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Maryam Sinaiee

Persian Dried Fruit Compote (khooshab)

How about a very healthy and natural dessert/snack recipe that takes only minutes to put together? Did I hear yes? YES! Here we go then! This soaked dried fruit dessert recipe is really, really simple: You choose the dried fruit you like, you throw them in a bowl, you cover the fruit with water and leave it for twenty-four hours or even two days to soak and marinate and you enjoy a mouthwatering and refreshing raw compote. Doesn’t that sound good?

Khooshab is an old Persian word which means “nice water” because the dried fruit flavours the soaking water which is enjoyed with the fruits or on its own as a refreshing, energising, thirst-quenching drink. Khooshab can be made with any type of dried fruit or any mixture of dried fruits. Using sweet fruit such as figs, dried dates and raisins will sweeten the juices. But khooshab doesn’t always have to be sweet. A rather sour version with unsweetened dried sour cherries or dried sour plums, a pinch of salt and lots of ice is an Iranian favourite often sold by street vendors in summer.

There are two vast deserts in the heart of Iran. One of the hottest points on earth (gandom beryan) is in Lut desert in south-east Iran, yet the rest of the country has all sorts of climates. There are lush green fields, mountains and valleys, sometimes really close to the sand dunes of the desert, that produce enormous amounts of delicious fruit and nuts. Iran is actually among the top producers of pistachios, dates, walnuts, almonds, apricots, peaches, grapes, citrus fruit, melons and stone fruit in the world. It’s no wonder then that we use so much fresh and dried fruit as well as nuts in our cooking. Pomegranates, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, plums, apricots and raisins are some of the most used fruits and nuts in Persian cooking.

khooshab-khoshaf-khushaf-recipe

Khooshab is known as khoshaf and khushaf in Levantine and North African countries. It’s a favourite dish prepared during the fasting month and is often served right after breaking the fast. Khoshaf/khushaf often includes nuts, too.

The khooshab in the pictures above includes apricots, figs, sweet prunes, raisins, cranberries and a few slivers of pistachio to add a touch of green for the pleasure of the eye. Other dried fruit such as peaches, apples, dates, cherries and blueberries will also work very nicely, on their own or as a mix.

How to Make: Put the dried fruits of your choice in a bowl and cover with water. Stir and drain to remove any trace of sand or dirt. Cover the fruits with boiling water. Let stand, covered with a lid or cling film, for a day or two. Add more water if all the water is absorbed but the fruits aren’t plump yet. You can also add a touch of sugar or other sweetener or any flavouring that you like. To serve put the fruits in a glass and pour the soaking water over them. Garnish with ground or slivered pistachios or other nuts or a sprig of mint. Chill and serve with long spoons. Enjoy!

Hot and Garlicky Fermented Red Cabbage Pickle (shoor-e kalam ghermez)

The garlicky fermented red cabbage pickle recipe I’m sharing with you today makes very crunchy and deliciously tangy pickles. Who doesn’t like a bit of crunch in their salad, wrap or sandwich? I definitely do and always have a few jars of crunchy pickles around but this one is a very recent addition to my pantry.

I always pickle shredded cabbage in vinegar with lots of chillies and garlic. A couple of months ago I decided to experiment with the brining method that I always use for making Iranian fermented mixed vegetable pickles (shoor). The pickle took only minutes to make but I had to wait for almost a month to test the results. The first batch was so delicious and gone so quickly I made a second batch two days ago, this time several jars.

pickled-cabbage-recipe
You can slice your cabbage any way you like. I did thicker slices this time but thinly sliced or even shredded will work nicely too.

The reason I fell in love with this bright purple pickle is that like shoor (pictured below) it’s rich in probiotics which are said to be good for your guts and boost the immune system. When I was growing up we didn’t know anything about probiotics and their significant role in a healthy diet but we had a bowl of shoor on the table with most meals just because we all loved the pleasantly sour, salty, garlicky, spicy and herby flavour of the pickles.

red-cabbage-shoor-recipe
Iranian fermented mixed vegetable pickle is called shoor.

The Iranian fermented mixed vegetable pickle (shoor) is made with a variety of vegetables including Jerusalem artichokes, cauliflowers, carrots, celery, tiny cucumbers, cabbages, garlic, peppers and chillies as well as some aromatic herbs such as dill, coriander and tarragon. The method of preparation of shoor – which simply means salty – is quite similar to the method used in making other Middle Eastern and Eastern European brined vegetable pickles.

shoor-pickles
Iranian shoor is made with a variety of vegetables.

Shoor is a perfect addition to salads and sandwiches and as an accompaniment to Persian dishes like grilled meats and poultry (kababs/kebabs). I also love to snack on the crunchy vegetables or even roll them in a piece of flatbread for a quick bite. Too much of this yummy pickle, however, raises the salt intake so I try to eat it in moderation.

