The Food of Paradise

or…expletive worthy food

Advertisements

In my last post I took a big step and admitted to my growing addiction to Persian food.  Like many addictions, this one needs constant feeding and there have been many Persianesque feasts since my last confession.

The first of these was a birthday meal for my husband (I mean, how could I refuse a birthday request?); Beef Fillet Steak, Fattoush Salad and Basmati & Wild Rice Salad with Chickpeas, Currants & Herbs.  I was a bit worried about ruining the beef but actually it was superb – pan fried at a high heat until caramelised and then finished in the oven before resting and slicing…mm-mmm!  WARNING: Vegetarians and hungry people should avert their eyes about now.

img_0854
Such a perfect colour and oh so tender

I’ve made a few versions of Fattoush Salad over the years (which generally consist of radishes, cucumber, salad greens, flat bread croutons and sumac) and this one from Sabrina Ghayour’s “Persiana” was as good as any other.  However the first Fattoush that I ever made was a Julie Le Clerc recipe and that one will always be special 🙂

The Basmati & Wild Rice Salad with Chickpeas, Currants & Herbs from Ottolenghi’s book “Jerusalem” was absolutely amazing. I didn’t have quite enough currants so I topped them up with barberries which added a delicious sour pop.  We brought some wild rice back from Malaysia a couple of years ago and I’m always excited when I get to use it; it’s so nutty and feels slightly exotic.  The fried onions and chickpeas on top are the icing on the cake.

img_0857

I also got a new cookbook this month (as if I wouldn’t!) called “Ima Cuisine” by Yael Shochat.  This is from an Israeli restaurant in Auckland and I was very excited to buy it as soon as possible after its release.  The first things I’ve cooked from it are Falafel, Arab Israeli Salad and a herb condiment called Zhoug.  The salad and condiment are fantastic – the salad is very herby and is a great side dish to make in bulk and keep in the fridge (as I discovered by accident).  The falafel itself was a bit disappointing – I’ve made falafel a few times now and this is the only one that’s not worked out well.  The mixture was very wet and sort of dissolved into the oil in the pan.  I ended up having to coat them in flour and fry them in a fairly dry pan…the flavour was good but they were a mission to produce.

However – as usual when it comes to Sabrina Ghayour – the star of the meal was the Freekah Salad from her book “Sirocco”.  If you haven’t tried Freekah yet you definitely should…it tastes amazing in its own right just boiled in salted water let alone having anything else done to it.  But adding cranberries, dill and pomegranate takes it off the charts!  On a side note, dill is seriously becoming a favourite herb just now.

img_1032

img_1030
The full ensemble…pretty fab despite the dramas

But oh my god…if I thought the Freekah salad was good…I hadn’t yet tried the Preserved Lemon & Baharat-Marinated Pork Loin Kebabs also from “Sirocco”.  This was life-changing.  I made a Baharat spice mix from “Ima Cuisine” which I rubbed all over the pork pieces and then fried them in a healthy (ie. vast) quantity of oil so that they become gorgeously crisp but still moist in the middle…drool.  To go with this I made a Barley, Griddled Broccoli & Za’atar Salad from Persiana; barley is so good in any form and I love it in a salad.  This salad also contains slow roasted, caramelised tomatoes and red onions and a simple yoghurt dressing.  I’m trying very hard not to use expletives to describe how good these were 🙂

img_1076

A classic Persian dish that my friend Nadine first told me about is Chicken, Walnut & Pomegranate Stew.  The first version I made of this was from Naomi Duguid’s “Taste of Persia” which was ok but not as good as I was expecting.  I decided to try Sabrina Ghayour’s recipe from “Persiana” given how good all of her recipes seem to be and I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s a very decadent dish using a lot of walnuts and pomegranate molasses which gives it a lovely rich and sweet/sour flavour.  One thing I would say about both of the recipes that I’ve tried is that it doesn’t need nearly as much sauce; both recipes had me throwing away excess sauce which was pretty upsetting.  I served this particular version with a Marinated Kale Salad and Crushed New Potatoes both from “Sirocco”.  I’ve tried making a marinated kale salad once before and wasn’t that fussed with it but as I may have mentioned…Sabrina can do no wrong and this was delicious.  Almonds and sunflower seeds provide crunch while the dressing provides sweetness from pureed apple, honey and ginger.  The crushed new potatoes were also AMAZING!  Roasted with peas and chargrilled spring onions and my favourite…dill.

img_1125

The most recent meal I cooked was all from “Sirocco” – Lamb, Apricot & Fennel Seed Meatballs; Radish, Dried Fig & Apple Salad & Warm Salad of Spiced Kale, Bulghur Wheat & Puy Lentils.  These three recipes were definitely a highlight of the Persian experience so far (and that’s saying something!)…all the way through dinner we just looked at each other and said “yuuum” and “oh my god, this is sooo *expletive* good”!  The meatballs contain sweetness from the dried fruit and so many fennel seeds that I was seriously (but unnecessarily) concerned!

