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Maryam Sinaiee

Puff Pastry Hearts with Rosewater & Vanilla Chantilly Cream (shirini tar khamei)

Wondering what dessert to make on Valentines Day? How about giving a try to this fail-safe puff pastry dessert recipe if your sweetheart likes light pastries like I do. It’s incredibly easy to make if you use shop-bought puff pastry.

I don’t have a very sweet tooth. Once in a while I may crave something sweet but usually it’s a light cake with no icing, or pastry with light cream and fruit. This one is just the perfect one for me. It smells faintly of rosewater and vanilla and is light as air.

These puff pastry hearts taste like pastries from confectionary shops in Tehran where I lived for many years. But here I am now, living in a small English town and loving it very much. I do miss my friends and family and a few other things including the fabulous pastries, though.

napoleon-pastry
Mille-feuille is French in origin, of course. It has evolved into this cream-filled pastry in Iran. We call it Napoleon.

A lot of the pastries and cakes sold in Iranian pastry shops are of western origin. Our traditional sweets are quite different. Think baklava for instance or shortbreads flavoured with cardamom and rosewater or saffron marzipan diamonds. Both types are popular.

When I lived in Iran we had fresh pastries at the office almost every day. If nobody had got engaged or done something that merited buying pastries we’d just create an excuse for celebration and send the office man to the near-by confectionary shop for cream puffs or napoleons. Then there would be tea, coffee, laughter and quite a lot of fun. Oh, good old days…

shirini-tar-recipe
Same recipe, different shape. For some of these I used sweet short crust pastry but the ones with puff pastry were better.

Anyways, if I’ve tempted you to try my easy puff pastry dessert recipe all you really need to do is take a trip to your local supermarket, buy a sheet of puff pastry, a bottle of rosewater and a pot of heavy cream. I’d buy a punnet of raspberries or strawberries to serve along these too. If you don’t have vanilla paste (or extract) and icing sugar throw those on the list too.

I have made these many times before except that this time I made them heart-shaped because I happened to have a heart-shaped cutter. Don’t fret if you don’t have one. The pastry will taste the same in whatever shape you cut it!

Before I forget, use the regular setting of the oven. Baking puff-pastry in fan-assisted mode is disastrous. I did that once and the air blew all the layers of the pastry over! Instead of well-risen puff pastry I ended up with layers of pastry spread all over the baking sheet.

puff-pastry-recipeYou can use any cutter but heart-shaped pastries are perfect for Valentines Day.

I use rosewater in the chantilly cream for these pastries because it tastes and smells lovely. If you don’t like rosewater or can’t find it use only vanilla. That works really well too.

puff-pastry-recipesPrick the top with a fork.

Depending on the size of your cutter you can get about 15 small or 10 larger pastries from one sheet of shop-bought puff pastry. Size doesn’t really matter. Make them as big or as small as you like.

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet of puff pastry (all butter or lighter version, up to you to decide), at room temperature
  • 200ml whipping cream or double cream, chilled in the fridge
  • 1-2 tbsp rosewater (not extract or essence. Both are overpowering)
  • 6 tbsp icing sugar, sifted (or according to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste or extract or beans from 1/2 vanilla pod
  • Rose petals or dried rose buds to decorate

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F (normal mode- do not use fan-assisted).
  2. Fold the pastry sheet in half and very lightly press with the palms of your hand to stick the layers together. Use a sharp cutter to cut shapes or use a knife to cut the pastry in equal-sized squares.
  3. Transfer the pastry shapes to a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Bake for 12-18 minutes or until they are well-risen and golden. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
  4. Put the cream in a bowl and add the rosewater and vanilla. If using double cream add a couple of spoonfuls of milk too. Stir to combine. Beat with a hand mixer or whisk until almost stiff peaks form.  Add sifted icing sugar by spoonfuls and beat on low speed very briefly to incorporate the sugar. Don’t overbeat or you may get sweet butter.
  5. Separate each pastry heart into two layers. Since you started with two layers of pastry this should be quite easy. Use a piping bag to fill the pastries with the whipped cream. Lightly dust with more icing sugar and decorate with a fresh rose petal or a dried rose bud. These pastries keep for a day in a tightly covered dish in the fridge.
  6. Have a wonderful Valentines day!

