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Category: Vegan

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.

Aubergines Stuffed with Walnut & Pomegranate (Bademjan Kabab)

This stuffed aubergine (eggplant) recipe is quite unusual but really really tasty in my opinion. Just think of the earthy flavour of walnuts and the tangy sweetness of pomegranate syrup (molasses). Doesn’t that sound mouthwatering?

Every Iranian cook has a few stuffed aubergine recipes in their repertoire but most recipes call for meat in some form, in small cubes as in my mother’s recipe or ground as in many others’. The meat (lamb or beef) used for stuffing aubergines is usually mixed with parboiled rice, yellow lentils and herbs. Stuffed aubergines are usually cooked in a sauce flavoured with tomato paste or fresh tomatoes.

Persian-stuffed-aubergine
Dolmeh bademjan is a very popular dish and has many variations. This one is stuffed with ground meat, rice and herbs. It’s been cooked in tomato sauce.

The northern Iranian bademjan kabab, however, is completely vegan. I fell in love with it the first time I had it and often make it as a starter for my vegetarian/vegan friends, but not only them as most others seem to enjoy it a lot too. I love the tang of the pomegranate molasses (syrup) and the earthiness of the walnuts. A little cinnamon that the recipe calls for makes it just the perfect flavour combination for me.

Pomegranates grow wild all over the northern regions of Iran. The seeds of wild pomegranates are usually small and the flavour is quite sour. Pomegranate molasses, a very thick reduction of pomegranate juice, is usually made from wild pomegranates. Sugar may only be added if a sweet and sour flavour is desired.

wild-pomegranates
Pomegranate syrup is made by reducing the juice of wild pomegranates. Northern Iranians like it sour and make it very thick but in other areas sugar is sometimes added for a sweet-sour flavour.

bademjan kabab is traditionally served with plain rice, pickled vegetables (torshi) and sliced or grated large radishes similar to mooli. In the traditional method the aubergines are fried in oil before they are stuffed. In the interest of health I prefer to bake them in the oven. Both methods work nicely. It’s best to use longish aubergines. Asian groceries usually have beautiful long ones that are perfect for this dish.

preparing-aubergines-for-stuffing
Bake aubergines in the oven until the flesh is really soft.

Different brands of pomegranate molasses vary in tartness and thickness so it’s a good idea to taste the filling and adjust the sweet-sour balance to your liking with a pinch of sugar if you are prefer a slightly sweet and sour flavour.

For a meaty stuffed aubergine recipe check out my yummy Stuffed Aubergines with Garlicky Beef Mince recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium aubergines
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 100g ground walnuts
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 5 tbsp pomegranate molasses (or to taste depending on the thickness of the molasses)
  • 50g butter (use 3 tbsp oil for vegan)
  • 150ml boiling water
  • A handful of pomegranate seeds to garnish

 

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C) and line a baking sheet with aluminium foil.
  2. Make a 3 cm deep incision lengthways in each aubergine to allow opening a pocket for filling when they are baked. Rub the aubergines with the oil. Cover very loosely with foil. Bake for half an hour or until the aubergines are really soft. This may take longer or shorter depending on the size of your aubergines so keep an eye on them.
  3. Melt 20 grams of the butter and sauté the onion until lightly golden. Add the spices and cook for one minute, then add the ground walnuts and the pomegranate molasses. Adjust the seasoning and use a pinch of sugar if the filling is too tart.
  4. Gently pull the sides of the cut in each aubergine apart to create a pocket for the filling two thirds of the way down. Fill each aubergine with one fifth of the walnut mixture.
  5. Melt the rest of the butter in the same frying pan and arrange the aubergines in it. Mix the rest of the filling mixture with the water and pour over the aubergines. Cover with the lid and cook on low heat for 30 minutes or until the aubergines are a little browned on the bottom and the oil has separated from the sauce. Gently transfer the aubergines with two large spatulas onto a serving dish. Pour the sauce over, garnish with the reserved pomegranate seeds and serve. Enjoy!

