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In my world, no holiday is needed to enjoy chocolate, but the holidays sure are a great excuse to do just that. I posted this recipe last year, almost exactly a year ago, in fact. It stands the test of time, and it’s worth sharing with everyone again.

Like many of you, I’ve hardly had time lately to eat a cookie, much less bake them. But my plan is to carve out some time this weekend to make some of these dreamy, delicious, chocolately drops of goodness.  Thankfully, the recipe is simple.  You’ll be impressed at how the flavors of chocolate, cardamom, and sour cherry play off of each other.

Enjoy and have a fabulous weekend!

Note: Adapted from  a recipe in the December 2009 issue of Body + Soul Magazine. Photo to the right by Stacey Young.

Chocolate Drop Cookies with Sour Cherries and Pistachios

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
  • 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 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 sour cherries
  • Generous 1/3 cup toasted pistachios plus approx. 2-3 Tablespoons more for garnishing tops of cookies
  • Generous 1/3 cup chocolate chips or chunks, NOT 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. 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 cherries, pistachios, 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 whole and/or pistachio pieces. Looks so festive and pretty!

9. Bake 6-8 minutes, until cookies are a bit cracked on the outside. (I personally like my cookies on the soft, moist, and chewy side, so 7 minutes was plenty of time for mine in my particular oven. 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.

Approximate Nutrition facts from Body + Soul Magazine:

Note, my version is probably a bit more caloric, due to my heavy hand with the cherries, pistachios, and also due to the fact that I added in extra chocolate chips :-) Hey, it’s the holidays! :

Per cookie:

30 Calories

1 gram protein

4 grams carbohydrates

1.5 grams of fat (0.7 saturated)

0 grams of fiber

 

Updated to Add a BONUS: Fun Weekend Contest. Win a $50 shopping spree on one of my favorite sites, iherb.com . Stop by Love Veggies and Yoga, one of my favorite blogs, to find out how.

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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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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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Biscotti with a Persian flair. Pistachios, dried cranberries, and cardamom. Recipe to follow later this week.

In the foreground is another Persianized biscotti flavor: Sour Cherry and Almond biscotti. Both recipes are vegan and will be posted soon :-)

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Chocolate Drops with Sour Cherries and Pistachios. We enjoyed these at Christmas. Why not again for Valentine's Day? Photo by Stacey Young.

It’s Chocolate Week here on West of Persia. Yep, nothing but chocolate recipes. Hooray!

So Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and is as perfect an excuse as any to hold a Chocolate Week. Any holiday that involves chocolate and love is fine by me.

Ever gotten a half-eaten box of chocolates as a gift? I have. I was more bewildered than angry. Ha!

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: sometimes it’s easy for forget that LOVE isn’t just romantic. There are so many corny movies and songs out there and other goofy messages from society that tell us that romantic love is the most important type of love. Sure, it’s a big deal  and undeniably wonderful, but it’s not the end-all be-all of love.

As I’ve been telling my Yoga students lately, there are many kinds of love. Love of family, love of friends, love of a hobby or a place, to name a few. And of course, there’s the love of chocolate. Yes, this chocolate is one food I truly love like no other. Chocolate and I have had a long and sometimes tumultuous relationship, I gotta tell ya. Never a dull moment. I just can’t walk away ;-) Even when chocolate’s bad, it’s still pretty good. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

So with adoration of chocolate and this expansive definition of love in mind, perhaps you can make one of this week’s chocolatey treats for someone you love–a friend, a family member, or sure, a sweetheart ;-)

Persian Hot Chocolate has luxurious flavors of saffron and cardamom blended into a velvety dark chocolate.

I have a few different chocolate recipes planned, all with a Persian and/or Middle Eastern flavah twist:

  • A new chocolately cookie
  • A frozen chocolate “shot”
  • A gooey melted chocolate mini cake
  • A raw cacao dessert

Let me tell you, life is rough when you have to test and perfect and perform such strict quality control tastings on all of these chocolate recipes. So rough! ;-)

For now, I’ll leave you with linkage to a couple of West of Persia’s most popular recipes, both of which are easy to make and fun:

Persian Hot Chocolate

Chocolate Drop Cookies with Sour Cherries and Pistachios

Enjoy!

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My holiday gift to you: Chocolate and Sour Cherry Drop Cookies topped with pistachios. Photo by Stacey Young.

Today’s recipe is a fabulous holiday cookie, with a Middle Eastern twist. It’s loaded with some of my favorite ingredients: chocolate, sour cherries, and gorgeous green pistachios. But get this: it’s also dairy-free and uses very little flour.

Now don’t get it twisted and start thinking I’m trying to spring health food on your around the holidays. Not at all! The taste of these babies? Absolutely decadent. The texture is brownie-like, with extra little bursts of flavor from the cherries, pistachios, cardamom, and chocolate chunks.

Back in the day, my friends and I used to hold holiday cookie baking parties. It was such a blast, and everyone got to take home a big batch of several different types of cookies. The idea was to package the different varieties of cookies into gifts.

Something tells me that not many of those cookie gift packets made it out the door once we all got safely home with our respective cookie stashes. ;-) I haven’t thrown, or been to, such a party in awhile, but the next time I do go to one, you know these cookies will be my contribution.

Before we get to the recipe itself, her are a three of today’s key ingredients:

Pistachios can be pricey, especially if you buy them already shelled. I went ahead and splurged for this holiday cookie recipe. The time saved was worth it to me.

Dried sour cherries are my favorite dried fruit. They bring back memories of Iran, where I used to eat soooo many of these!

In my recipe, I used chocolate chunks, but chips will do. Just be super watchful as you melt them. On my stove, it took all of a minute, maybe even less, on LOW heat.

Now, for the recipe.

Note: Adapted from  a recipe in the December 2009 issue of Body + Soul Magazine.

Chocolate Drop Cookies with Sour Cherries and Pistachios

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

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 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 sour cherries

Generous 1/3 cup toasted pistachios plus approx. 2-3 Tablespoons more for garnishing tops of cookies

Generous 1/3 cup chocolate chips or chunks, NOT 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. Santa, 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 cherries, pistachios, 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 whole and/or pistachio pieces. Looks so festive and pretty!

9. Bake 6-8 minutes, until cookies are a bit cracked on the outside. (I personally like my cookies on the soft, moist, and chewy side, so 7 minutes was plenty of time for mine in my particular oven. 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.

Approximate Nutrition facts from Body + Soul Magazine:

Note, my version is probably a bit more caloric, due to my heavy hand with the cherries, pistachios, and also due to the fact that I added in extra chocolate chips :-)  Hey, it’s the holidays! :

Per cookie:

30 Calories

1 gram protein

4 grams carbohydrates

1.5 grams of fat (0.7 saturated)

0 grams of fiber


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