Persian-Inspired Sautéed Swiss Chard with Pomegranate

A delicious Persian dish from northern Iran inspired me to write this sautéed Swiss chard and pomegranate recipe. The original dish (esfenaj ba robbe anar) is cooked with spinach but Swiss chard works perfectly in it. Making this dish is a good way to use up all those beautiful chard leaves and add lots of nutrition to your winter diet.

Swiss chard is related to beets and is a very delightful plant to grow in the vegetable garden. The pretty stalks come in a riot of bright reds, pinks and yellows. Very often people use the pretty stalks and bin or compost the leaves but the leaves are so full of nutrition it’s a shame to throw them away.

swiss-chard-and-beets
Swiss chard is from beet family. These beauties came from my allotment last year. The ones on the right with red stalks are chard.

I use chard leaves in Persian soups like my Persian Plum Soup with Fried Mint Topping. Chard leaves are also perfect for stuffing, in the same way as grape vine leaves are. My vegan Persian-Style Stuffed Chard Leaves were a hit with my family. Same goes with beet leaves. Bunches of beet leaves are sold in farmers markets in Iran along with other green for making soups and other dishes.

I grow chard in the vegetable patch, in flower borders among flowering plants and even in pots. It’s so easy to grow from seed and not demanding at all. All you need to do is to push a few seeds in the soil and wait for them to germinate. You can cut larger stalks and the plants will keep producing more right through autumn and early winter months.

swiss-chard
Swiss chard is a biennial plant that can easily be grown from seed between June and October.

My recipe also calls for pomegranate seeds (arils) and molasses. It’s no wonder that pomegranates feature in so many everyday Persian dishes. Pomegranate trees can be found in most places in Iran but they also grow wild in the northern regions of the country. Wild pomegranates are usually very sour and have smaller arils.

Swiss-chard-recipe-vegan

Sour pomegranates are perfect for making pomegranate paste, a very thick dark concentration of pomegranate juice, and pomegranate molasses which is often sweetened with sugar. Only a few years ago it was quite hard to find pomegranate molasses outside Iran and the Middle East anywhere other than in specialty groceries but it has found its way to most supermarkets now, at least here in Britain, and is supplied by many online retailers.

wild-pomegranate
Wild pomegranate is usually small and very tart in flavour.

 

I guess it’s time to give you the recipe. I like to serve this pretty little dish as a side with meat or chicken or as a vegetarian/vegan dish with flat bread or a crusty loaf. The following quantities make generous side portions for four people.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 tbsp oil (I prefer extra virgin rapeseed oil)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 kilo chard stems and leaves
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds (arils)
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

Instructions:

  1. Roughly chop the chard stems and leaves separately. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large lidded frying pan and cook the sliced onions on medium-low heat until they are golden. Add the chopped garlic, the spices and chard stems and cook for 2-3 minutes. Throw in the chopped leaves, salt and a few tablespoons of water and cover the pan with the lid. Reduce the heat to low and allow the chard leaves to wilt and cook for about ten minutes.
  3. Save a couple of tablespoons of the pomegranate seeds and add the rest to the chard. Cook while stirring for a few minutes until all the water is completely absorbed. Add the pomegranate molasses and stir. Cover and cook on very low heat for five minutes. Sprinkle with the reserved pomegranate seeds and serve.

Persian-Inspired Quinoa with Smoked Trout

How about a Persian-inspired warm quinoa recipe today? Only a few years ago I hadn’t even heard the name of quinoa but now I regularly cook with it. What makes it really great to cook with is that it can be used pretty much in the same way as rice.

