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Buckets and buckets of dates. Date syrup is an easy way to use up dates so you can enjoy snacking on premium dates like the ones in the pic. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

I’m loathe to waste anything. Perhaps this is a Persian thing. Or perhaps not. It’s definitely a “me” thing.

Recently, I lucked into a big, fresh batch of medjool dates. They’re creamy, caramel-y, and just perfect. But wouldn’t you know it? I had some other dates lying around that were looking pretty sad.

You know I was not going to let those sad, dried out little dates go to waste. I’d feel too guilty enjoying the plump, sassy ones I’d just been given knowing that the dry, pathetic ones were just sitting there, dessicating even more. Ha!

So date syrup to the rescue.

Me, my student Mythili, and Meera, at the Wanderlust Festival in Vermont earlier this summer. It was one interesting and fun June weekend!

Now I have a sweetener for my tea, baked goods, no-bake sweets, and whatever else I can think of. Best of all, it’s natural and makes good use of mineral-packed dates. And I get to snack on those other awesome dates guilt free. Well, not completely guilt-free. I don’t fast for Ramadan. Mad props to those who do, but I don’t. So in an act of restraint, I’ll try not to eat too many dates during the day as the fasting month kicks off in a few days. (Dates are a popular food to break the daylong fast with).

As to the recipe, it’s so simple, I’m not typing out a formal recipe. Because it’s summer and I roll super simple in the summer. Ha!  In my Vita-mix, I blended:

  • 20 dates, pits removed
  • 1 and a half cups of water
  • 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

This yielded a good two cups of syrup. I just blended until it was smooth, which made the syrup liquidy and pourable. If you’re looking for a thicker texture, use less liquid.

I’ll be back at some point with a re-cap of some of my summer travel adventures, including my taking to the streets of NY on my bike. But for now, I’m off to enjoy more watermelon, which I’ve been eating tons of lately, and a chill evening. You all take care and stay cool.

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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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Hey guys, I’m so excited to have a spare moment to post. Things have been busy around here in Bria’s World. I’m getting deeper into planning mode for the upcoming Yoga Retreat I’m putting on in Upstate New York. (Click the link for more info).

Work continues, with 3 new Yoga classes on my roster, plus private clients and subbing gigs,  and I also have a special project I’m in the very early stages of thinking through/planning. I’ll keep you posted on all of that. So today’s post is just a quickie, to let you guys know I recently got my very own Vita-Mix blender, and to share a round-up of recent samples with you.

Faster smoothie-making via my new Vita-Mix blender gets me to this happy moment much faster. That can only be a good thing.

I’ve been wanting a Vita for AGES, and I recently found one at a great price, placed my order, and am now learning all about it. The very first green smoothie I made with it was rockin’! The texture was sooooo much better than what my regular blender was able to produce. And faster, too. What sometimes used to take me a good ten minutes to make on certain mornings now takes more like 3 minutes, tops. Talk about a way to ease the stress of mornings. I like getting up and getting to things, but I’m not always the most organized (or rational!) person in the morning. Ha ha! So just having the Vita cutting my smoothie prep time so dramatically really helps, silly as that might sound.

So my getting a Vita is good news for all of us, because it’s sparked my creativity, and I’ll be creating more recipes with it going forward. Of course, I’ll try to make sure the recipes are workable for non-Vita users as well.

I also got some really great samples that I’ve been making my way through. First up, tea from LeafSpa:

Organic, fair trade tea. Sign me up. Find this amazing stuff at LeafSpa.com

I haven’t yet made my way through all of the samples they sent me, but I can say with certainty that the Decaf Chai was divine. You can tell I’d be all up in the bag, not just from the tear on it, but from the water splash stain:

Loved this decaf chai by Leaf Spa.

Thanks, LeafSpa, for these excellent samples. Take a look at their site; they not only sell amazing teas, but natural spa products that I’m sure are sumptuous as well.

Moving on:

Lately I’ve been using this coconut oil from Tropical Traditions in a lot of my cooking. It has a lovely coconut scent when cooking, but the scent and flavor disappears seamlessly into the final product.  I’ll admit, I WAS worried that the gorgeous coconut scent would seep its way into certain recipes and clash with the other flavors. Happily, that didn’t happen at all. Thanks, Tropical Traditions, for the generous,  HUGE 32 ounce sample:

Tropical Traditions virgin coconut oil is working out quite well in my recipes.

So that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with a full report on my Vita. Have a great day, everybody!

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A quick snap of the quick veggie curry I enjoyed for dinner recently.

