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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
This meatballs and pasta soup recipe is probably very different from any you’ve ever tried so get yourself prepared for a whole new flavour combination! There is a lot of coriander, garlic and mint in the broth for this soup that give it it’s fabulous aroma and set it apart from other meatball and pasta soups.
This is my cheat’s version of a moreish soup called by a myriad of names all over Iran, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Each one of these soups is a bit different from the others but they are all made with pasta shaped like tortellini or ravioli. My version is close to one made in northwest Iran and the neighbouring Azerbaijan.
I learnt to make the original version of gushbara from my mother-in-law who is a fabulous cook. Her skill in making pasta dough, rolling the dough and filling small dumplings for the soup has always fascinated me. Hers is finger-licking delicious but takes a lot of time to prepare. But I loved this soup and had to find a way to make something that tasted similar but was easier to make so I came up with this recipe.
Herby soups are part and parcel of Persian cooking. No wonder the word for cook in Persian (ashpaz) is derived from the word for soup (ash, a is pronounced as in art). So a cook is one who makes soups! There are literally hundreds of types of soups with all kinds of flavours, from savoury to sweet and sour, completely vegetarian or with different kinds of meat. Some are thickened with flour, others with noodles, rice, whole grains like wheat and barley or bulgur.
There are also some soups that are made with pieces of pasta dough like the one from which I’ve taken the inspiration for my cheat’s gushbara. Gushbara translates to “earring” or “like ear lobes” in Persian, because of the shape of the tiny dumplings in the original version.
You may call my gushbara a “deconstructed” version of the real thing. I make it with shop-bought Italian pasta shapes like orecchiette, creste di gallo, farfalle or cappelletti but any kind of pasta shape or even little squares of homemade pasta dough can be used instead. Using dry pasta cuts the preparation time but flavour-wise the end result is quite similar to the original. Critic No 1 (my lovely son and my best food critic) approves of my cheat’s version and is always begging me to make it for him. He is quite a soup expert!
This curious pasta soup has a long and interesting history too. There are many versions known as gushbara, jushpara, jushbara, tushbera, dushbara and chuchvara in some regions of Iran, former soviet republics of Central Asia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Afghanistan. A friend from Jordan told me her grandmother made jushbara too but had no idea where it came from.
I’m not going to debate the origins of the dish. My best guess is that it was brought to Iran and all adjacent countries by nomadic Turkic tribes centuries ago and they may have adopted that from an earlier Chinese version. I found a recipe in a 16th century Persian cookbook but the book doesn’t say where the soup originated. It’s fascinating how the dish evolved over the centuries in all these places and how each nation now has claims to its origins.
Today many versions are enjoyed in various parts of Iran where the fillings and flavourings can vary hugely. In some places the pasta parcels are filled with lamb, in others with lentils. Some are made with broth, others with sauce, much like ravioli. I made one recently from eastern regions of Iran with spinach and walnut dumplings. If there could be a cheat’s version of that I’d make it all the time.
In our family gushbara is served with torshi (chopped vegetables pickled in vinegar and spices). When there isn’t any torshi we use lime/lemon juice or good wine vinegar flavoured with garlic paste.
To serve four persons you will need the following ingredients:
This recipe for almond and lemon holiday cookies is a new one in my cookie repertoire but I’ve made it several times and every time they have vanished in a matter of hours. I must confess I hadn’t even seen or heard about these incredibly delicious cookies until a few months ago when I first tasted them at a friend’s house.
The cookies were lacy, crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside. What makes the recipe for these lemon-scented almond cookies even more special is that they are made with only four ingredients and are both gluten-free and dairy-free. This makes them perfect for holiday entertainment when people with food intolerances are more likely to be around.
My friend Sima Morshed who gave me the recipe is from Kerman, one of the Iranian cities famous for it’s very fine sweets. She had written the recipe in her neat and beautiful Persian handwriting on the yellowed pages of an old, well-used recipe book. It came from one of her Kermani relatives who is a wonderful baker, she said.
Sima’s little notebook held a treasure of family recipes handed down for generations. I was a very lucky girl to get one of the recipes in her notebook, probably one of its most unique. I searched in my cookbooks and on the net but couldn’t find none similar to her recipe.
Kerman (Carmania of ancient historians) is a city on the edge of a huge desert with fabulous architecture and a very long tradition in making sweets. Karnameh, a Persian cookbook written in late sixteenth century, has a very curious baklava recipe called Kerman baklava that uses lentils in the place of nuts.
The city has a beautiful covered bazaar where exotic spices and spice blends, gorgeous Persian carpets, handmade copper pots and pans and delicious sweets are sold in tiny shops. If you have a Persian carpet under your feet there’s a big chance it came from one of the dimly lit small shops in that bazaar where piles of carpets are as high as the ceiling.
Beside baklava Kerman is also famous for a very tasty, subtly spiced date-filled hand pie called kolompeh. My blogger friend Fariba from zozobaking.com is a master kolompeh maker. Her gorgeous cookies, shaped by hand and stamped with hand-carved traditional wooden stamps made in Kerman, look almost too good to eat.
Sima’s almond and lemon cookies take only minutes to prepare. I was surprised to hear that she puts the ingredients in a bowl and mixes them with a spoon. No beating or kneading at all! One needs to be careful with the oven temperature though. These cookies need to bake at higher temperature for a few minutes to set and then at lower temperature to allow the egg whites to dry.
These cookies will be very soft when they get out of the oven. You must allow them to cool perfectly before peeling them off the non-stick baking sheet. Don’t panic if they spread. While they are still warm you can gently pull them to shape with the help of two dinner knives. The outside will be golden brown and crispy but the centre will remain chewy and gooey which makes the cookies even more moreish.
There are always many ways to use the extra yolks. I used the yolks to make my own heirloom walnut cookies (shirni gerdoui) which are gluten-free and dairy-free like Sima’s cookies except that they are made with yolks rather than whites of eggs. The recipe for the walnut cookies has come down in my family for generations too. Hopefully I will share it with you soon.
Sima’s recipe called for flaked almonds only. The last time I made these I didn’t have enough flaked almonds so I used a few tablespoons of almond flour (ground almonds). This helped the cookies to keep their shape much better and they didn’t spread on the sheet at all. The flavour remained the same but the cookies weren’t as lacy as the ones made without almond flour. I like it both ways. Add a little almond flour (a couple of tablespoons) to your mix if you want them to stay rounded.
Depending on how big or small you make your cookies this recipe will yield about four dozen cookies.