure they cook evenly.

8. Garnish cookies with almond pieces and bits of apricot. Looks so festive and pretty!

9. Bake 5-8 minutes, until cookies are a bit cracked on the outside. (I personally like my cookies on the soft, moist, and chewy side, so 5 minutes was plenty of time for mine in my particular toaster oven.  In the big oven, these cookies take about 7 minutes. If, like me, you prefer softer cookies, remember, they might look slightly undercooked when first taken out of the oven).

10. Remove from oven and let cool. This is the part where recipes always say to cool the baked goods on a wire rack. Well, I don’t own any wire racks, so mine just cooled on the sheets, and no one’s complaining.

11. OPTIONAL: To make the cookies more truffle like, do this: As the cookies are cooling, melt the 3-4 ounces of chocolate. Then dip the underside of the cooled cookies in the warm chocolate and allow to cool.

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In my memories, halva looked like this, and tasted amazing--like a milder, drier peanut butter with a warm sweetness. I've since learned that there are many flavors and styles of halva. All delicious, I'm sure! Photo courtesy of http://de.academic.ru

One of my Yoga students and I were talking recently about found objects. He was rocking a sweater that he’d lost for two years. He’d come across it recently, buried deep in a closet. He was slightly thrilled to have pulled it from the abyss. It was there waiting for him all along, it seemed, even though he’d long ago written it off as lost.

“Finding something like that is kind of like finding an old friend, isn’t it?,” I asked. He agreed.

The same concept can certainly apply to food, I think. One of my most precious lost-then-found foods? Halva.

Years ago, as a kid visiting family in Iran, I remember eating this pasty, thick, energizing treat with breakfast. As a kid with not too many culinary points of reference, I remember it reminded me of a mild peanut butter, with a drier texture. One of the many things I liked about it, even then, is the way it was sweet, but not too sweet.

Turns out I was right–it was indeed a nut butter, and one that was sweetened, but not aggressively so. Well, technically, the one I remember was a seed butter. Of sesame seeds in particular. . .But let me not get ahead of myself.

The type of halva I remember from childhood was made from a sesame see base. In Arabic, it's called halawa. It's all based on an Arabic root word, halwa, that means sweet.

Many years passed, and I sometimes was reminded of that amazing food, but never thought to ask anyone what it was, or even where I could find it. I’d only had it a few times, but I’d find myself missing it from time to time. But halva was somehow locked away in a time warp, a part of my past I’d allowed to slip away.

More time passed, and one day, after moving to New York, a friend casually shared some with me. At first, I didn’t think it could possibly be the treat I’d enjoyed so many years ago at my aunt and uncle’s house, eating a breakfast spread out on a tablecloth on the floor, surrounded by cups of steaming tea and chattering  family and love.

But it was. “What is this stuff called?,” I asked. Because you see, I’d never known its name.

Halva,” he replied.

Pistachios are one of many types of nuts that can dress up halva.

Memory has a funny way of distorting things. It’s easy to idealize or demonize the past. In the many times I’d wondered about  halva, I’d also thought, in the very next moment, that there was no way it could possibly be  as delectable as I remembered.

I was so, so wrong. It was even better than I remembered.

Ok guys, don’t laugh. I have to admit that tears sprang to my eyes when I ate that first bite of halva after so many years. It was like being reunited with a long lost friend. With a past that still lives in my heart and with the family I haven’t seen in so very long. With my childhood memories. Unbelievable.

The fact that I could walk down memory lane via halva? Kinda crazy, I know. That I can walk to a nearby store and actually buy this stuff still boggles my mind. For that reason, I don’t eat it all the time. It seems too precious for that, somehow. So I buy it occasionally, and really savor every rich, dreamy bite.

I suppose I could learn how to make it, but I haven’ t yet bothered. I’ve since learned that one could have an entire department store devoted to halva. The kind I had was only one of many versions. There are flour and semolina-based versions. There are halvas based on lentils and even vegetables like pumpkin.  Every country and region and probably even province from Greece to Afghanistan seems to have its own take on halva, with the spelling variations to match ;-) . Which is wonderful, and I hope to try as many as possible.

For now, though, I’m content with the minor miracle of having halva back in my life in the first place. And yes, I sometimes even still tear up a bit at that first bite. Which I suppose is somehow appropriate–Only as an adult did I learn that halva is a traditional food at funerals in Iran. Passing into the next life with something sweet, nourishing, and light for those left behind to enjoy? There could be worse things, I suppose.

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