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.
There are many wonderful chocolate cake recipes out there but if you want a really light, fluffy and moist chocolate cake this recipe must be for you. Chiffon cakes sound a bit daunting to make but trust me, they are not hard to make. I saw a chiffon cake recipe in a magazine years ago when I was a teenager and I had to try it. The recipe worked so beautifully that I was hooked. Over the years I’ve given that basic recipe many twists to create my own flavour combinations including this chocolate orange espresso chiffon cake. It has worked beautifully every single time.
A chiffon cake is basically one made by folding a cake batter made with egg yolks and vegetable oil into stiffly beaten egg whites. It has an interesting story too. The cake was invented in 1920 by an American salesman turned caterer. He kept his recipe secret for twenty years before finally selling it to a food company for a hefty sum I suppose.
Now a few technical tricks to make your chiffon cakes perfect: First of all, like in making meringue you must make sure the bowl and beaters and your hands are completely grease-free and dry before you start beating your egg whites. Egg whites don’t beat well if these conditions are not met.
Secondly, you must remember never to oil your chiffon cake tin. I’ll explain that when we come to our next point which is using the right kind of tin. There are special aluminium chiffon cake tins with detachable bottoms for easy removal of the cake. My bundt tin does the job but the proper one I used to own gave better results as it made the unmolding of the cake much easier.
In case of chiffon cakes it’s best not to use non-stick coated tins. You want your batter to cling to the tin and pull itself up. If it’s a bundt tin you are using (like the one I use) you will need to use a wooden skewer and some careful gentle pulling and tugging with your fingers to release the cake from the sides of the tin. A bit fiddly but works for me every time. It just needs a bit of patience and I’d rather be patient than buy a special tin that I have no room to store in my almost exploding kitchen!
The last thing you need to know and do is cooling the cake in the tin upside down! You need to invert the cake in its tin (because it’s clinging to the sides it won’t fall out) and place it on a short-necked bottle or inverted funnel on the counter so that the neck of the bottle or funnel holds the tin (and the cake obviously) in mid-air.
If you are using a non-stick coated tin it’s a good idea to check the cake to make sure it’s clinging to the pan properly. This step will ensure that your cake is very fluffy and of proper hight. The world won’t come to an end if you don’t though so you can skip this stage if you are not feeling very confident.
In the pictures below you can see how the whites and the batter are mixed together, lightly, gently, lovingly… And for those of you who may want to ask if candied peel works for decoration my answer is yes, absolutely! But making the orange slices won’t take more than a few minutes and is totally worth going the extra length if you ask me. I prefer to use clementine juice for the cake because it’s sweeter and more intense in flavour than orange juice and oranges for decoration because orange slices look prettier but use whichever you like better.
There are endless flavour combinations you can use with this recipe as a guide. You can replace the cocoa powder with an equal amount of flour and make an orange chiffon cake or use lemon juice and zest for a lemon one. I’ve even done marbled chiffon cake with very good results. Give your imagination free reign, I’m sure you’ll come up with your very own favourite flavour combos!
So here’s the recipe for one large cake:
For the cake:
For the drizzle:
For candied orange slices:
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.
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.
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.
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.