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flower on stone“We have come into this exquisite world to experience ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom and light!” — Hafiz

What a perfect quote to embody New Year. Persian New Year, that is, aka  Nowruz!

To me, it just feels right and natural to have a new year start with the promise, rebirth, and blossoming of spring.

Spring is a reminder of the inner light within each and every one of us. That’s worth celebrating!

Persian Card_New_YearsScroll down below for a roundup of highly celebratory (and symbolic) recipes from fellow Persian food bloggers. 

Thanks to the fabulous Sanam, of My Persian Kitchen, for putting this together!

Oh, technically the big day of the Persian New Year is always the spring equinox, which falls on Thursday, March 20, this year. Now’s as good a time as any to spread the happiness and to prepare for a fresh new season.

At the moment, I’m in a bit of Spring Cleaning Mode. (Oooof, those closets needed every ounce of attention I gave them last weekend. Ha!) I’m also prepping to host another yoga retreat, in upstate New York/in the Hudson Valley area.  March 14-16—perfect timing to get us ready for spring.

Looks like 2014 is a year of new beginnings for me in many ways. I’m headed to India at the end of the month. This trip has been a dream of mine for many years. At just the right time,  the stars aligned, the Universe and those I love are shining their support and approval on me, and I’m flying off on the night of the new moon. It’s happening!

As for Spring Cooking:

This is a classic clip for my (somewhat limited) TV archives. Here I am cooking kuku sabzi on live TV for Nowruz. This was on Good Day New York a.k.a Fox 5 a few years back:

More blogger Persian New Year goodness:

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Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies are fudgey, brownie and cookie-like all at once. You'd never believe they're free of many common allergens, including gluten, dairy, and can easily be made minus eggs and tree nuts.

Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies are fudgey, brownie and cookie-like all at once. You’d never believe they’re free of many common allergens, including gluten, dairy, and can easily be made free of eggs and tree nuts. Cookie photos by Kristen Joerger of tiny-gourmet.com  .

This Double Chocolate Chunk Cookie recipe post has literally been years in the making.  A couple of years ago, I ran across a cookie recipe I really liked, and tinkered with it.  Soon, I was baking these babies up, and taking them to house parties, to weekends away, on hikes, and on road trips. People LOVE these cookies. I’ve heard people go so far as to call them “The best cookies I’ve ever had in my life.”

cookiesI’d bet money they’ve gotten me invited back a few places 😉

They were a huge hit at my most recent yoga retreat.

People always request this recipe, yet I always got sidetracked.

You’d never guess these cookies are free of many common allergens. My goal was to make them taste chocolately and decadent, not diet. These cookies have no:

  • gluten
  • dairy
  • egg (if you choose to veganize them, that is)
  • or tree nuts (if you choose the tree nut free option, that is)

Here are some of us at my most recent yoga retreat in upstate New York:

fall retreat group shot 2013 upstate

This magic batter traveled with me to my most recent yoga retreat, and the cookies were a huge hit when we packed them into the bagged picnic lunches we took with us to the apple orchard.

These cookies are packed with flavor and a beautiful texture.

Bria’s Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies.

  • 1 cup peanut butter (or almond butter, or, to go tree nut free, use sunflower seed butter.)
  • 1 cup UNSweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup of brown sugar (I prefer dark brown)
  • 1 egg (replace egg by combining 1 tbsp ground flax seeds + 3 tbsp warm water in a small bowl and stirring.  Allow a “jelly” to form after a few minutes and use this as your “egg”)
  • pinch teaspoon salt (leave out if your peanut butter is salted)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips, chunks, or half a cup of each (I used Trader Joe’s brand, as they are free of dairy)

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a nice, roomy mixing bowl, cream together peanut butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla.

3. Begin adding in cocoa powder, 1/4 cup at a time, and mix until well incorporated and moist. If the batter gets too dry, add in bit of water, leftover coffee, or milk of choice to loosen it. Then remix. If batter becomes too loose, add in more cocoa powder to tighten it up.

4. Fold in 3/4 of the chocolate chips and/or chunks. Save the rest for garnish.

5. OPTIONAL/not always necessary: Stash mix in the freezer for 10-15 minutes while you prepare  your cookies sheets. I either line mine with parchment paper, or spray them with cooking spray. One of these days I WILL get a Silpat.

6. Use a cookie scoop or a spoon to make uniform sized dough balls. (I do this by hand and spoon, and each cookie is a generous tablespoon of dough). Do NOT smash cookies down.

7. Place 3-5 chocolate chips and/or chunks on the top of the cookies. You can flip the cookie dough ball upside down and get the chips to adhere that way.

