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Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

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!¬† ūüėČ

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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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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Pistachio Nut Butter with a touch of honey. It's actually very easy to make your own pistachio butter.

Lately I’ve been “shopping” in my own pantry and fridge to use up goodies already on hand and keep some money in my pocket. There is so much upheaval and need in the world on any given day, but lately it seems like so much is going on. It gets a bit overwhelming sometimes. So I’m focusing on having an attitude of gratitude and creating more with less.

It just so happens that I am lucky enough to have a surplus of pistachios at the moment, so I decided to make a nut butter with them. It took all of five minutes, turned out great, and I already have some easy recipes ideas in mind to use it in. Anything that’s good, I’ll share with you.

Of course, it’s quite delicious on its own. Or melted a bit on top of ice cream, in a sandwich, or mixed into oatmeal. Those are just a few ideas; as you can see, there are tons of uses for this stuff, as with any nut butter. Leave your ideas in the comments.

Stay tuned for some upgrades to West of Persia. I’m working on an Amazon store for the site, and also have a cool giveaway coming up.¬† Have a great day!

NOTE: Take a look at your blender or food processor’s instructions for making nut butters, and adjust your use of your machine as needed when making this, or any,¬† nut butter. I made mine with my Vita-Mix, and just used the wet blade (I don’t own the dry blade).

Homemade Pistachio-Honey Nut Butter

For approx 2/3 cup of nut butter:

  • 1 cup pistachios, shells removed
  • 2-3 Tablespoons oil (I used grapeseed oil)
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1-2 Tablespoons water

1. Grind the nuts in your machine until they’re broken down into chunks, but NOT pulverized.

2. Now add in oil, a Tablespoon at a time. Also add in honey and about half a tablespoon of water. Grind on low as a paste begins to form.

3. Stop blender, scrape down sides, and re-blend, adding water IF NEEDED little by little to get (or keep) things moving. Repeat this step as needed. Stop blending when the desired consistency is reached. I like my nut butters chunky sometimes, so I left this pistachio butter on the chunky side this time.

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Mission (black) figs make an excellent jam when cooked with warming spices such as cardamom and cinnamon.

Canning and preserving has always both scared and fascinated me. On the one hand, it seems so practical, nourishing, and creative. It conjures up images of pantries full of summer’s bounty that can be enjoyed on cold, snowy nights.

On the other hand, it strikes me as highly technical and like there’s all sorts of specialized gear involved. I am sooooo not a technical person. I’m the type of person business concepts like Geek Squad are created for!

There’s something so primordial and elemental about fig leaves.

Luckily, jam and preserve-making needn’t be complicated. Rooting around online, I recently discovered that a quick fruit jam can be made on the stovetop, and stored in the fridge for a couple of months. Taste of Beirut featured a wonderful fig jam recently. Inspired, I chose figs as my fruit of choice for my first preserve making experiment. This beautiful fruit brings back wonderful memories of a fig tree we had at one point growing up. More on that in a moment.

I added in some vanilla extract and warm fall spices to give the figs a autumnal fragrance and taste, and am happy to report that the results were quite delicious!

The way the figs just soaked up the spices so well got me thinking about how versatile they are in general. For example, figs get shout-outs from numerous world religions :

  • Figs are the fruit that‚Äôs mentioned most in the Bible ‚Äď They are prolific in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament Jesus uses figs in his parables.
  • Zamakkhschari, an Arabian interpreter of the Koran, reported that Mohammed said, “If I could wish a fruit brought to paradise it would certainly be the fig.”

  • While sitting under a fig tree, Siddhartha Gautama had the revelation that formed the foundations of Buddhism, and for Buddhists, the fig tree is revered as the tree of wisdom.
  • In the Hindu tradition, Siva, the Supreme Being, tempts Brahma with a blossom of the sacred fig-tree, dropped from heaven.
  • The Roman Bacchic cult used figs in their fertility rituals. Most ancient cultures actually believed they were an aphrodisiac.
  • The above factoids are all found at:¬† http://www.nutrafig.com/cheetahbar/story.html

Concentrating on this blog. Notice the big hair. Like they say down South, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.”

