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

Digg This

Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goats’ Cheese

I am submitting this delicious Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goats’ Cheese for the next Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Anna from Anna’s Cool Finds. This delicious salad is flavoured with thyme and bay leaf.  Both of these herbs are common in Croatian cooking.

Thyme grows wild in the small pine wood behind my house in Dalmatia. It is tiny, and has small pretty, purple flowers that have an amazing fragrance. That’s how I think of thyme. It’s called majcina dusica (pronounced ‘maytchina dushitsa’ in English), and it means  ‘mother’s little soul’, but it could be loosely (very loosely) translated as ‘mother’s little honey’. I’m not sure about the etymology of the name, and I couldn’t find anything about it one the Internet. The leaves are used in cooking, or for making tea. (I also know a wicked joke linked to majcina dusica, but I better give it a miss here! Anyhow, it doesn’t work very well in English.)  

This lovely salad can be served at buffets and parties, and it also makes a great lunch. IT can be made vegan by omitting the goats cheese. We had it for dinner with some crusty bread, and it was fantastic! Check the verdict section for more info on what we thought about it. The recipe is below!

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Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goats’ Cheese

 

SOURCE: Delia Smith’s Winter Collection

PREPARATION TIME: about 5 min

COOKING TIME: 20 – 30 min

SERVES: 4

Ingredients

8 oz (225 g) Puy lentils (green or brown variety will work just as well)
1½ oz (40 g) walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 heaped teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the dressing:

2 crottin goats’ cheese or 4 oz (110 g) of any other firm goats’ cheese
1 fat clove garlic, peeled
1 level teaspoon sea salt
1 rounded teaspoon powdered mustard
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons walnut oil
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 oz (30 g) rocket leaves
freshly milled black pepper

METHOD

First you need to cook the lentils. To do this, heat the oil in a medium saucepan and when it’s hot, lightly fry the chopped walnuts for about 1 minute. Then remove them with a draining spoon to a plate and keep them aside for later.

Now to the oil left in the pan, add the onion and crushed garlic and let these cook and soften for about 5 minutes. After that, stir in the lentils, bay leaf and thyme and make sure they all get a good coating with oil. Next add 10 fl oz (275 ml) of boiling water, but don’t add any salt – just put a lid on, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and let the lentils cook for 30-40 minutes or until they’re tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. You really need to bite one to test if they’re done.

While the lentils are cooking you can prepare the dressing. Use a pestle and mortar and crush the garlic with the salt until it’s creamy, then add the mustard and work that into the garlic paste. After that, whisk in the balsamic vinegar, followed by the oils. Then season well with freshly milled black pepper.

As soon as the lentils are cooked, add salt to taste. Empty them into a warm serving bowl and while they’re still hot, pour the dressing over. Give everything a good toss and stir, then crumble the goats’ cheese all over and add the rocket leaves, torn in half. Give everything one more toss and stir, and serve straight away with the walnuts scattered over.

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Verdict

Delicious combination of different structures and flavours! Crunchy walnuts and salad leaves created a great contrast with creamy goats’ cheese and lentils. I loved the slightly sour notes of the balsamic vinegar combined with lentils, cheese and aromatic thyme and bay leaf. We will definitely have it again!

While the lentils were cooking, they were oozing delicious aromas. I tasted them, and they were gorgeous! We could have stopped cooking there and then, and had the lentils cooked with onion and herb only! I suggest you do the same!

We enjoyed the dressing, too, and we might use it again with different salads.

All in all, thumbs up for good old Delia! 🙂

Notes

We didn’t add rocket to the salad, but served the lentils on a bed of salad. Also, we used green lentils instead of Puy lentils, and soft goats’ cheese instead of hard goats’ cheese (hence the photos). This added extra creaminess to the structure, and the flavour of cheese permeated the whole salad. The result was very very rich in flavour. Next time we will try and use hard goats’ cheese, as suggested by Delia, to add more variety of flavour into different bites of the dish!

What I would do differently next time

This is only a tentative suggestion. I thought the walnuts were a little oily and turned out soft, and am thinking of either dry-roasting them next time, or not roasting them at all, to add more crunch to the texture. I will try frying them for less time, too. I think I might have done more than a minute this time.

