Persian baklava – the sweet end to our feast

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Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

We chose to end our Persian feast with baklava, served with a very untraditional accompaniment of vanilla ice-cream (which worked really well, btw!). And completely wrongly, as it turns out because Persian meals usually end with fruit, and baklava and other pastries are more commonly eaten during the day, often with tea. Although we bought a gigantic watermelon for that purpose, still, we just had to make baklava. You can’t really cook a Persian feast and omit baklava.

 

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Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

Baklava is made of layers of thin phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in syrup. The origin of this delicious pastry is unclear, but its popularity is firmly established: in Iran (of course), all over Middle-East, in Greece, Turkey, and even closer to (my) home, in Bosnia & Herzegovina. (My Bosnian cookery book has suggestions on how to cut the dough to create a variety of different pattern – gorgeous!) The rest of the world is not immune to its charms, either.

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Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

Persian baklava is made with cardamom-spiced almonds and/or pistachios, and with a rose-scented syrup. It’s a bit different from baklava elsewhere in that it’s a little dryer, and as a result crispier.

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 Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

We made an enormous baklava, with 1 kg of ground almonds, in a tin measuring 35 x 45 x 5! Our filling was made with almonds, and pistachios were used as garnish. The syrup was flavoured with rose-water and lemon juice. The filling is made using the recipe from the Taste of Persia, but we consulted our other Persian books, too. You see, we didn’t make the dough ourselves, like the good Ms Batmanglij suggested, so we had to get some advice on how to deal with the phyllo. Other Persian books, my Bosnian cookbook, and even Nigella helped us!

Margaret Shaida has a version where she makes two different colour layers: one layer with almonds, and the other with pistachios. I like the idea.

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Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

 

You may not be too surprised to hear we never made it to the watermelon that night. :)

And here we are at the end of the feast. We enjoyed it very much, and I hope you did, too.

Here are the other posts from my Persian series:

Persian feast in my kitchen: Intro

Persian feast in my kitchen: the first courses

Persian feast in my kitchen: the mains

And check out:

Persian food blogs

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Persian Feast in My Kitchen: The mains

Here is the next stop on our journey into the Persian kitchen, our next adventure in taste.

I’ve got to warn you: don’t read this if you’re hungry.

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MAINS

Saffron Rice (V)

Rice-stuffed chicken

Potato and lamb koresh with orange peel (Iranian stew)

Duck in walnut and pomegranate sauce

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Saffron Rice

From The legendary cuisine of Persia – by Margaret Shaida

Rice holds a special place in Persian cuisine, and fragrant, long-grained rice is the centre-piece of every festive table. It is also one of the staples; there are many different type of rice, and there are different ways of cooking it.  Famously, one of them is polow where the rice is layered with a combination of meat, vegetables, fruit and spices and then steamed to perfection. Even more famously, and uniquely  Persian, is the fluffy steamed rice rice with the rich golden tah dig (from the Persian for ‘bottom of the pot’), the special crust that forms at the bottom of the pot. This is the pride of every Persian cook, and the mark by which his or her skill is measured.

Where Iranian rice is not available, both Batmanglij and Shaida recommend using Indian basmati rice. Put simply, tah dig is made with a mixture of saffron, butter, yoghurt and rice. This mixture is put at the bottom of the pot, and the rest of the rice (parboiled) is put on top and then steamed. But this is an art, really. For an excellent tutorial with pictures, please see My Persian Kitchen’s blog on cooking rice in the Persian style. Alternatively, Shaida’s very informative book has 4 pages on how to cook this rice dish! This is what we used.

I must admit something here. I committed the capital sin of Persian cooking: I messed up one of the most important dishes of our feast, our rice. I turned off the wrong hob. Instead of rice, I turned off something else which stopped cooking when it shouldn’t have done, and the rice continued cooking when it shouldn’t have done. Hence the burnt specks in the pic below. Sorryyy A!

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Rice-stuffed chicken and Persian saffron rice – Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

Rice-stuffed chicken

Morgh-e tu por ba berenj

From A taste of Persia – by Najmieh Batmanglij (pg. 58)

Chicken stuffed with rice fragrant with saffron, sweet from the almonds and the spices, slightly sour from barberries and lime juice. This was one of my favourite dishes of the whole feast! It is truly special, and really very tasty. I adored it, and my mouth is watering even as I write these lines. (Trust me, it was much much better than what you might think from the picture.)

This is how you make it. The onions and garlic are sautéed until golden. Then you add dried rose petals (:)), advieh, rice and seasoning, and stir fry or a few minutes. Add chicken stock and cook until the rice is done. Then, add barberries, almonds, raisins, lime juice and saffron water. – It tastes amazing even at this point! – You use this mixture to stuff the chicken and then roast it. What you get is wonderfully moist meat, with a sublime stuffing.

Now, all strict carnivores please skip a line and don’t read what I’m about to say. Go and look at the lamb koresh below.

For my vegetarian friends and readers: forget about the chicken (and chicken stock) and turn this into a really special vegetarian treat.