The Fig and Apple Salad was quick to put together and had a delicious mixture of crunchy vs sticky sweetness balanced by the tartness of pomegranate molasses.  And the Warm Bulghur and Puy Lentil salad was wonderfully substantial.  It’s drizzled in a mixture of spiced oil and fried onions and topped with a sharp but creamy goats feta.  An absolutely incredible trio both individually and combined.

img_1171

So if you don’t mind exploring life-changing flavours and uttering the occasional involuntary (but cheerful) expletive then I emphatically recommend giving Persian food a go.  However, I do feel that it’s only fair to warn you – it can be addictive.

Totally Addicted to Persia

…and Sabrina Ghayour

I have been on a Persian binge recently, I can’t get enough of it; the more I cook it the more I want it…you can see how this could easily get out of control (and it has).  I have quite a few recipe books of that ilk (see my Cookbook Library for the full list) which I’ve used on and off over the last few years; but it’s Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour (see post here) that has set me off on my binge.  After loving Persiana so much I couldn’t resist buying her new book Sirocco and it hasn’t let me down – oh no – It. Has. Not.

The first meal I made out of Sirocco was Citrus & Za’atar Roast Chicken with a Date, Orange, Almond and Rocket Salad and a Maftoul Salad.  The chicken is pretty straight forward – just smother the chicken in a rub made of spices and zest and bung it in the oven for a while. One thing I did find a challenge was not letting the spice rub burn; you can see in the image below that it got pretty dark (but luckily in a good way).  I turned the chicken over a few times while it was roasting and next time I’ll put it on a rack so that the skin stays crisp on all sides.  I ended up taking the chicken out of the oven early (thanks to my trusty instant read thermometer telling me it was cooked) but if I’d left it in there for any longer I would have had to cover it in tin foil to stop it colouring further.

img_0908v2
What a gorgeous looking bird 🙂

To go with the chicken I made a Maftoul Salad which is basically just Palestinian couscous mixed with lots of other tasty morsels and a gorgeous citrus-y dressing.  I’d had some black garlic in the cupboard for quite a while and I recently bought a jar of sour cherries so I couldn’t resist making this salad just so I could use both of those ingredients!

I also couldn’t resist the Date, Orange, Almond and Watercress Salad because it looks so beautiful.  In this case I couldn’t find watercress so I used rocket which worked well.  The dressing on this salad contains honey and red wine vinegar and it is ab-so-lutely delicious. One of the great things about all of these recipes is that they are very straight forward to put together and they make a great alternative to the western-style Sunday roast.

 

img_0917v2

img_0921v2
YUM!

The next meal I cooked from Sirocco was Rose Harissa Seared Lamb Steak (was meant to be beef but I wanted lamb) with Turmeric & Spice-Marinated Cauliflower and Asparagus with Preserved lemon & Pickled Chilli.  This was actually a pretty quick meal.  I did do one thing in advance that you wouldn’t normally need to do, but because I was going out on the night that I wanted to cook this I made the spice paste the night before and left the cauliflower to marinate in the fridge. That meant that when I got home from work all I needed to do was make a quick tomato sauce and fry the cauliflower (another adjustment – the cauli was actually supposed to be deep-fried but I shallow fried it).

The asparagus was also super quick and easy to prepare and is deliciously crisp, has a lovely freshness from the mint, a salty tang from the preserved lemons and heat from the chilli (in this case I didn’t have pickled chillis so I just used chilli flakes).  Sooo good!

img_0932v2

For the lamb, I don’t have rose harissa so I crushed up some edible rose petals and mixed those in with the standard harissa that I have in the fridge.  After rubbing that all over the steaks I gave them a quick hot fry and Bob was my Uncle – dinner was ready!  Such a nice combination of flavours, looks super fancy and is quick enough for a week night – I had it cooked and eaten in plenty of time for me to lounge around for a while before I went out – win, win and win 🙂

img_0935v2

It’s funny but I didn’t realise how often I was making slight changes to the recipes until I was writing this post and it reminded me of something that Sabrina Guyour wrote in her introduction to this book:

“…many people feel the pressure to follow recipes to the letter, but Middle Eastern cookery just isn’t rigid in that way.”

I can certainly vouch for that.