8. Bake cookies for 9-14 minutes, until ever so faint cracks appear on the surface. I know 9-12 minutes is quite a range, but I find that variations in altitude and ovens really do make a difference in bake times. In my NYC toaster oven, these cookies are perfect at 8-10 minutes of baking. In Colorado, I had to go closer to 12 minutes, sometimes beyond, in the “big” oven, to get the right texture.

9. Let cool slightly (or a lot, your choice, but I can never wait too long to try these). Enjoy!

So there you have it. An easy, creative,  recipe that is so delicious, you’d never know it’s friendly to many “restricted” diets and actually kinda healthy.

Question Time:

What’s your go-to dessert?

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Moist, cakey…like a cross between a cookie, a cake, and a muffin. Cream cheese icing optional. I found these cookies delicious without it.

Carrot cake is awesome, isn’t it? In cookie form, it’s pretty amazing, too. Especially when the cookie is moist and cakey at the same time, much like actual carrot cake. Bonus: cookies are soooo much more portable than cakes, or even cupcakes. Throw these in a picnic basket or lunch box, and you’re good to go.

At my last Yoga retreat.

I rigged up this recipe when looking to create a cookie  for my upcoming Yoga retreat. I wanted something with fall flavors and a comfort food vibe. I looked around online and found a handful carrot cake cookie recipes. With a few modifications, the cookies easily become healthier, with zero loss of flavor or texture.

My carrot cake cookies don’t taste “free” of anything, but they are indeed free of many common allergens, including dairy, gluten, and, if you prefer, tree nuts. Of course there’s sugar, but a moderate amount.  There is egg in them, but you could likely leave it out and just do a flax or chia “egg.” (Leave me a comment if you try it to let us know how it goes). These cookies are packed with flavor and a beautiful texture.

Carrot Cake Cookies

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies.

  • 1 cup (5 ounces) oat flour (simply grind 1 cup whole oats into a flour-like texture in your food processor or blender. If gluten free is a concern, get certified GF oats)
  • 1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (Yes, it’s a lot. Trust me on this).
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons sunflower seed butter, at room temperature (I use Trader joe’s brand; Sunbutter brand is good, too)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark or light both work)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (note: these ARE a tree nut; leave out if needed. I personally prefer my cookies minus nuts, and leave them out.)

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a nice, roomy mixing bowl, mix dry ingredients: oat flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and powder, salt.

3. In a second roomy mixing bowl, cream sunflower seed butter, brown sugar, and vanilla. Once smooth, add egg and mix until smooth again.

4. Make a well in the wet ingredients. Gently incorporate dry ingredients, 1/3 of the mixture at a time. Fold in raisins, grated carrots, oats, and walnuts (if using).

5. Stash mix in the freezer for 10-15 minutes while you prepare  your cookies sheets. I either line mine with parchment paper, or spray them with cooking spray. One of these days I WILL get a Silpat.

6. Use a cookie scoop or a spoon to make uniform sized dough balls. (I do this by hand and spoon, and each cookie is a generous tablespoon of dough).

7. Bake cookies for 9-14 minutes, until ever so faint cracks appear on the surface. I know 9-14 minutes is quite a range, but I find that variations in altitude and ovens really do make a difference in bake times. In my NYC toaster oven, these cookies are perfect at 9-10 minutes of baking. In Colorado, I had to go closer to 14 minutes, sometimes beyond, in the “big” oven, to get the right texture.

8. Let cool slightly (or a lot, your choice, but I can never wait to try these). Enjoy!

So there you have it. An easy, creative, fall-friendly, carrot cake cookie recipe that is so delicious, you’d never know it’s friendly to many “restricted” diets and actually kinda healthy.

Question Time:

What’s your favorite fall dessert recipe?

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Nutella cakes are easy to throw together.

My first memories of Nutella are from way back when, during my first semester at Columbia. That’s when I first tasted this hazelnut and chocolate blend of European origin. I’ve loved it ever since. Somehow, it brings back memories of my time at alma mater. For a lot of people, Nutella is the taste of childhood memories. For me, the taste reminds me of truly feeling like adult. On my own, in a strange city, thousands of miles from family, and being fine. Happy even.

Alma mater.

It also reminds me of one the only phases in my life during which my fridge wasn’t packed. A bit of context: I’ve never truly been That Girl with a sparsely packed fridge. (What a blessing, to have this problem). Anyways, if anything, I’m That Other Girl with both a fridge and freezer that are packed. Packed, I say. To the point that my current freezer appeared to not be working some months back. So I called my super. And he called a repairman. My landlord paid the guy to come out and tell me (wait for it). . .

