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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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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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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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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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There wasn't much of this Persian Eggplant Dip left to photograph, but I did my best.

Sometimes the best recipes are the simplest. Here’s a recipe my dad shared with me verbally on a recent visit. It was inspired, in part, by the eggplants then growing in the family garden.

Our conversation went something  like this:

Dad: “You know what you can do with this eggplant? Take a whole eggplant and roast it in  the oven.”

Me: “Do you have to poke holes in it? You know, to let the steam escape?”

Dad: “No, just let it roast really well until it starts to cave in on itself. You might have to turn it over once.

Then cook some onions in a pan on the stove for a few minutes. Then you add in some garlic. . .”

Me: “Do you add any spices to the onions and garlic?”

This is the type of eggplant growing in the family garden, and this is the type I used back in New York to make the Persian Eggplant Dip recipe my dad had shared with me on a visit this summer. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng

Dad: “No, just salt and pepper. Anyways, you cook the onions and garlic until they’re soft. Then you can add in a little bit tomato and cook that for a minute.

Then you cut the eggplant, take out everything, and mix it in with the onion and garlic. Cook it until. . .let it get warm.

You can eat this like a dip with some cheese and bread [My dad loves cheese and bread. To the point that they make their own].

Or you can even have this as dinner. You can eat it cold, too. ”

Me: “Wow, that sounds really easy and healthy. But like it would be really satisfying too. ”

Dad nods in agreement, and I’m thinking, “New blog post. Score!”

So yes, that’s the recipe. I suspect that second to leaning recipes by doing, the verbal passing down of recipes is historically the second most common way recipes are passed down through the generations.

More specs:

Oven roasting temp? 400-425 F worked well for me.

Length of roasting time? For 2 medium eggplants, start with half an hour. Turn them over at 15 minutes.

Goats on the farm. There's only one goat who my dad milks, because she is no longer nursing but still producing milk. That one goat yields about a gallon of milk a day. Udderly ridiculous. They use the milk to make yogurt and goat cheese.

How long to cook the onions? 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic in the last few minutes so that it doesn’t get bitter or burn. Alternately, you can smash is pre-roasted garlic at the last minute if you have some on hand.

Optional Extras? Garnish with fresh herbs of your choice. I mixed in a few dollops of goat cheese in a fromage homage to the goats my fam keeps. They make their own goat cheese from their milk.  I avoid dairy for the most part, but definitely enjoy a few smidges of goat cheese when I visit the fam. It’s sooooo good and fresh!

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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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Chopped okra, fresh from the farmer's market. Okra has to be one of my favorite vegs, especially when done up in the simple way my Mama taught me. Blackberry photo of questionable quality. Beauty shots another day, my loves.

Hello again, everyone. I hope your summer is treating you well. One of my favorite things about summer is the bounty of fresh fruits and veggies just bursting out of every garden, field, tree, and, luckily for me, farmer’s market bin. One of my absolute favorite vegetables has got to be okra. Love those emerald pods! I talked about okra here and here. Boy did I feel like I won the lotto when okra was on offer recently at my local farmer’s market. I bought a pound and cooked it that very same day, using today’s recipe.

Only in Texas, ya'll. For some reason I found this sign hilarious. Read it and you'll see why. It offers the pecan pie Blizzard of the month, plus free Wi-Fi. Who could ask for anything more? After all, "This is DQ Country!"

And I promised to eventually share the very recipe for okra that my mom taught me back in the day. In fact, when I went to Texas recently, it was quite possibly the most delicious thing I ate my entire time there. That’s saying a lot, considering what deliciousness abounds in the Great Lone Star State.  As Mom  made it for me, I hovered around like a hungry baby bird, but an observant little bird, because I was mentally noting how she made the stuff so I could execute it perfectly and smoothly back in New York.

Speaking of New York, it’s been hot, hot, hot here. I was lucky enough to get to cool off in the Hamptons a couple of weekends ago at my friends Denise and Rich’s engagement party. Here’s a snap of my friend Jenny and I partying it up:

In the Hamptons (me, left), and my darling friend Jenny, right.That's me, pre-tan. I have a bit of color now. Not too much; I do my sunning in moderation. And when time permits. Which seems like never lately, but I digress.

So back to the okra convo. The Persian and Arabic okra methods are generally stewed. The typical Southern method is deep fried. Neither sound like appealing cooking techniques for hot summer days. Plus, I know fried vegetables are delicious (I enjoy from time to time, I can admit it), but it’s kinda like, “What’s the point?”  So that’s another way my mom’s recipe is brilliant–it’s on the lighter side. It lets the okra’s true flavor shine.

It also has a bit of poignant story behind it. Growing up in rural Texas, my mom and her siblings were sort of latch-key kids. Well, latch-key kids long before the term was coined. And actually, I dunno if they locked their doors back then, but you get my drift.  Sometimes they had to make their own meals. Okra was plentiful, but they didn’t really know how to fry it. (Thankfully; can you say safety hazard?) So they developed this stir frying technique that gives it some crunch, takes away the dreaded sliminess of okra, and preserves that gorgeous emerald color. It’s fast, satisfying, and not at all heavy on the belly. Brilliant, I tell ya!

Mom’s Quick Stir-Fried Okra

A simple, fast, and lighter way to enjoy okra. Cornbread mix can be substituted for cornmeal. If you do use cornbread mix, use less salt when seasoning the okra pods.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh okra pods, washed and excess moisture dabbed away with a towel
  • 1/4 of a medium onion
  • 3 ounces of cornmeal OR 3 ounces (about half a package) of dry cornbread mix
  • 2 Tablespoons oil for (I used coconut oil, but use whatever neutral oil you have on hand. I’d skip olive oil here–too dominating of a flavor. The coconut oil smells coconutty at first, but the flavor disappears).
  • 1 or 2 fresh tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Chop okra into bite size pieces. They’ll look like cute little stars.

2. Heat oil over medium low heat in a ten to twelve inch skillet. Chop onion into bite-sized pieces as well.

3. As oil heats, bust out a paper or plastic bag. Dump cornmeal or cornbread mix into it. Add okra and onions. Close the bag firmly, and give it a good shake/toss to coat the okra and onions with the cornmeal.

4.  Add okra to oil in a single layer in the skillet. You might have to do this recipe in two batches. Do NOT overcrowd the pan. That way we can get an actual stir fry, rather than steamed okra. Increase heat to medium and let the pods cook for about two minutes.  As the pods cook, resist the urge to hover and overstir. In fact, go cut up that tomato into whatever types of slices you fancy.

5. Gently stir the pods to flip them (don’t be a perfectionist and try to flip them one at a time!), and cook another minute or two. Take a pod and test for doneness. The raw taste should be gone. The pod should be tender, with maybe the slightest hint of crisp. In other words, not mushy. The cornmeal will give it a nice crunch. Salt and pepper the okra to taste.

6. Plate, and served with the fresh tomato slices.

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