On a recent visit to Sweden I saw a beautiful chubby smoked trout in the deli section of a supermarket and just couldn’t go home without it. My gorgeous trout had to sit in the fridge for a couple of weeks while I sorted other stuff and waited for me to make up my mind how to give it the star role in a dish because it deserved nothing less.

smoked-trout-from-sweden

Yesterday I decided it was time to say hello to the my Swedish trout. I put it on a plate and it looked so pretty I wanted to eat it with my eyes! It smelled wonderfully smokey and had nice firm flesh that flaked easily with a fork. How about having it with quinoa? “We’ll give it a try”, said Critic No.1 & Critic No.2.

Iranians usually eat fish with herby green rice. One green rice dish, baghali polo, combines the flavours of dill and broad beans. Another, sabzi polo, is made with lots of herbs (coriander, parsley, Persian chives, fenugreek greens and dill) and baby garlic.

rice-with-broad-beans
Rice with dill and broad beans (baghali polo) is often eaten with fish.
pan-fried-sea-bass
Persian green rice (sabzi polo) with pan-fried sea bass.

Some smoked trout (and other fish) I had eaten in Iran I can really describe as fabulous. In the Caspian Sea regions of Iran they know how to smoke their fish. They even know how to smoke their rice!

I will write about smoked rice soon but not now. Writing about smoked rice to me is like writing poetry. You can’t do it between sorting the laundry and keeping up with the news of the nuclear talks going on between Iran and the world powers in Vienna now. So the story has to wait for a better day.

Since I had no rice at home I decided to go Persian with quinoa that I had, well, a little Persian. I cooked it in stock flavoured with dill and new garlic.

My Persian-style flavouring for Quinoa
My Persian-style flavouring for Quinoa – Note the gorgeous fresh garlic.

Using new garlic was a good idea because I didn’t want the garlic flavour to overpower the fish but I also needed it to balance the aroma and flavour. I used almost the whole head and the scent was still mild and subtle.

Broad beans would have worked very nicely in this dish but I didn’t have any. Plain quinoa and dill wouldn’t look that good. I needed more green. I love to balance colours in my dishes, as much as I can. Petit pois could do the job and I always have a bag or two in the freezer. So petit pois it was!

Double-shelled baby broad beans that I didn't have!
Double-shelled baby broad beans that I didn’t have!

Critics No.1 & 2 both gave very favourable reviews. Both are very picky and will tell me very frankly if something doesn’t work in a dish so I always ask their opinion when I make something new. Sometimes I have to wait for a while because they are too busy eating and won’t speak up!

This recipe will work very nicely with any kind of flaky smoked fish. Salmon will be just as good, if not better.

To serve 4 – 6 you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 large whole smoked trout (about 600g)
  • 300g white quinoa
  • 1 litre water or stock (fish or vegetable)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 11/2 tbs dried dill
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 20g butter
  • 1 head fresh garlic (or three or four cloves of dry garlic), cloves peeled and thinly sliced
  • 60g fresh dill, stalks removed and roughly chopped
  • 250g petit pois or double-shelled baby broad beans

Method:

  1. Bring the water/stock to the boil with the dried dill and salt.
  2. Rinse quinoa in a fine sieve and drain well if it isn’t already washed. Unwashed quinoa can sometimes taste soapy. Add the quinoa to the boiling water/stock with the oil (and butter if using) and stir well. Cook over medium-low heat for five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further ten minutes or until water or stock has completely been absorbed. Don’t forget to give it a gentle stir now and then while it is cooking.
  3. Meanwhile, gently pull away the skin from the fish. Use a fork to lift off chunks of flesh from the bones.
  4. Stir the dill and petit pois (or double-shelled baby broad beans) into the quinoa and transfer to a lidded frying pan. Arrange the chunks of fish on top of the quinoa. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel and cover the pan. Let the quinoa steam for ten to fifteen minutes on very low heat. Uncover and garnish with a sprig of mint. Serve warm or cold with lots of lemon or lime to squeeze over the dish.