Persiana

Easy decadence

A few months ago I bought a cookbook by Sabrina Ghayour called Persiana which, as the name suggests, is full of all sorts of Middle Eastern and Persian delicacies that make me feel decadent just reading the recipes.  How can I possibly resist going out immediately to purchase edible rose petals and dried limes to add to what I already thought of as a well stocked middle-eastern pantry?  And of course, once I had possession of these gorgeous goodies I absolutely had to cook with them.  Below are some photos of what I’ve cooked from this book so far, and trust me when I say that these won’t be the last!

This first one is Spiced Vegetable Soup cooked on the recommendation of the person who sold me the book…we weren’t disappointed.  Beautiful and hearty topped with a pistachio herb oil.

IMG_0120v2
Enter a caption

Baked Eggs with Feta, Harissa, Tomato Sauce and Coriander is Persiana’s version of Shakshuka and like all Shakshuka’s, it’s a great start to the day.  One thing I liked about this version is that it doesn’t contain capsicums so it’s a good one for the winter months.

Persian Dried Lime, Lamb & Split Pea Stew…O…M…G!  This one was amazing!  I wasn’t able to find dried limes in time for this recipe but used pickled lemons instead (on the advice of the man at the Middle Eastern supermarket) and they infuse the dish beautifully…and I always love the texture of split peas, satisfyingly soft and yet firm.  Definitely a winner.

IMG_0193v2

I served the lamb stew with a Bulghur Wheat Salad.  This was supposed to have pomegranate seeds in it but there aren’t any around at the moment so I used dried cranberries soaked in lemon juice instead.  They made a good substitute and since then I’ve seen that you can buy dried cranberries that are soaked in pomegranate juice which would probably be even better!

IMG_0189v2

If you want to try something sweet, Spiced Carrot, Pistachio and Almond Cake with Rosewater Cream was a great way to use up a bag of pistachios that had been sitting in the cupboard for a while.  It’s more of a dessert cake (very moist and crumbly) but I was quite happy to take it to work and eat it with a fork.  It has a lovely flavour, is gluten free and totally decadent.

Spiced Lamb Kefta with Butternut Squash, Pistachio Pesto, Feta, Cranberries and Almonds.  There’s a burst of sweetness from the currants in the Kefta which goes nicely with the lamb and spices.  The mixture was a bit loose so I added a decent amount of breadcrumbs to get the right consistency.  The pumpkin with the pesto is amazing, almost like a nut butter.  I used the leftover pesto as a pasta sauce which was also divine.

Lamb Shank, Black Garlic and Tomato Tagine was a great use for a couple of huge shanks that I had in the freezer.  If you haven’t come across it before, black garlic is garlic that’s been slow cooked until it becomes caramelized, sweet and delicious.  To be honest, it’s so good I could eat it on its own and it melts into the tagine to provide little surprises of flavour every now and again.

Persian Saffron Chicken, Fennel and Barberry Stew…this is the only one of Sabrina’s recipes that I would categorise as just ‘good’ rather than ‘amazing’.  It tasted good, it just didn’t have the gutsy flavour of some of the other recipes.  By the time the fennel had cooked for so long it was pretty tasteless and it really relied on the barberries to add oomph.  Still…one average recipe amongst a bunch of crackers isn’t too bad.

Poussin with Harissa and Preserved Lemon enabled me to use a poussin that I’ve had in the freezer for quite a while now.  We got all excited when we saw them at the local butcher a while ago but they were so expensive that we only bought one…it then proceeded to sit in the freezer because I could never think of what to do with one small bird.  Eventually we just got it out of the freezer and ended up having it for breakfast!  The harissa and preserved lemon blended together to make a rub…a genius idea, I’ve never thought of blending preserved lemons before but it opens up so many more uses for them.

Tray Baked Rose Petal Lamb Chops with Chilli and Herbs…of course I had to make something that included the edible rose petals!  These chops were amazing, so much flavour from the marinade and fast enough to make on a weeknight.  They are served with a herb and chilli drizzle which is quick and easy to make and very tasty.

To go with the lamb chops I made a Fattoush Salad with some slight variations.  I didn’t have any tomatoes (it’s the end of winter), I used jarred chargrilled capsicums instead of fresh and I used rocket instead of lettuce.  This salad is amazing…it is so crunchy and fresh and the dressing is wonderfully zesty which was a great match for the rich lamb chops (which were quite salty).

My rating for this book so far?  Totally fab!  So if you’ve been thinking about trying it out I would highly recommend it.  I hadn’t realised quite how many recipes I’d already made from this book and out of the 12 recipes I’ve cooked, 11 were amazing and 1 was good…that’s a pretty good strike rate!