So you guys know that I mainly focus on Middle Eastern cuisine here on this blog, with an emphasis on Persian food and also Arabic food of the Levant region. Or, if you’re new to this blog, now you know 😉

That being said, a little bit of curry never hurt anyone. So let’s take a detour, just for today. Today’s quick curry is fast, fresh, and useful. Useful? Yes, especially if you have an abundance of summer vegetables around and you’re wondering what the heck to do with them all.

That’s exactly what happened to me recently. A friend hooked me up with not one, but two big batches of organic farmer’s market veggies. Verdant emerald zucchini, sunny yellow squash, lavender hued eggplants, ruby red sweet peppers, and more. I was grateful, excited, and nervous, all at the same time, because I wanted to make excellent use of the goodies, and not let anything go to waste.

Eggplants were part of the haul of fresh summer produce gifted to me.

I made a few dishes–grilled veggie subs, pesto with pasta and fresh veggies, chickpeas with, you guessed it, more of the fresh veggies. I dipped the raw veggies in hummus and smeared sunflower seed butter on them, too. Then one night, I was in a big hurry to get dinner on the table (who am I kidding–that’s every night!) I remembered a fast curry my friend Erica once showed me when I visited her in Florida.

Coconut milk is the base. Don’t worry, the fat in coconut milk, while saturated, is GOOD for you.  You dump in the veggies and spices of your choice into the silky coco milk, and heat everything up for just a few minutes. The variations are endless. For added flavor, cook the onions, fresh ginger, and spices together for a moment. You can garnish as you wish, swap out the veggies to your heart’s content, and play around with the spicing. Here’s what I threw together the other night:

Curry in a Hurry (Quick Summer Veggie Curry)

Coconut milk is the base of this simple curry. Feel free to get creative with the veggies, the spicing, and the garnishes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil, or neutral cooking oil of choice
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • Curry spice mix of choice (I used Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie spice, plus 2 teaspoons of turmeric, and a half teaspoon each of cardamom, coriander, and cumin)
  • 1 14-16 ounce can coconut milk (can use light)
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 2 pounds veggies of choice (I used zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and mild red peppers)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Heat oil over a low heat in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven. As oil heats, clean and chop all veggies into chunks. Leave the peels on if you like to save time and add fiber.

2. To the oil, add the onion pieces and fresh ginger. Cook to soften over the low heat for about 2 minutes. Then add in the curry spices of your choice, mix well and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute (you should smell the spices).

3. Immediately add in the coconut milk, veggies, and water. Stir thoroughly. Add in a bit of salt and bring to a boil. As soon as the curry begins to boil, drop the heat to low and cook for 2-5 minutes, until veggies reach the desired texture. (You can test veggies with a fork or knife). I don’t like mushy veggies, so I cook mine around 3 minutes. Depending on your preference, you may shorten or extend the cooking time. Taste, and adjust the seasoning.

4. Serve over cooked rice or other grain of  your choice, with garnish if desired. Some garnish ideas: fresh cilantro, fried onions, raw scallions, a red hot sauce.

Serves 4.

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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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Avocados are the foundation for today's recipe, a smooth, cooling, and creamy no-cook chilled soup.

Ahhhh summer. The ice in your tea glass melts instantly.  When your inner warmth might just start to feel more like a raging fire inside. And yes, when tempers (and sometimes complexions) flare.

Can you tell summer isn’t my favorite season? 😉

I suppose I’d like summer much more if I had a cool mountain cabin, or a beach house, or a luscious, breezy  island to escape to. But, alas, I don’t. At least not yet! What do I have instead of a quiet, soothing getaway? Two busy jobs in a sometimes hot, sometimes fetid, and always crowded city.

Enjoying a cooling and refreshing green smoothie, something I do a lot these hot days.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m grateful for my work, enjoy New York City much of the time, and am not immune to summer’s charms. Free concerts in the park, the occasional beach day, the ice cream truck’s passing jingle.  It’s just that for me, making it through the season is a bit of a project. I thrive more in fall, spring, and to a lesser degree, winter. I find winter’s chill refreshing and invigorating, but I don’t necessarily long to spend days on ski slopes or anything like that, if that makes any sense.

For all of the above, I blame/credit my dosha. I’m a Pitta, with a bit of Vata and an even tinier dash of Kapha thrown in. Dosha, you say? Is that some sort of wrap sandwich? Nope, it’s actually our individual constitutions, according to Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga. Constitution meaning things like energy levels, temperament, skin tone, and body type. Curious to know more? Click here for a quick, easy, free dosha test.