. . .that my freezer was too packed, and it’d start working again swimmingly if I just got rid of some stuff, already.

Oh dear.  I’m sure my psychologist friend and I could have a field day with analyzing why I do this to my appliances.

Turns out the repairman was right. But I consoled myself by telling myself that my lack of common sense had kept this guy working, at least for part of one day. My own personal contribution to the economy, and during a recession, no less!

Nutella! One person’s taste of childhood is another’s taste of emerging adulthood.

Anyways, the point here being that my time at Columbia was about the only time that I had a fridge that wasn’t jammed to the max. I’m not sure exactly why (again, my shrink friend could probably be of help here. . .)

The edibles I did have on hand,  were of the highest quality (for a student).  In no particular order, most all of it purchased from Westside Supermarket:

  • Nutella (yes, I kept it in the fridge. No I am not THAT dumb. I just wanted to prevent myself from gobbling tons of it at room temp, because, admit it, it tastes better at room temp).
  • Smoked gouda cheese (HAD to be smoked!)
  • Almonds (usually smoked)
  • Bagged spinach
  • Alcohol (wine and vodka, mostly)
  • Lindor truffles by Lindt (this was back before they were available at a Wal-Mart near you)
  • A roasted chicken (sometimes)
  • Bread (kept in the fridge to prevent it from molding)
  • Apples
  • And yes, I had a tendency to “fridge” things that really shouldn’t be “fridged.” I’ve learned. I think.

My friend dubbed these PMS cakes.

But mostly I lived off of cheese, almonds, and spoonfuls of Nutella. And I drank quite a few meals, I must say. Ahem.

I certainly wasn’t ambitious enough to throw together mini-nutella cakes back during my Columbia Daze, which is too bad, because they’re so simple. The cakes, not the Columbia Daze. Gluten-free wasn’t a buzzword back in those days, either, but hey, we’ve all moved on, haven’t we? I know I have…I’ve evolved enough that the meal I drink most nowadays is a green smoothie for breakfast. And I now realize one can eat Nutella in ways that don’t involve licking it off the spoon. At least sometimes. Ahem…

No ramekins? No problem. Use small, oven-safe coffee cups or bowls.

Nutella Cakes (Gluten Free, Kinda High in Protein)

Yield: 3 to 4 small cakes. Depends on the size of your ramekins or whatever small, oven-safe bowl you bake them in. Recipe can easily be doubled, tripled, etc.

  • 1/2 cup coconut flour (could use gluten free flour of choice, or if GF isn’t a concern, regular flour should work here, too. I like coconut flour because it’s rich, and has a lot of protein and fiber)
  • 1/2 cup Nutella (Thank you Costco, for keeping my Nutella costs in line; if vegan is a concern, find a vegan chocolate hazelnut or almond butter)
  • Splash of milk of choice (amount can vary…start out with a Tablespoon)
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips plus a Tablespoon or two extra

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  As oven heats, in a mixing bowl, combine the flour and milk. Mix lightly until pasty, but still pliable. If too dry, add in a bit more milk.

2. Add in Nutella and stir until combined.

3. Fold in chocolate chips.

4. Spoon mixture into small ramekins (fill them 2/3 to 3/4 full). Top each cake with a few reserved chocolate chips. Bake for 15 minutes. (Check for doneness after 10-12 minutes, by poking a knife or a fork into center of cakes). Personally, I like my cakes a bit undercooked and gooey, and hey, it’s safe to do that here, because there are no eggs in this recipe.

BRIA’S NOTE: If vegan and/or gluten free are of concern, be sure to double check all your ingredients’ labels. Can bake one at a time. Keep the remaining dough, covered, in the fridge. Load up a ramekin and bake when desired/as needed. Because we all need chocolate sometimes, yes? Plus, the one little dessert at time is a very college-like thing, isn’t it?

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At my recent Yoga retreat, quinoa was on the menu, but we ended up not making it. We had so many other delicious things, so it fell out of the rotation. I didn’t miss it, because I thought I didn’t really like it. Until now. You will, too, I bet. You could even take this to any Fourth of July festivities you might be celebrating this weekend. It’s easy to make and travels well.

I used white, also known as yellow, quinoa in my recipe. Look for it in the rice/grain section part of your store. Technically, it's not a grain. It's a seed. And it's gluten-free and very high in protein as well. Photo via wikipedia.

Back to my quinoa breakthrough. Imagine, cooking quinoa according the package directions, and it turning out awesome? Who’d have known? Certainly not me, as I’m not always one for following directions. I can barely make my own recipe the same way twice, much less another person’s. Ha!