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Random update:  have just realised this is my 50th post! 🙂

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Other lentil and goats’ cheese recipes in the blogosphere:

Donna Hay’s Lentil and goats’ cheese tarts at Other people’s food

Bulgur and Lentil Salad with Tarragon, Almonds, and Goat Cheese at Savoury and Sweet

Spinach Salad with Lentils and Crisp Warm Goat Cheese at Serious Eats

Lentil Salad with Mint and Goat Cheese at Better Bites

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Fiesta Chicken and Black Bean Salad

 We know how food blogging can be a little dangerous to the figure, with all the gorgeous photos to gorge on, and tempting recipes to try! Cakes, ice-cream and above all Chocolate – those are my pleasures and my tortures – my nemeses! Wouldn’t it be great if there there was a place you could go to to find a variety of healthy, tasty recipes? Ok, ok, many of you have your favourite resources. Great – share them with everyone! In that spirit, Robin from Clumsy Cook is starting an event called Blog or Bust. Check her blog on 18 July for round-up and lots of delicious, guilt-free treats! Here is what Robin says:

“This blogging event will feature healthyish foods that won’t bust the measurement tape. There are no rules about low-carb or low-fat (though I’d love some recipes), but all entries should have good health in mind—be it the inclusion of whole grains, nutrient rich ingredients, etc. A dish that you won’t regret cleaning your plate for! You don’t have to include a calorie count, but you can if you want, and the calorie count doesn’t have to be low as long as the recipe is nutritious. Feel free to add any weight loss tips or tidbits in your post! If you have any concerns about whether your recipe is nutritious, send it anyway! I’ll post and we can all discuss what we think.”

The theme for the first event is Party Food. Appropriately, I got this excellent recipe – at a party, or a picnic-lunch, to be more precise. After lots of lip-smacking and contented sighs, it was given to me (and a few others!) by a wonderful lady called Joan. It’s called Fiesta Chicken and Black Bean Salad, but, I’m afraid it’s going to be Joan’s Salad for me from now on! – Thank you, Joan!

In terms of both health and taste, this salad has lots of going for it. Just look at the ingredients list! I love the dressing, with the warmth of cumin, and a citrus hint from the freshly squeezed lime juice!

As well as being both very healthy and very tasty, this salad is extremely convenient, and easy to make! It contains no easily-spoiled ingredients (eggs, mayonnaise, potatoes), so it’s very convenient for transport and storing. It makes a great lunch, too! It’s very adaptable: omit chicken to make it vegetarian, and use different vegetables. See ‘Verdict’ for more tips!

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Fiesta Chicken and Black Bean Salad/ aka Joan’s Salad

 

SOURCE: Joan! (hip hip hoorayyyy for Joan!)

PREPARATION TIME: about 15 min

COOKING TIME: 10 min for the rice (basmati), plus more for the chicken

 

Ingredients:

 

SALAD INGREDIENTS:

3 cups cooked rice

4 cups shredded chicken (poached/grilled)

1 can (15.5 oz) black beans (or red beans)

11 0z corn

6 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1 bunch spring onions

 

DRESSING:

1/4 cup vinegar

1 tbsp fresh lime juice

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, finely chopped, or crushed

3/4 tsp ground cumin

salt and pepper

 

METHOD:

1. Poach or grill the chicken. Meanwhile, you can also put the corn, beans and rice to cook. While they are cooking, chop the tomatoes and the spring onions.

2. Make the dressing.

3. Assemble all the ingredients. TADAAAAAAH! Done! It’s as easy as that!

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Verdict:

Very very tasty, and very healthy! I will make it again and again and again!

The best of all, the possibilities to play around are plenty! Here are a few suggestions:

  • top tip: instead of using ground cumin, gently toast cumin seeds in a pan, grind, and add to the dressing.
  • vary the vegetables you use
  • omit chicken to make it vegetarian
  • use prawn instead of chicken
  • use brown rice to make it even healthier
  • use quinoa!
  • add chilies to the dressing! – crushed or fresh, according to your palate. I think great chilies would go really well with the dressing. Think of your guests though! Do they like it as hot as you do? (I try to do this, but often fail in my judgement!)
  • perhaps sprinkle some chopped coriander leaves on top! yum!

As you can see, there are many possibilities! Experiment, Create, and (above all) Enjoy it!

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