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 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.
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.
This salad keeps well in the fridge for several days and gets even better as flavours mix. Now it’s time for the recipe:
Happy Nowrouz and Spring Equinox! May this new cycle of life bring Peace to the world and happiness, health and prosperity to you all! I know I’ve been missing in action since February but here I am again with a delicious olovieh salad recipe which I hope you will make and enjoy this spring.
Salad olovieh is our version of the Russian salad also known as Olivier salad. Many countries have a version of this salad created in 1860s by Belgian Lucien Olivier, the chef of the Hermitage, one of Moscow’s grandest restaurants, and so does Iran. The Iranian version, like all of the other versions of Olivier’s grand creation, isn’t even remotely similar to the original. The salad served as the Hermitage included smoked duck, crayfish, veal tongue, grouse and even caviar.
The first time I had this delicious salad was at a birthday party when I was about ten years old. For some reason it has become a standard children’s birthday party dish but it’s very popular with grown-ups too. You are likely to find olovieh salad on almost every buffet table and very often on picnic spreads. One can almost say it has been naturalised on Iranian soil but the history of olovieh salad in Iran is probably just a little over sixty or seventy years long.
Sālād olovieh sounds like a very old-fashioned dish, and it is, but it’s really moreish and versatile. You can serve it at brunch or for a BBQ party or as sandwich filling. I think using herby, slightly tart fermented cucumber pickles is what makes the salad taste much fresher than a regular mayonnaise-based potato salad. Use shop-bought Iranian khiyar shoor or any Middle-Eastern, Turkish or Polish whole cucumber/gherkin pickles made without sugar. Polish cucumber pickles are the best. And do shred the chicken breast instead of chopping it because shredded chicken gives a very nice texture to the salad.
I’m really excited about this Persian-inspired bundt meatloaf recipe. I came up with the idea of making this dish last night and was lucky to have all the ingredients at home. I was a bit anxious about the way it was going to turn out. It would be a waste of time if it didn’t come out in one piece. It did come out in perfect shape and it was incredibly moist and scrumptious too.
There’s good reason for making food with a touch of glamour now. Many of us will be celebrating two occasions next week. There’s Christmas obviously, and Yalda, the ancient festival of Winter Solstice that Iranians celebrate on the evening of December 21st. Two celebrations in one week. Good to beat winter gloom, right? Food will be the centre of both occasions and what’s better than sharing food with loved ones in a festive environment?
We celebrate Yalda with company, food and drinks, candles, games and poetry. Pomegranates and watermelons are Yalda staples. I guess it’s because of the red colour of these fruits. Red is associated with fire and therefore with the sun and light. Yalda, the longest night of the year, is the night that the Sun goes to battle with the powers of darkness. It will win some ground on the first day of winter and gradually bring about more light and longer days and lead to the complete rebirth of nature on the day of the Spring Equinox (which we also celebrate, as our New Year).
Symbolism plays a huge role in the types of food eaten during Persian festivals. The food of New Year (Nowrouz) is usually green, like green rice, and there are plenty of growth and rebirth symbols around in the Nowrouz decorations too. According to some theories Christmas is related to ancient Winter Solstice festivals of the pagans and Mithras, the Sun God of the Romans. Whatever the origins of Christmas, it’s a great time to celebrate and be merry!
Back to my meatloaf: I make meatloaf only once in a while and try to make it a bit different every time but I had never made one with pomegranate sauce. This was my first time and I’m so glad I acted on what at first seemed like one of those crazy ideas that spring up to mind when one is too tired of doing the same things over and over again.
Inspiration for this dish came from a gorgeous huge pomegranate that had been sitting on the counter for a few days. The jewel-like seeds (arils) can be sweet, sour, sweet and sour and the colour may range from pinkish white to very dark red. Whatever the colour or flavour it’s always a great thing to cook with. It had to be pomegranates in one form or another this time.
My sauce has pomegranate molasses as well as seeds but I think the seeds were what made the dish one to remember. The scrumptious, slightly sweet and sour, pomegranate studded sauce was really wow! Drizzled on the meatloaf it made such huge change from the ordinary to the festive. Best meatloaf I’ve ever made, seen or had.
When I finally took the tin out of the oven and turned the meatloaf out I was surprised by how perfect it came out. No trouble at all. Cakes sometimes give me a hard time but this was as easy as pie! I had made the sauce while waiting for the meatloaf to bake so there was really no last minute work. I just drizzled the sauce on the meatloaf and TOOK PICTURES! I had to make the photography very quick so we could have our dinner before the meatloaf got cold. The rest is history.
This meatloaf will serve eight people. You can always divide the quantities in half and bake the meatloaf in a loaf tin which will also look stunning when sliced. Serve with some sort of bread and a crisp, green salad. Oh, by the way, this tastes great cold too so you may want to try it on a brunch menu.
PS: Do use lean beef mince (10 to 12%). There’s so much flavour going on in this meatloaf that you really don’t need the extra fat. For loaf tin use half the amounts given below.
For layering and assembling the meatloaf:
For the mince mixture:
For the sauce and garnish: