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Category: Special Ingredients

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 Minty Wine Vinegar Syrup (Sekanjabin)

Every Iranian family is sure to have their own minty wine vinegar syrup (sekanjabin) recipe. This simple syrup is incredibly versatile but probably the most common way of using it is as a dip for tender green leaves of romaine lettuce. Sounds strange? Food from other cultures can often sound strange. I remember the first time I saw a recipe for prosciutto-wrapped melon. I couldn’t have imagined eating melons and ham together even in my wildest dreams. Same with bacon-wrapped prunes. But guess what? I tried both and I fell in love with the sweet-savoury flavour combination.

Small bowls of sekanjabin and tender, pale green lettuce hearts on beautiful trays is a childhood memory associated with spring in my mind. It reminds me of my blue-eyed grandma. She would put the syrup in small bowls and pile trays with the tenderest romaine lettuce hearts. We would dip the crunchy leaves in the sticky syrup and try to stuff them in our mouths before it fell all over our clothes.

If made with red wine vinegar and caramelised sugar the syrup will be gorgeous deep red colour.

At other times, especially in summer she would dilute the syrup with cold water to make a summer cooler (sharbat). She would serve the sharbat in tall glasses over grated cucumbers and ice cubes with long spoons to get every shred of the delicious syrup-soaked cucumber. Sekanjabin sharbat is supposed to have a cooling effect on the body and ward off the heat. Summers are quite long and can get really hot in most parts of Iran and it’s important to keep cool and hydrated at all times.

sharbat-sekanjabin-khiyar-recipe
Hydrating, refreshing and good for the body sekanjabin cooler with cucumbers (sharbat-e sekanjabin ba khiyar). This one has the added goodness of saffron too!

Lettuce with sekanjabin was and still is a snack for Iranians. Sadly our younger generation, like in the rest of the world, will now snack on nutrition-poor stuff because those things are cool and grazing on healthy lettuce leaves and a syrup their grannies made is not. I know there’s sugar in the syrup but the amount of sugar one gets from a snack like this is not even comparable to what there is in a single chocolate bar or most cakes and cookies. I now sometimes serve it as a starter salad with roasts but that’s not traditional.

lettuce-salad-with-sekanjabin-recipe
How about dressing lettuce hearts and walnuts with sekanjabin and serving it as a salad?

Sekanjabin means “vinegar and honey” in Persian language and that’s how it was made when honey was the only available sweetener. The vinegar and honey syrup was used medicinally in ancient times. Romans called it oxymel and the Iranian polymath Avicenna wrote a whole book on its virtues in the 11th century. Some people will still make it with honey rather than sugar. I like to make my sekanjabin with caramelised sugar because the combination of honey and vinegar tastes somehow medicinal to me and I love the flavour of caramel. I eat quite healthy most of the time so I guess it won’t hurt to be a little indulgent with sugar sometimes.

My friend Hamid uses sekanjabin in his delicious Chicken and Apple Khoresht (stew). He makes it with regular sekanjabin (no caramelisation). It’s a sweet and sour chicken stew and so good with rice. The flavour sekanjabin imparts to the stew is simply fabulous.

Now for the recipe: You can make this with white or red wine vinegar but make sure you get the best quality you can. With red wine vinegar and caramelised sugar you’ll get a deep red colour while white wine vinegar and regular sugar syrup will make a light gold sekanjabin. This recipe will make a small bowl of sekanjabin, just enough to make you wonder why you didn’t double or triple the amounts!

 

Ingredients:

  • 200g sugar
  • 250ml boiling water
  • 30g mint leaves, washed
  • 3-4 tbsp white/red wine vinegar (depending on the strength of your vinegar)
  1. Put the sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat and let it melt and brown a little without stirring. Remove from the heat as soon as the sugar is melted and golden. Add the boiling water carefully because it may spatter. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Cook gently until the syrup is slightly thick and lightly coats the back of a spoon. If using the syrup to dip lettuce leaves make it thick enough to cling to the leaves. For making sharbat it’s not necessary to thicken the syrup.
  2. Put the mint leaves in the syrup and add the vinegar. Stir and cover with a lid. Let stand until the syrup is completely cool. Remove the mint leaves. Use as a dip for lettuce leaves or dilute with cold water to your liking and pour over shredded or grated cucumber to make a sharbat. Serve the sharbat with lots of ice and a sprig of mint. Enjoy!