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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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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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Harissa sauce, or paste, can range in color from relatively light, like my orangey spread, to a much deeper red.

My homemade harissa is a fast, simple, saucy paste of red peppers, walnuts, garlic, and any number of optional spices. It can be as fiery or as mild as you wish, but it tastes fantastic pretty much any way you put it together. It’s a super flexible recipe, so ingredient amounts don’t have to be exact.

So where exactly does this stuff come from? Well, according to Wikipedia:

Harissa is a Tunisian hot chilli sauce commonly eaten in North Africa whose main ingredients are Piri piri chili peppers, serrano pepper or other hot chillis and olive oil. It is a standard ingredient of North African cuisine,[1] most closely associated with Tunisia and Algeria[2] but recently also making inroads in Morocco according to food expert Paula Wolfert.[3]

Recipes for harissa vary according to the household and region. Variations can include the addition of cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. In Saharan regions, harissa can have a smoky flavor. Prepared harissa is also sold in tubes, jars, and cans.

I have a feeling this versatile sauce, which can be used as a dip, condiment, pasta sauce, soup topper, meat marinade, and more, will make an appearance at my upcoming Upstate New York Yoga retreat. I’m so excited about the retreat. I’m planning all sorts of fun activities, like a meal made on the grill, a farm tour, and lots of great Yoga classes and downtime.

Looking for a more immediate use of harissa? It’s a key part of another my North African-influenced sweet potato stew.

Harissa Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 jar roasted red bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (you decide how big or small)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each (or more) of any or all of the following: cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, cardamom, allspice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Rinse and drain jarred bell peppers.

2. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding a bit of water if needed to get/keep things moving.

3. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Add more of the other spices if you wish. Re-blend. Taste, and serve immediately, or jar it in an airtight container and put it in the fridge.

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Stressing over making a homemade dessert for Valentine’s Day? Don’t worry, my loves, I gotcha covered with a few simple, quick options:

Chocolate Almond and Apricot Truffles

Chocolate almond apricot truffles are an easy cookie to make. Gluten-free flour works in this recipe, by the way (I used Bob's Red Mill).

Or you could salvage a broken cake with my Chocolate Cherry Trifle:

This trifle is any easy way to salvage a broken cake, or use up leftover chunks of chocolate cake or brownies. The layers make it look pretty and deliberate 😉

Another fun and easy option: Molten Chocolate Cakes with a Middle Eastern Flair

This cake is really molten, to the point of oozing apart like lava. Ha! If you'd rather keep it together, just bake in ramekins to serve.

If chocolate’s not your bag, but jewels are, consider:

Bejeweled Biscotti with a Persian Twist:

Persianized biscotti. Yes, these cookies could be dipped in melted chocolate, if you're so inclined.

Dunk your biscotti in some Persian Hot Chocolate:

!

Hot chocolate infused with the finest Persian saffron and cardamom? Win!

Portion Control a Concern? Try:

Frozen Hot Chocolate “Shots” With a Goat Yogurt Topping

Petite shots of chocolately goodness!

I hope these options help. I’m working on one more chocolatey goody, which tastes amazing, and is gluten and dairy free. I’ll post it soon.

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Chocolate and banana is a winning combo any day.

Dunno about you, but the recent events in the Middle East, combined with the relentless weather we’re having here in New York City, make me want to crawl under the covers and hide, preferably with a delicious, comforting dessert in hand.  Alas, hibernating isn’t really an option for me, or for most of us, I imagine.

But we CAN have a luscious dessert every now and then when we desire escapism. As my English Lit prof used to say, “Why the hell NOT?”

Maybe a chocolate cherry trifle made with leftover chocolate cake?

Or how about a creamy, dreamy pudding parfait? Yeah, sounds good to me right about now. Plus, it’s the perfect excuse to bust out my parfait glasses. But. . .

Making pudding from scratch certainly not my thing. In the immortal, hyperbolic words of my friend Denise, it “ruins my life.” Yeah, safe to say that custard making and I don’t get along. Ugh, I simply hate making custard. It always breaks or curdles on me, and frankly, I have limited patience for endless whisking, or for recipes that take too much time.

Avocados are the surprise ingredient in the easy, fast, chocolate pudding element of today's recipe. Vegan chocolate pudding? Yes, it does exist, and it's easy to make.

Luckily, when in the mood for something custard-y, I’m not above using instant pudding and have figured out, via my blogging friends, a fast, healthy way to make a chocolate pudding that involves nothing but the blender and a few ingredients you likely have on hand already: avocados, cocoa powder, bananas, a bit of liquid, and sweetener. It’s a pudding that’s actually quite healthy. It’s full of good fats from the avos and chocolate is healthy in moderation. (Yes, you read right: avocados and chocolate, so read on!)

The bananas in the chocolate pudding give it sweetness, so go easy on the added sweetener (taste as you go).