Back to that long-ago fig tree in the yard. My mom used to preserve figs off of that tree in the traditional manner every spring and summer. Those preserves were delicious, and one day I plan to get Mom to teach me how how to make them. Then I can store them in jars for cold winter’s nights and give jars of jam away as gifts. A taste of summer will only be a jar away.¬† For now, I’ll settle for quick preserves. Which, judging by this recipe, isn’t actually settling at all.

Mission Fig Jam with Warm Fall Spices

I used fresh Mission figs because they were what was available. Use the fresh fig type you have ready access to.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds fresh figs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (I mixed white sugar and brown sugar, approximately equal parts of each)
  • 1 or 2 Tablespoons pumpkin or apple pie spice powder
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Enough water to cover the fresh figs (start with a cup and work up from there if needed)

Directions

1. Wash figs. Mix sugar, water, vanilla extract, and spices together. Submerge the figs into this mixture, adding more water if more is needed to just barely cover the top of the figs.¬† Let the figs sit overnight, up to 24 hours. (It might be okay to let them sit longer than 24 hours, but I’d be careful, because the sugar will start to soften the fruit and break it down).

2. When you’re ready to make the jam, place the contents of the bowl, including any unmelted sugar, into a non-reactive Dutch oven (like a Le Creuset). Add in the lemon juice and simmer on low until a froth forms on top.

3.Gently stir and allow to simmer 45 minutes to one hour over a very low flame.

4. Test a fig for doneness. Enjoy some right away, because they’re seriously good warm,¬† but then let the rest cool and store in an airtight jar in the fridge.

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This fast, fresh, and delicous avocado tabouli salad is a snap to make on the go. Take the avocado with you and mix the tabouli salad and avo together.

Hey Guys! I’ve been totally MIA, I’m well aware of this. For me, so-called “Summer Hours” involve working two jobs, so it’s not like I’ve been living a life of leisure in, say, the Caribbean. I WISH.

A random snap of morning glories in Harlem. Hmm, "Morning Glories in Harlem" sounds like the name of a play or something. Pic snapped this past weekend on a long walk.

So for days when I’m on the go, this avocado tabouli salad is a quick solution. It’s so simple, I’m not gonna even write out a full recipe. I just pack the avocado with me, keep the tabouli salad in an airtight container (after I’ve bought if from my fave Middle Eastern deli/falafel shack). When it’s time to eat, I bust out a butter knife, cut and slice the avocado, scoop it out, and mix the tabouli and avocado together. Sometimes I sprinkle with all or some of the following:

  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • fresh lemon juice

That’s it! A fast, fresh, and mostly raw meal. I’ll be posting my own tabouli recipe at some point down the line–full of parsley, mint, and a surprise secret ingredient or two, but first, let me get to the point where I can actually make tabouli again. Not gonna lie–it’s a bit of a process, and I don’t have time at the moment.

In the meantime, enjoy this energizing and filling recipe, and I’ll see you all around again soon. Xoxo!

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Green Herb Hummus made with Great Northern beans, fresh farmer's market basil and garlic, plus Celtic sea salt and olive oil.

Today’s recipe isn’t so much a recipe. It’s more of a template, that you can adjust and re-configure to your liking. Motivated by hunger but de-motivated by the heat to cook, I ended up making a really great hummus with what I had on hand, and figured I’d pass along my results to you. By the way, if hummus plus bread sounds too heavy, ditch the bread and dip raw veggie slices into this dip. That’s what I do and prefer.

If you’re bothered by the non-traditional ingredient list and the fact that I’m calling it hummus, feel free to rename it as a bean dip or whatever other moniker rocks your world.

Love this stuff! I like to dip raw sticks of summer squash, zucchini, carrots, and celery in it instead of the traditional pita bread dip.

Keep things flexible when making this. Since I didn’t have chickpeas handy (not to worry, I’m properly re-stocked now!), I used Great Northern beans, a white bean I happen to really like.¬† I was also fresh out of tahini, so I used olive oil as the fat instead. There was a small bunch of farmer’s market basil I needed to use, plus some fresh, pungent garlic picked up recently from that same market that had yet to be put to work. A couple of fat cloves of that garlic really took this dip up a level in my opinion, but if garlic isn’t your thing, feel free to leave it out.