IranianFeast06.09 082 Potato and lamb koresh with orange peel – Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

 

Potato and lamb koresh with orange peel

Koresh-e qeymeh

From A taste of Persia – by Najmieh Batmanglij (pg. 128)

Slow-cooked koresh is a type of fragrant Persian stew. We choose this one with lamb and yellow split peas (the tiny golden nuggets you can see in the picture above). Flavoured with aromatic whole dried limes so characteristic of Persian cooking, advieh, orange peel and saffron, and garnished with strips of fried potatoes. It was delicious.

 

Duck in walnut and pomegranate sauce

Koresh-e fesenjan

From A taste of Persia – by Najmieh Batmanglij (pg. 125)

This koresh combines the Persian love of pomegranate and walnuts with duck; an affinity that goes back to the ancient Persia, according to Batmanglij. And indeed, the combination is intriguing. At once both dark and deep from the walnuts and the duck, and at the same time light and sweet and sour from the pomegranate molasses. With a hint of cinnamon to round it off. Do give it a go. Perhaps you’ll need to give yourself a bit of trouble with the garnish, as it’s not very photogenic, but it’s certainly tasty. I would suggest balancing it out with some lighter dishes though, as it may be a bit too strong-flavoured for a one-dish meal.

I would like to add a short note here. In the 4 books that we had, we struggled to find vegetarian mains, and had to adapt some dishes, e.g. the stuffed tomatoes. If you know any vegetarian Persian mains, please let me know. I’d be interested to find out.

In any case: these were our mains. The sweet baklava is next. Until then…

 

 

 

Here are the other posts from my Persian series:

Persian feast in my kitchen: Intro

Persian feast in my kitchen: the first courses

Persian baklava: the sweet end to our feast

 

And check out:

Persian food blogs

 

 

 

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Persian feasts in my kitchen: The first courses

After the introduction to some fantastic Persian blogs, we’re continuing with our Persian journey. I now got our favourite Persian book from A., A Taste of Persia, lovingly called Batbook, which is the book we used most for our feast, so tonight, I’ll tell you about the dishes in more details.

Just to remind you, here’s the lovely Batbook:

 

A Taste of Persia: An Introduction to Persian Cuisine

A taste of Persia – by Najmieh Batmanglij

Right, and here’s the summary of the menu:

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FIRST COURSES

Yoghurt & Cucumber Salad (V)

Feat & walnut salad with herbs (V)

Stuffed peppers, aubergines and tomatoes (in a tangy tomato sauce )(V)

Fresh Herb Kuku – Iranian baked omelette (V)

Lamb fillet kebabs

 

MAINS

Saffron Rice (V)

Rice-stuffed chicken

Potato and lamb koresh with orange feel(Iranian stew)

Duck in walnut and pomegranate sauce

 

DESSERT

Iranian almond and rosewater baklava served with vanilla ice-cream

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And now the delicious details:

 

 

Yoghurt & Cucumber Salad (V)

Mast-o khiar, Batbook pg. 26

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Yoghurt & Cucumber Salad – Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

The recipes for this salad, which can easily be turned into a soup, is availably on Batmanglij’s website, Najmieh’s Kitchen. Yoghurt is combined with cucumber, mint, spring onions, dill, oregano, thyme, tarragon, garlic and raisins for a refreshingly cooling summery salad. Garnished with radish, walnuts, herbs and rose petals, it is a beauty to behold.

 

 

Feat & walnut salad with herbs (V)

This isn’t an Iranian recipe, but my creation based on an Iranian cheese and walnut spread from Batbook (pg. 33). We didn’t have the time to puree it in the blender, plus I improvised a bit with the ingredients, but ths spirit is there: cheese, walnuts, herbs. And it’s fantastic! I love the combination of the salty feta and walnuts! I works really really well. Especially with the fresh herb kuku. I’ll post the recipe soon.

 

 

Stuffed peppers, aubergines and tomatoes (in a tangy tomato sauce) (V)

Dolmeh-ye felfel sabz-o badjeman-o gojeh farangi, Batbook pg. 36

We adapted this recipe to make it veggie friendly by omitting the meat completely, and increasing the quantities of rice and yellow split peas (or chana dhal in our case). These were mixed with herbs and advieh and then used to stuff the veg. The tangy tomato sauce has sugar, cinnamon, lime juice and saffron on it.

 

 

Fresh Herb Kuku – Iranian baked omelette (V)

Kuku-ye sabzi, Batbook pg. 49

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Fresh Herb Kuku – Photos by Samantha Twigg Johnson

I was quite impressed by kuku, the wonderful Iranian omelette. This version is baked in the oven, and based on fresh herbs: parsley, coriander, spring onions (including the green bits), fresh fenugreek (methi). The original recipe calls for dill and chives, but we didn’t have any, so I substituted what we had. The herby egg mixture is seasoned with advieh, Iranian spice mixture, and given a slightly tart edge with the addition of barberries, sour little berries characteristic of Iranian cooking. We also threw in a small handful of walnuts for a bit of crunch, and it was delicious. Really good with the yoghurt salad, and the feta and walnut salad. Batmanglij’s recipe (without the walnuts) is available on Epicurious.com.