Milk Free Banana Chocolate Pudding Parfaits with Cardamom

Ingredients

  • Banana pudding mix (3.5 ounce box; check ingredients for milk if this is a concern)
  • Coconut milk in the amount prescribed by the pudding box directions (usually 2 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons cardamom powder (optional)
  • 2 small, ripe avocados or 1 large avo
  • 1 medium banana
  • 4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Sweetener, options include: agave, maple syrup, date syrup, simple syrup. (Start with a Tablespoon and add more to your taste as needed. If using liquid stevia, start with a drop or two, then work your way up as needed.)
  • Chocolate chips or shavings for garnish (optional)
  • Fresh banana slices for garnish (optional)
  • Whipped topping for garnish (optional; use non-dairy if you’re staying milk-free)

Directions

1. Make banana pudding according to package directions, adding 1/2 of the cardamom powder to the mixture as you blend. Place in the fridge to chill for at least 5 minutes while  you make the chocolate pudding.

2. In a blender, place flesh of avocados, chunks of banana, cocoa powder, remaining cardamom powder, sweetener (if using), and a splash of coconut milk or water to help things blend. Now blend until smooth. Add more cocoa powder if you need to thicken. Thin it out with liquid if needed. Test for sweetness, and add more sweetener if needed.

3. Make sure banana pudding is set and “scoopable” with a spoon. Once it’s set, in a decorative parfait glass, layer puddings in alternating layers, starting with chocolate pudding first (it is denser than the banana pudding). End with a layer of banana pudding, then top with garnishes of choice, if using. Settle in under the covers or on the nearest couch, and enjoy.

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Fesenjan is a beloved Iranian pomegranate-walnut stew. It can be made with chicken, duck, or without meat. What you see above is a version made with mushrooms and chickpeas, a departure from the classic recipe. Note my greenery "garnish" isn't really edible 😉 This is my fast, 15 minute version of khorest fesenjan.

Yes, you read right. A 15-minute version of beloved Persian koresht fesenjan.

What??????

For the uninitiated, it’s a stew of ground walnuts, pomegrante molasses, and, often, chicken. It has a sweet and sour flavor that might sound weird on paper, but tastes oh-so-good on the palate. It also has a bit of a reputation: a rep as something that takes a good while to cook.

We chatted about this recipe on here before:

But today’s offering is a quickie take on the slow-cooking classic. Over the weekend, a reader, Almaz, and I were chatting on Facebook. She loves the blog and had such kind words of encouragement for me. I was really touched. So I asked her if there was anything in particular she’d like me to post about. She jokingly (I think), said “15 minute fesenjan.” I immediately thought about a slow cooker version, that potentially could have only 15 minutes of hands on time.

Then today, while tinkering around in the kitchen, I realized a truly fast fesenjan, made in 15 minutes from start to finish, IS doable. If you have the following, already ready:

  • Pomegranate PASTE or MOLASSES (pre-thickened, you see!)
  • Ground walnuts.
  • Pre-cooked chicken (if using).
  • Pre-cooked rice (if serving over rice). Or you could use quick cooking rice. (Not as tasty as homemade, but just sayin’)

So here we go. Don’t blink, guys, or else this recipe will be over before you know it:

15-Minute Khoresht Fesenjan (Pomegranate Walnut Stew)

Time: 15 minutes

Yield: Approximately 4-6 servings. ( The nuts make this a very rich dish.)

Ingredients

  • Neutral cooking fat of choice (butter, grapeseed oil, etc)
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1 cup pre-ground walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses or pomegranate paste (can find on Amazon)
  • 10 ounces of mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 cup of chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
  • 1 14-16 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed (optional)
  • 1 cup of pre-cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces (such as leftover roasted chicken)
  • Honey, sugar, or agave nectar to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Over a low heat, heat oil or butter in a Dutch oven.

2. As fat warms, dice onion.  Add it to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring periodically. (Chopping the onion very small will help it cook through faster).

3. As the onion cooks, slice mushrooms (if using) and drain and rinse chickpeas (if using).

4. Lower the heat, and add walnuts to the onions. Toast walnuts lightly, turning often, for 30-60 seconds, or until you smell a hint of fragrance. Immediately add in spices, and cook for about 30 seconds more. Turn heat off.

5. Add in the pomegranate molasses/paste, stock or water. Stir well, then add in any of the following that you’re using: chicken, mushrooms, chickpeas. Put the heat back on, then increase heat to high until stew boils. Drop the heat down to low.

6. Cook for 5 minutes more, until mushrooms are cooked through and chicken, if using, is warmed through. (You can cook this dish longer if you wish, up to half an hour, but the shorter cooking time works if you’re in a hurry).

7. Adjust seasonings to your taste. If you want it sweeter, add in sweetener of choice, stir, taste. Repeat until you’ve reached your idea sweet-sour ratio.  Serve over rice of choice and enjoy.

That’s IT!

Enjoy it over rice of your choice.

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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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