My red cabbage pickle looks quite identical to the red cabbage pickle from the supermarket which here in the UK always has a lot of sugar. Mine has no sugar and very little vinegar. Apart from the flavour, the big difference is that my pickle will ferment naturally. Higher levels of vinegar like in shopbought pickles prevents fermentation from taking place so there’s no probiotic goodness in them.

This recipe is as simple as it can get. All you need for making delicious fermented red cabbage pickle is a few cloves of garlic, fresh or dried chillies or even dried chilli flakes, salt, a little vinegar and some patience to wait until the pickle is ready to eat!

Ingredients:

  • 1 small head of red cabbage, chopped or shredded
  • A few cloves of garlic, thinly sliced (as many as you like)
  • A few fresh or dried red chillies (as many as you like)

For the brine:

  • 2 litres of water
  • 7 tbsp salt (crushed sea salt is best)
  • 125ml white wine vinegar

Method: 

  1. Mix chopped cabbage and sliced garlic and pack tightly in clean, sterilised jars. Add as many fresh or dried red chillies between layers of chopped cabbage as you like.
  2. Put all the ingredients for the brine in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to the boil. Allow to cool for about three minutes.
  3. Fill the jars with the hot brine mix but leave about 2 centimetres from the top empty. Screw the lids on immediately but not too tightly. Probiotics will begin to grow in the jar and there may be some frothing and leaking. You’ll never know how they will behave because they are live organisms after all. Put the jars on a tray (in case they leak during fermentation) and leave at room temperature to ferment. In warmer weather, your pickle will be ready to eat in two weeks but in colder temperatures, it may take as long as a month so keep an eye on them and tighten the lids once fermentation is over. Enjoy!

Persian-Inspired Caramelised Fennel Salad with Yoghurt & Garlic

This morning as I was puttering around the kitchen I had a sudden craving for a salad of tender shoots of wild tumble thistle and yoghurt (kangar mast). We’ve just returned from a holiday and have not done our vegetable shopping yet. Even if we had, wild tumble thistle shoots would obviously not be available anywhere here.

I opened the fridge and stared at the quite empty vegetable drawers.There were a few fennel bulbs in the bottom drawer. It occurred to me to use the fennel to make something similar to what I was craving for and this caramelised fennel salad recipe which will definitely be a keeper with me was born. Necessity is the mother of invention as the saying goes…

Fennel-recipe
Fennel (or Florence fennel to be more precise) has a mild anise flavour that softens with cooking.

Fennel is not a vegetable commonly grown in Iran. Once in a while if I were lucky I would find a few small bulbs at the exotic fruit and veg stalls of my favourite market in Tehran. Living in the UK now I often have some in the fridge for making my Tomato & Fennel Salad with Vegan Pistachio Pesto or my favourite fennel, orange and olive salad with balsamic vinegar dressing.

Tumble thistle (kangar in Persian, akkoub in Arabic, kenger in Turkish, kereng in Kurdish) grows all over the place in the Middle East and is widely used in Persian, Armenian, Kurdish, Turkish and Levantine cuisines. This plant is related to artichoke and cardoon. While the edible part of the artichoke plant is its flower bud, cardoons are grown for the celery-like leaf stalks. Kangar, however, is the young shoot of the plant that has barely reached the ground level. The grown plant is very thorny and inedible.

kangar
Young wild thistle shoots are very thorny at the top and need a lot of cleaning. They are available for a short time during spring. Young thistle shoots (top) and grown plant (bottom).

This amazing seasonal wild vegetable is quite neutral in flavour but becomes very tasty with cooking. It’s also believed to have lots of health benefits. I must admit that the flavour of cooked fennel wasn’t the same as kangar but I’m so happy I trusted my instincts because the combination of caramelised fennel and yoghurt turned out really delicious. It’s the kind of flavour Iranians like very much. A dish of cooked vegetables with yoghurt, often with garlic too, is called

A dish of cooked vegetables with yoghurt, often with garlic but very lightly spiced, is called borani or burani in Persian. The most common are spinach (borani esfenaj) and aubergine/eggplant borani (borani bademjan). My 16th-century cookbook also mentions truffle borani and wild asparagus borani. More on borani in future posts hopefully.

purple-artichoke
Artichoke is the flower of a cultivated thistle. Artichoke hearts can be made into borani too, I reckon. 

This salad keeps well in the fridge for several days and gets even better as flavours mix. Now it’s time for the recipe:

 

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 fennel bulbs, thickly sliced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 big cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground white or black pepper
  • 250ml thick yoghurt
  • A pinch of dried rose petals to garnish

Method:

  1. Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan on medium heat and sauté the sliced fennel until lightly caramelised. Remove and set aside.
  2. Add the rest of the oil to the pan and fry the chopped onions until lightly caramelised. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and cook for a minute. Return the fennel to the pan. Add 1/4 cup of water, cover and gently braise for about ten minutes or until all the water has evaporated and the fennel is soft.
  3. Mix or layer the cooked fennel in a dish with yoghurt. Garnish with fennel fronds and rose petals.