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Category: Salads

Persian-Inspired Sautéed Swiss Chard with Pomegranate

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.

swiss-chard-and-beets
Swiss chard is from beet family. These beauties came from my allotment last year. The ones on the right with red stalks are chard.

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.

swiss-chard
Swiss chard is a biennial plant that can easily be grown from seed between June and October.

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.

Swiss-chard-recipe-vegan

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.

wild-pomegranate
Wild pomegranate is usually small and very tart in flavour.

 

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.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 tbsp oil (I prefer extra virgin rapeseed oil)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 kilo chard stems and leaves
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds (arils)
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

Instructions:

  1. Roughly chop the chard stems and leaves separately. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large lidded frying pan and cook the sliced onions on medium-low heat until they are golden. Add the chopped garlic, the spices and chard stems and cook for 2-3 minutes. Throw in the chopped leaves, salt and a few tablespoons of water and cover the pan with the lid. Reduce the heat to low and allow the chard leaves to wilt and cook for about ten minutes.
  3. Save a couple of tablespoons of the pomegranate seeds and add the rest to the chard. Cook while stirring for a few minutes until all the water is completely absorbed. Add the pomegranate molasses and stir. Cover and cook on very low heat for five minutes. Sprinkle with the reserved pomegranate seeds and serve.

Marinated Black Olives with Citrus & Green Peppercorns

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.

citrus-marinated-black-olives-recipe
Thinly sliced unpeeled oranges and lemons impart a deliciously sweet/sour flavour to the mix and are very tasty to eat too.

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.

pickled-green-peppercorns
Pickled green peppercorns are soft and a bit salty. The flavour is similar to black peppercorns.

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!

fresh-black-peppercorns
Fresh black peppercorns I found in our local Asian shop. I got so excited I bought a lot and froze them.

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.

ingredients-for-marinated-black-olives-recipe
Pickled garlic add a mild garlic flavour to the mix. Use as few or as many as you like.

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.

zeytoon-parvardeh-robbe-anar
One of the several kinds of Persian marinated olives. This one’s flavoured with pomegranate syrup, herbs and walnuts.

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.

Ingredients:

  • I large jar pitted black or green olives
  • 1 orange (preferably organic)
  • 1 lemon (preferably organic)
  • A few cloves of pickled garlic (as many as you like)
  • 1 tbsp pickled green peppercorns (or more)
  • 1/4 red pepper, thinly sliced
  • A couple of sprigs of thyme, stalks removed
  • 1 tsp sweet smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1 scant tsp smoked or regular sea salt flakes
  • 125ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
  • Method: 
  1. Wash the orange and lemon well and dry. Thinly slice one half, juice the other.
  2. Drain the olives in a sieve and put in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mix well. Cover the bowl with cling film or lid and put in the fridge for at least a day but ideally for a week or two. Stir the mix several times during this time to distribute the flavours.
  3. If you are not serving within a day or two put the olive mix in clean jars and top up with enough olive oil to cover them completely. Screw the lids on and keep in the fridge. They will keep for months there if you can resist the temptation to bring them out at every meal! Enjoy!

Tomato & Fennel Salad with Vegan Pistachio Pesto

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.

marzeh-herb
On the right: summer savoury/savory (Satureja hortensis), a very versatile herb that can be grown from seed on a windowsill. On the left: winter savoury/savory, an easy to grow perennial.

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.

pistachio-pesto-with-savory-and-mint
Ingredients for the savoury & mint pistachio pesto. The winter savoury has flowered profusely. Even tastier!

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

  • 500g tomatoes, sliced or cut into big chunks
  • 1 small head of fennel (or sliced cucumber)
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • A handful of fresh summer/winter savoury or thyme
  • A small handful of mint leaves
  • 1 small clove of garlic (or more if you wish)
  • 25g shelled pistachio nuts
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • A handful of chopped pistachio nuts

Method

  1. Put the nuts, garlic and the herbs with 75ml olive oil in the food processor and process until chopped well but not too smooth. You can also use a mortar and pestle to make the pesto. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
  2. Spread one-third of the pesto on a plate. Put the prepared tomatoes and fennel in a bowl. Toss with another one-third of the pesto. Transfer to the plate.
  3. Mix the rest of the pesto with the lemon juice and the remaining olive oil and season. Drizzle over the tomatoes and fennel. Garnish with chopped nuts and fennel flowers if available. Enjoy!