Lamb fillet kebabs

Kabab-e barg, Batmanglij pg. 76

If you have a chance, have a look at the picture of kebabs on pg. 76 in Batmanglij’s book. Ours looked nothing like it. I think we have a long way to go in perfecting our kebab skills. Oh well, at least we had fun. Have you ever tried juicing an onion? No? Oh you must. Actually you mustn’t. Still hilarious though!

 

Let me tell you about mains next….

 

 

 

Here are the other posts from my Persian series:

 

Persian feast in my kitchen: Intro

Persian feast in my kitchen: the mains

Persian baklava: the sweet end to our feast

 

And check out:

Persian food blogs

 

 

 

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Persian food blogs

Persian feast continues soon! In the meanwhile, let me share with you some great links for some excellent Persian food blogs!

Turmeric & Saffron by Azita

My Persian Kitchen by Chef

West of Persia by Bria

The Spice Spoon by Shayma (new blog including Pakistani, Afghani and Iranian recipes)

Pinch my Saffron by Yasamin

Javane’s Kitchen  by Javane (Gluten free!)

 

I discovered Turmeric & Saffron when Azita kindly left a message on my previous post about cooking Persian. This spurred me to look for more, and I discovered My Persian Kitchen and others.  Turmeric & Saffron and My Persian Kitchen are excellent sources of information on Persian food and delicious recipes! West of Persia and The Spice Spoon are new to blogging, but very promising.

Does anyone know of any more?

 

Here are the other posts from my Persian feast series:

  

Persian feast in my kitchen: Intro

Persian feast in my kitchen: the first courses

Persian feast in my kitchen: the mains

Persian baklava: the sweet end to our feast

 

 

 

 

 

Persian feast in my kitchen: Intro

I mentioned earlier my culinary explorations: my friend A. and I get together and explore a cuisine of our choice. So far we cooked Sichuanese, Moroccan and Persian, just before my old kitchen went out. Tonight, I’ll tell you about our Persian adventures because – guess what – we have some photos from that! We exchanged some food for Sam’s photographic excellence – a great move – and voila!

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Iranian yoghurt salad – Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

 

A. is very passionate about Persian cooking, which is an understatement, to tell you the truth. It was his fine idea to cook this feast.

It was a serious undertaking, mind you. Sometimes I think you must be mad to do it, which I suspect we were/are. It took us a week to plan it (decide on the recipes, devise the plan of action, etc.), a day to shop for it, and a day and a half to cook it. But it was all well worth it!

Take a look at the menu:

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FIRST COURSES

Yoghurt Salad (V)

Feat & walnut salad with herbs (V)

Stuffed peppers, aubergines and tomatoes in a tangy tomato sauce (V) –

Herb Kuku – Iranian baked omelette (V)

Lamb fillet kebabs

 

MAINS

Saffron Rice (V)

Rice-stuffed roast chicken

Potato and lamb koresh (Iranian stew)

Duck in walnut and pomegranate sauce

 

DESSERT

Iranian almond and rosewater baklava served with vanilla ice-cream

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We also made advieh, a Persian spice mixture:

 

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Advieh – Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

 

Persian or Iranian cuisine has been, and still is, among the greatest in the world. With their sophisticated tastes and techniques, Persian cooks have influenced Indian and Middle-Eastern cooking. I chose this yoghurt salad for introduction because it gives indication of what Persian food is like: the use of yoghurt, walnuts, fresh herbs, attention to details in presentation. But more about this next time.

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Iranian yoghurt salad – Photos by Samantha Twigg Johnson

 

Now, before I leave for tonight, I want to share with your our bibliography:

 

A Taste of Persia: An Introduction to Persian Cuisine

A taste of Persia – by Najmieh Batmanglij

This is an excellent book, and we found most of our recipes were from it. Clearly presented, with pictures of all dishes, and a helpful list of ingredients at the end. Excellent introduction into Persian cooking.

 

New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies

New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies – by Najmieh Batmanglij

Interesting, and larger in scope than A taste of Persia, but I was slightly put off by the presentation of the recipes.

 

The Legendary Cuisine of Persia

The legendary cuisine of Persia – by Margaret Shaida

This is a very informative, and beautifully written book on Persian cuisine. I bought it after our cooking session.

 

The Persian Kitchen: Home Cooking from the Middle East

The Persian Kitchen: Home Cooking from the Middle East – by Neda Afrashi

Another lovely book on Persian food and customs.

 

This is to tickle your imagination until next time. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope it has made you at least a little curious about Persian cooking.

 

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Here are the other posts from my Persian series:

Persian feast in my kitchen: the first courses

Persian feast in my kitchen: the mains

Persian baklava: the sweet end to our feast

 And check out:

Persian food blogs

________________________________________________

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