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Category: Vegetarian

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.

Chocolate Orange Espresso Chiffon Cake

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.

chocolate-clementine-orange-espresso-chiffon-cake-recipe
Another version with a very light orange drizzle. A few edible flower petals gave it a million dollar look.

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!

mini-bundt-orange-chiffon-cakes
I replaced the cocoa powder in the recipe with flour and baked the batter in mini bundt tins. A sprinkling of vanilla icing sugar and some raspberry jam to serve made them very popular in our house.

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.

Beat egg whites until very stiff peaks form and try to incorporate as much air into the whites as you can.
Beat egg whites until very stiff peaks form and try to incorporate as much air into the whites as you can.
Make a batter with the rest of the ingredients.
Make a batter with the rest of the ingredients.
Gently fold the chocolate batter into white in several stages.
Gently fold the chocolate batter into beaten whites in several stages.
Don't overmix. Some white specks will show in the batter but that's OK.
Don’t overmix. Some white specks will show in the batter but that’s OK.

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:

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 220g cake flour, sifted
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 180ml freshly squeezed juice (or orange juice)
  • 125ml oil (sunflower, rapeseed or olive oil)
  • zest of two medium oranges
  • 7 medium eggs, separated and allowed to reach room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (or a pinch of salt)

 

For the drizzle:

  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp oil
  • Boiling water

For candied orange slices:

  • 125ml water
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 4-5 slices of orange (about 2 mm thick)

 

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170.
  2. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, espresso powder and cocoa powder in a bowl and mix well with a whisk. Set aside.
  3. Put the egg yolks, juice and oil in a small jug and set aside.
  4. Put the egg whites in a clean, dry, grease-free bowl and add the cream of tartar (or salt) and beat on low for two minutes or until frothy. Increase speed to high and beat until very stiff peaks form. Don’t overbeat.
  5. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the yolks mixture and add the zest. Beat on low for 1 minute, then on medium for three minutes or until the batter is smooth.
  6. Add one third of the egg whites to the batter and fold in with gentle circular movement (from bottom to top, in one direction only) with a rubber spatula. Repeat with the remaining whites in two more batches. Pour the batter into ungreased tin. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR for the first 40 minutes or your cake may deflate.
  7. While you are waiting for the cake to bake make the candied orange slices and the drizzle: Put the sugar and water in a medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil. Cook until syrup is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Arrange the orange slices in one layer in the syrup and cook on medium heat for three minute. Oranges will release juice and dilute the syrup so stir very gently to mix the syrup with the juice. Now cook on low for a few minutes or until the syrup is thick again, turning the orange slices once or twice halfway through to cook them evenly. Let the orange slices cool in the syrup. For the drizzle sift the icing sugar and cocoa and put in a small bowl. Add the vanilla and a tablespoon of boiling water (or more if the icing is too thick). Mix well until smooth and set aside.
  8. Once the cake is done take it out of the oven and check to make sure it’s properly sticking to the sides of the tin. If it doesn’t it’s best not to bother with the upside-down cooling process. If it does properly cling to the tin stick the neck of a bottle or funnel in the hole in the middle of the tin and invert on a board and let cool completely.
  9. If you are using a proper chiffon tin run a palette knife around the cake and the middle hole. Put a plate on top of the tin and invert, then give a gentle push to the bottom of the tin (now facing upward) to release the base. Remove the tin and lift the bottom piece using the palette knife.
  10. Put the cake on a serving dish and drizzle with the chocolate icing. Arrange the orange slices on top and drizzle with a little syrup from cooking the orange slices. Let stand for a couple of hours at least for flavours to develop. Enjoy!

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!