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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A marinated black olives recipe for today. Your family and friends will keep asking for these delicious and gorgeous looking marinated black olives and the recipe of course! There’s no easier way to impress guests than serving these, I guess. I usually put big bowls of these on the drinks table to avoid having to replenish the bowl all the time. They are usually gone within minutes and I have to bring in more!
That said, I must also say that making marinated olives at home is quite cheaper too. You only need a few ingredients in jars that you can buy for a fraction of the cost of marinated olives from delis or supermarkets.
Besides oranges and lemons I put my favourite ingredient, pickled green peppercorns, in the mix. These tiny jewels aren’t spicy at all but have a wonderful exotic scent. Pickles green peppercorns come in tiny jars.
If you can’t find pickled green peppercorns just substitute whole black peppercorns. The difference is more in that you can (and should) eat the pickled peppercorns but the black ones are only used for the flavour. They are too hard to bite in. If you get lucky and find fresh black peppercorns, like I have a few times, do use it by all means! It’s fabulous!
The last major ingredient, is very readily available everywhere. Pickled garlic. You can use fresh garlic cloves but I find these tastier in my marinated olive mix. The flavour is quite mild too so it doesn’t overpower the other flavours.
I make many different kinds but this one is my real favourite non-Persian marinated olives recipe. It’s just of those kitchen adventures that turned out really well and has stayed a favourite recipe for many years. But there are fabulous Persian marinated olives too. I will write about that in another post. I’ll just give you a sneak peek of the picture of one type I make for now.
Olives have been cultivated in many parts of Iran for centuries but almost all of our olives and olive oil are consumed domestically. The best marinated olives in Iran come from the Caspian Sea region where tea, rice and citrus fruit are also very important crops.
OK, I guess I should give out the recipe now. To make a big jar you will need the following ingredients. This makes about two medium jars of marinated olives. By the way, I never peel my oranges and lemons but scrub them very well. The peel adds so much flavour to the mix. But peeled is OK if you add some zest to the olives.
Tomato and fennel salad doesn’t really need a recipe to make, does it? But you’ll probably want to read this post if you want to make the delicious pistachio pesto I used to dress my tomato and fennel salad.
The pesto dressing makes all the difference in this salad. The peppery tang of the summer/winter savoury/savory (marzeh in Persian), mint and pistachio pesto really complements the sweetness of the tomatoes.
Summer savoury (and its perennial relative winter savoury) are hard to find in many countries unless one grows them at home but in Iran summer savoury is sold in big bunches by every greengrocer. If you don’t have summer/winter savoury I recommend using a mixture of mint and fresh thyme. The sharpness of thyme works quite well too.
Tomatoes didn’t show up in Iran until late 19th or early 20th century but when they did they completely took over the cuisine. It’s hard to imagine Persian cooking without tomatoes or tomato puree/paste.
One of my earliest memories is of my grandma boiling sieved tomatoes in huge pots in summer to make tomato paste. High tomato prices in Iran can even have political ramifications, seriously! So this salad is not Persian in form but quite Persian in spirit!
I made my salad with some lovely heritage tomatoes I found in a market but any nice juicy sweet tomato will work. Cherry tomatoes of any colour will work nicely too. Fennel bulbs add crunch to this salad but sliced cucumbers can be used instead if fennel isn’t available or in season where you live.
I made my pesto with raw pistachios but roasted pistachios also make a lovely pesto. I like to sprinkle chopped pistachios on the salad for a bit of extra crunch, too.
There is no cheese in my salad but feel free to add your favourite cheese. I recommend crumbled Feta or Bulgarian cheeses or cubed grilled halloumi. My favourite British cheese to use in this salad is white Cheshire. It’s so incredibly delicious.
Ingredients to serve 4