So, with my dosha in mind, one of my strategies in the summer consists of  enjoying yet more smoothies, minty teas, cold, crisp salads, and cold soups. Today’s cooling avocado soup is the perfect antidote for those occasions when you’d like a velvety, cool soup, but prefer not to cook. I served it recently at my Bollywood themed dinner party. It’s rich and creamy without being heavy.  The version I’m sharing today has a bit of a Persian flare, because I added in fenugreek.

And, full disclosure, this is an adaptation of a recipe I got from my new favorite spa/holistic clinic, Pratima, right here in New York City. I just started going there this past week, and already am seeing improvement from my seasonal eczema and breakout flareups. Pratima herself literally wrote the book on Ayurvedic beauty, and uses a holistic, natural approach to healing the skin and entire body. Go see her if you’re in New York. Her presence is powerfully calming and reassuring. If you’re not in NY, never fear; she does phone consults. And no, they did not pay me or compensate me in any way for the enthusiastic shout-out. It comes from my heart 🙂 They have no idea I even have this here blog.

Ok, so now for the recipe, with my slight tweaks:

Chilled Avocado Soup

Recipe adapted from a recipe by Erica Corte, Ayurvedic therapist and jewelry designer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and sliced
  • 2 cups fresh carrot juice
  • 1 kirby cucumber, skin on, halved
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek (optional)
  • 1 tbsp Braggs’s amino acids
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • Celtic or sea salt to taste

Directions:

Put all the ingredients,  in a blender or a food processor fitted with the stainless steel blade. Blend or process until contents are smooth. Season to taste with salt and cover. Chill in a refrigerator for 20 minutes before enjoying. I served mine straight from the blender (classy, I know 😉 ), but feel free to transfer your soup to a serving bowl.

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Try this super easy and refreshing watermelon mint slushie. It will take the edge off of summer's heat for sure.

Today’s chill slushie is the perfect anecdote to hot and dehydrating summer days (and nights)! It’s refreshing and cooling to drink, and beautiful to look at. And one of my favorite ingredients–watermelon, is the base of the drink.

I just adore watermelon. For me, it brings back such happy memories. Some of them are kinda funny memories, too. More on those further down. . .

Watermelon always makes me think of my dad. Hmmmm, and this post is coming out a few days ahead of Father’s Day. Happy coincidence!

My dad and I would have a field day picking the best of the bunch! Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

Anyways, I remember my dad going to the grocery store or farmer’s markets together and picking out the most beautiful, juiciest watermelons money could buy. He has a real talent for picking excellent produce. Oh, yes, that’s a deliberate plural on watermelons–my dad would rather buy extra melons than too few. After all, his reasoning goes, we can always share the extra fruit with others.

Our produce-buying missions were “our” thing as father and daughter–going to what my dad calls “fruit market” and picking out the best and best-priced veggies and fruits available. To this day, I say I learned just about all of the skills about how to pick good produce from my dad. And many of my cooking skills I learned from my mom. Both important parts of the equation–how to pick the best quality produce, and what to do with it once you get it home.

Frothy, delicious, and refreshing. I can't get enough of these lately!

As for the funny melon memories: the time my dad picked what he said was the most amazing watermelon ever–and left it in the shopping cart in the store parking lot of a Fiesta store (Texans know all about Fiesta 😉 ). Or the time we went to the farmer’s market in Houston. At this market, you can buy wholesale.  Why exactly we needed a few dozen watermelons, I’ll never know for sure. At any rate, one of the watermelon vendors quoted my dad one price before loading up the back of the pickup full of melons. Then he quoted him another price when it was time to pay, the truck fully loaded with probably at least two dozen melons. Sneaky jerk thought we’d not want to unload the melons and just pay the higher price.  He was holding us as fruit hostages. My dad was having none of this bait and switch nonsense. Every single melon went back to the display, and you can bet my dad made the guy help offload the heavy fruits.

Gorgeous watermelons are rich in vitamin C and super-hydrating. Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

So what makes a good watermelon? My dad taught me that it should be:

  • Heavy for its size.
  • It should have a hollow sound when you thump on it.
  • The stripes should be very green.
  • The skin shouldn’t have any mushy or pitted spots.

If you happen to get a subpar melon, you can salvage it by making this cooler. Of course, a perfect melon would be absolutely delicious blended into this chillaxing drink as well.  Have fun with it and enjoy! Maybe while watching a World Cup match.

Watermelon Mint Cooler/Slushie

Ingredients (enough for at least 2 12 ounce coolers):

2 Cups watermelon, seeds removed

1 Cup almond milk (I prefer unsweetened; you could use rice or even coconut milk here)

Splash of vanilla extract

A few sprigs of mint, saving some for garnish

Ice

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend. Drink will be very pink and very cool. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!

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