I stumbled upon this recipe the other night when “shopping in my cabinets.” I decided to do something novel for me and made the quinoa according to the package directions (fry a cup of quinoa for 20 seconds in butter or oil, add two cups of boiling water, cover, simmer for 20 minutes, covered, over a low heat).

Happy Birthday, America. You're 235, you say? Well, you're forever 21 to me.

As it cooked, I chopped up a bunch of veggies that were hanging around unused: some roasted red peppers, celery, a couple of artichoke hearts. I added a can of (drained) white beans. Then I mixed this all into the fluffy quinoa, along with a couple of drizzles of olive oil, some ground cumin, and some Trader Joe’s 21 Salute seasoning (salt-free and very versatile!) I threw in some nutritional yeast, too.

It was a hit, and a new summer staple was born. It tastes lovely hot, cold, or at room temp. It travels well, and it’s light yet filling. It’s a flexible recipe: vary the veggies and spices and come up with  your own combos. Plus, quinoa is high in protein; along with the beans and veggies, you have a balanced one-dish meal or side.

Quinoa, I’m sorry for my past indifference and for leaving you out of the retreat festivities. I promise I’ll make it up to you somehow, someday!

Fluffy Summer Quinoa Salad

Ingredients to serve 4 as a side, 2 as a main dish:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • oil or butter of choice
  • water
  • veggies of choice (such as peas, peppers, onions, artichoke hearts, asparagus, olive chunks, scallions, whatever you desire/have on hand)
  • 1 can of bean of choice, drained (I used white beans)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • spice blend of choice (I used Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute)
  • ground cumin (couple of pinches)
  • nutritional yeast or parmesean cheese, grated (optional)

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.

2. As quinoa cooks, chops up veggies, drain beans, and gather spices.

3. Once quinoa is done (takes about 20 minutes), remove from heat.  Fluff with a fork, add spices. Lightly stir. Add oil. Fluff a bit again. Add veggies and beans and stir again. Taste and adjust seasoning, oil, and veggies amounts if   needed. That’s IT!

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A kale stalk grows in Brooklyn. No, seriously. I snapped this pic at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden recently.

Some people have a way with words. I, apparently, have a way with kale.

Three very unexpected individuals went slightly crazy over this kale recipe:

  • A friend who isn’t much of a veggie eater at all. To the point that I always bring a green salad or a side to contribute to dinner at her place, because otherwise, we’re green-free; to her credit, she’s gracious about this habit of mine, and she loves this kale).
  • Another friend who isn’t a big food person at all, much less a fan of greens. The friend who says, “I don’t eat sides.”  Ha!
  • And my cat.

Yes, you read right. My cat loves this kale. At first I thought he was simply licking the chicken sausage juice off of the plate. But no, the little boy started eating the tiny leftover pieces of greens. With gusto. We’re talking purring and coming back to look for seconds gusto. I trust my cat’s taste in food. He’s quite the foodie, actually. He enjoys hanging out in the kitchen with me, likes chicken only when it’s prepped a certain way, and loves coconut yogurt by So Delicious. He’s got great taste, that one.

Grainy Blackberry picture of my cat :-), whose name is Bise. (Rhymes with the last syllable of resume).

The recipe is so simple. And good!

Simple Skillet Kale Saute with Chicken Sausage

Note: Feel free to leave out the chicken. The kale still tastes fabulous without it.

Ingredients to serve 2:

  • 2 or 3 links chicken sausage, cut into ovals
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • cooking oil of choice, up to 2 tablespoons
  • Seasoning blend of your choice (I’ve been using Trader Joe’s “Everyday Seasoning” for my kale lately)
  • Salt (ONLY if seasoning blend is unsalted)
  • Nutritional yeast or grated cheese of choice (optiona)
  • 2 Tablespoons sundried tomatoes, slivered (optional)
  • Splash of pomegranate molasses (optional)
  • Splash of water or broth of choice (might not need)

1. In a roomy skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over low heat. Once the oil is warm, add chicken sausage and allow to brown on one side (check after about a minute).

2. Meanwhile, prep kale (rinse, cut or tear into pieces)

3. Flip chicken sausage. Now add kale to skillet and on one side for a minute or two. Then turn it to coat with oil and sausage juices, then add spices, plus sundried tomato slivers. Turn and cook the kale on for another minute or so. Taste kale for texture (I like mine tender-crisp), and adjust spices, including salt, if desired. Add a drizzle of pomegranate molasses, if using. (If at any point the kale becomes too dry in the pan, add a bit or water or broth of choice)

4. Remove from skillet, sprinkle with nutritional yeast or grated cheese (if using), and serve warm. It can also travel well and makes a tasty cold salad or side dish.

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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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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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