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Category: Salads

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.

 

Iranian-Style Chicken & Potato Salad (Olivier Salad)

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.

olivier-salad-recipe
Ingredients for the Iranian version of Olivier salad.

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.  

olivier-salad-recipe
This recipe for the Iranian version of the Russian salad (aka Olivier salad) includes chicken.

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. 

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1 rotisserie chicken breast, skinned and shredded
  • 2 medium baking potatoes
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 150g pickled cucumbers, preferably Iranian
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 100g cooked peas
  • 5 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice or ½ tbsp white wine vinegar
  • White pepper
  1. Boil the potatoes (in their jackets) and the carrot in salted water. Allow to cool completely.
  2. Peel and dice or grate the potatoes. Dice the carrot, pickles and eggs. Mix well with the shredded chicken and peas.
  3. Mix the mayonnaise with the lemon juice or vinegar and white pepper and pour over the chopped ingredients. Mix well. Add more mayonnaise or some olive oil if the salad looks too dry.
  4. Chill in the fridge for at least two hours. Serve piled in a bowl or on a lettuce-lined plate and decorate with more mayonnaise, peas or pickles if you wish. Enjoy!

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.