Green Herb Hummus

Ingredients:

1 14-16 ounce can of Great Northern beans (or chickpeas or cannellinis) Basically, choose the light-colored bean of your choice

2 fat cloves of garlic

1 small bunch of fresh basil (or other herb of choice such as cilantro, parsley, sage)

1 Tablespoon (or less) of olive oil

Salt of choice to taste (I used Celtic sea salt. Full of minerals and has a robust flavor)

Water (if needed)

Directions:

1. Drain and rinse beans.

2. Add all ingredients except for basil and water to a blender or food processor and mix, starting on a low setting, gradually increasing to a higher speed.

3. Once ingredients are fairly well-mixed, add in basil leaves and a tiny bit of water if needed to help facilitate the mixing process. Blend until smooth and creamy. Check  and adjust seasoning and serve (or store, airtight, in the fridge.)

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Vintage Bollywood poster. Bollywood movies are popular in the Middle East.

I adore dinner parties. Love giving them, love attending them, and love, of course, all of that wonderful¬†eating and socializing. Dinner parties are such a civilized way to re-connect in our GO GO GO world. But let’s face it–dinner parties can be WORK.

My friend Khat and I at her brother's traditional Afghan wedding in April. She will be at my Bollywood dinner party. Her dress is a traditional Afghan getup, while mine's a more Bollywood style outfit.

I’m having one in a few days, and this time, I’ve resolved to let it come together in the most chill way possible. A little pre-planning will go a long way. I hope ;- )

It will be a Bollywood Night, complete with a campy Bollywood movie and optional glittery costumes (if anyone is so inclined to go there, wardrobe-wise. I know I am, having a couple of shimmery Bollywood style outfits I’m eager to debut).

In the spirit of keeping things chill, I have to say, “Sorry, guests, but no¬†homemade cheese and bread from this kitchen, at least¬†not this time.” ¬†To combat the summer heat, our spread¬†will be seasonal, with invigorating and cooling recipes and ¬†influences from both Persian and South Asian cuisines.

Why South Asian specifically, besides the obvious Bollywood theme? Well, first of all, I just love the cuisines of India, Pakistan, and the many other countries in that whole amazing part of the world. Middle Eastern cuisine and South Asian cuisine have many elements in common, and have exerted their respective influences on one another for centuries. Plus, these cuisines have many wonderful recipes that are cooling. Perfect for steamy summer heat!

Plus, we happen to have a very fun Desilicous dance party to attend after our¬†Civilized Dinner Par-tay. A Gay-Themed Bollywood party, if you will, all in honor of Gay Pride Week. Yes, love my gays. They kinda own my heart ūüôā

Here’s what I have planned for our menu:

My Watermelon and Mint Cooler. Like a slushy, but much better for you, and better tasting.

A pre-dinner Cocktail (and Mocktail) Hour with my Watermelon Mint Cooler as the star.

A to-be-determined app, for which one of my friends has signed up to provide. (Key component of dinner parties: let others share in the fun, by either contributing an item of food or drink, or, if they’re so inclined, helping with light food prep or selecting music or lighting candles, etc. Keeps things interactive and who knows, it’s interesting to see what novel ideas our guests have about music or lighting or how to slice a scallion).

Salad of roasted golden beets on a bed of arugula with cucumbers and whatever goodies look appealing that day. Perhaps a yogurt or tahini based dressing. Something very simple, elegant,  and cool.

A summery Chilled Avocado Soup I haven’t tried this recipe out, but I simply can’t wait, as I’m in love with avocados and no longer afraid of the good fat they so generously provide!

Summer squash kuku sabzi, an Iranian omelette. Love this Persian souflee sans drama!

My Summertime Squash Kuku (Perfect for dinner parties, because it tastes great at any temperatures. Any late arrivals will feel well-fed, not deprived.)

Dessert will be So Delicious coconut-milk based ice creams. Because I’m seriously addicted to this stuff, it has that cooling, South Asian vibe thanks to the hint of coconut, and the company was nice enough to send me coupons to sample some of their product line. Thanks, So Delicious. You’ve just made my dinner party a heck of a lot easier, creamier, ¬†and tastier.

I’ll be sure to snap some pictures of our festivities, and report back. Don’t wait up, my loves!

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