Spicy Persian Pickles (Torshi Bandari)

It’s that time of year again when I can’t stop myself from pickling whatever I find.  Last week I spent two days pickling which reminded me I had often been asked for an easy torshi (Persian pickles) recipe and a post dedicated to torshi was long overdue.

Torshi is an indispensable part of Persian meals, except breakfast of course because it’s vinegary, sharp and often spicy. Iranians believe it aids in digestion of heavy foods so one or even several types are often served with big meals. Torshi bandari is a delicious spicy one that goes very well with most polo khorsh (rice and stew) dishes, kotlet (meat and potato patties) and lamb hotpot (abgoosht).

Persian-pickles-torshi
Stone fruit such as peaches, apples and pears are often used to make torshi.

Bandari in the names of Iranian dishes means they hail from the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Bushehr or Bandar Abbas where the influence of Indian and Arabic cuisines is quite pronounced and the food is quite spicy. This sour and spicy torshi is very easy to make and can be enjoyed right away but it will also keep in the fridge at least for a couple of months.

torshi-and-shoor
Autumn is the best time of the year to make pickles.

There are literally hundreds of types of torshi. Most common vegetables used for making torshi are aubergine (eggplants), garlic, peppers, chillies, Jerusalem artichokes, cucumbers, celery, cauliflowers, white and red cabbages, Persian shallots (moosir) and tomatoes. Plums, apples, pears and peaches are often used in pickles too. Most torshi are flavoured with herbs and spices. Vinegar, tomato juice, verjuice and tamarind are used as souring (and preserving) agents.

Each region of Iran and Iranian family has its own favourite torshi recipes according to local produce and preferences. One of the most popular throughout the country is garlic pickles (sir torshi). According to Persian medicinal lore the older it gets, the more health benefits it acquires. I had a jar of twenty year old sir torshi I had made when I started my own family. There’s a five year old one now I made soon after I arrived in my new home.

sir-torshi
Whole heads of garlic are pickled in wine vinegar. The older, the better.

Making torshi must be an ancient method of preserving vegetables and fruit. The Persian word torshi means “sour” and was borrowed in many languages including Albanian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Egyptian Arabic and Greek most probably in Ottoman times through Turkish tursu (pronounced turshu).

baked-aubergines
Bake aubergines in hot oven to soften the flesh and reduce moisture.

The most important point in making torshi is to make sure all the ingredients are of the highest quality, washed well and air dried for at least half a day so there’s no moisture when they are mixed with vinegar. Any moisture will result in dilution of the vinegar and the torshi will go off quickly. To avoid that drain the chopped vegetables and spread them on clean tea towels and allow to dry before using.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium aubergines
  • 1 large carrot
  • 4 florets of cauliflower
  • ½ red pepper
  • ½ green or yellow pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 medium hot chillies (or more if you wish)
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander seeds
  • ½ tbsp celery seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin seeds
  • ½ tbsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsp dry mint
  • 2 tbsp dry parsley
  • 2 tbsp dry tarragon
  • 100ml tomato juice or passata
  • 3 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 300ml white wine vinegar
  • pinch of sugar (optional)

Method:

  1. Wash the carrots, cauliflower and peppers. Spread on a clean tea towel to dry for a couple of hours.
  2. Wash the aubergines, prick in several places with a fork and wrap in foil. Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees) for 30 minutes or until very very soft. Let cool.
  3. Cut the aubergines in half and scoop out the flesh. Mash well and let drain in a sieve over a bowl.
  4. Finely chop the vegetables, garlic and chillies and allow to air dry for a few hours again.
  5. Mix the aubergine pulp, chopped vegetables, dry herbs, salt and spices in a bowl. Mix the tamarind paste, passata and vinegar and combine with the aubergine mix. Taste and add a little sugar if it’s too sharp. Fill in clean sterilised jars. This torshi can be enjoyed right away but it’s usually better after developing for a couple of weeks. It will keep for months in the fridge or about two months in a cool, dark place.