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Persian Stuffed Peppers (Dolmeh)

Persian Stuffed Peppers (Dolmeh)

The term “Dolmeh” can be traced back thousands of years in the form of various stuffed vegetables and was popular all over ranging from the Middle East, to Central Asia, and surrounding areas. The vegetables stuffed could include tomato, pepper, onion, zucchini, and eggplant.  Stuffed grape and cabbage leaves were also part of this tradition and can be traced back even further in culinary history. One explanation for etymology of the word dolmeh is from the Turkish verbal noun  dolmak,  which means “to be stuffed.” Makes sense.

In the Persian Empire, references of dolmeh are traced back to the 17th century and the courts of the Shah (king). According to Wikipedia, Alī-Akbar Khan Āšpaz-bāšī,  chef to the court of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah, recorded dolmeh as a special category of Persian cuisine and gave recipes for stuffing grape leaves, cabbage leaves, cucumbers, eggplants, apples, and quinces.

My beloved late Grandmother made dolmeh combining green stuffed peppers and stuffed cabbage leaves in a large pot. She used tomato sauce and the end result was delicious! This is a picture of the dolmeh she made for us when my mom and I visited her in 2009. Those beautiful hands made many lovely dishes for us on that trip. And they all had the common ingredient of love incorporated. Many of my cooking inspirations are connected to that trip. Since my family immigrated from Iran when I was a child, this was the only time I cooked with her as an adult and I cherished every moment.

It seems the popularity and timelessness of this dish, is due to it’s simplicity. Stuff any vegetable with other vegetables, herbs and/or meat and you have a rich dish that satiates any palette.

I made my version of dolmeh for Nowruz (the Persian New Year) and they were a hit! The only dish with no leftovers and that says a lot for any meal in an Iranian home where abundance is the key ingredient to any feast.

It is a relatively easy recipe and quite healthy. You can make it meat-less by eliminating the ground turkey or chicken for a vegetarian option, nothing will be lost. The fresh herbs add such great flavor and aroma! Serve it up as a main or side dish and enjoy!

 

 

Nowruz! The Beginning of Spring & The Persian New Year

Nowruz! The Beginning of Spring & The Persian New Year

My favorite time of year has arrived! The first day of Spring marks the Persian New year, celebrated for over 3,000 years. It translates to “new day” and represents a fresh new beginning. Scientifically called the vernal equinox, it occurs the exact moment the sun crosses the celestial equator and spring begins in the Northern hemisphere. The duration of the day and night are equal, on so begins a new cycle of life.

As a child growing up in Iran and for the last 27 years in my Iranian-American diaspora community, Nowruz not only evokes fresh beginnings, but it also connects me to  my family’s traditions and an ancient heritage left in the distant places where my ancestors once used to live out their hopes and aspirations.

The notion of hope and a fresh chapter in the story is life, is universal. Nowruz is celebrated by an estimated 190-250 million people around the world and has been kept alive through a series of beautiful and meaningful symbolic traditions. Growing up the scents of memories of Nowruz were distinct: smelling the hyacinth (sombol) wafting through the house, shopping at the market for greens and goldfish, spring cleaning, leaping over bonfires, buying new clothes, reading the poetry of the eternal Hafez of Shiraz and sharing festive meals with loved ones. These traditions are what make this holiday so special. We set a haftseen, a table filled with symbolic items to represent some of these traditions. We visit loved ones, exchange gifts and eat lots and lots of beautiful foods and sweets.  There is symbolism in the food as well. For example Persians traditionally eat “Sabzi Polo Mahi”- Basmati rice with fresh dill accompanied by fish.  The fresh herbs represent rebirth and fish represents life.  Some of the symbolism of the haftseen is mentined below. These are just to name a few. In the coming days I’ll be posting the various recipes of the delicious food we enjoy over this festive holiday.

For the moment here is the Basil and Roses menu and a sneak peek of the dishes we enjoy over this 13 day holiday.

Wishing you all a beautiful New Day and all the best new beginnings your hearts desire! Nowruz Mobarak!
نوروزتان پیروز ، هر روزتان نوروز !

Sabzeh/Sprouts- grass grown from wheat or lentils, representing rebirth

Seeb/Apple– representing health and beauty

Samanu– A sweet creamy pudding, representing humility

Senjed– sweet and dry fruit of the lotus tree, representing love

Serkeh/Vinager- representing age and patience

Seer/Garlic– representing medicine and good health

Somaq/Sumac– A spice representing sunrise and light overcoming darkness

 

 

 

Musical Inspiration

Leila Forouhar- Nowrooz

Green Garden Herb Basmati Rice Without a rice cooker

Green Garden Herb Basmati Rice Without a rice cooker

Thanks everyone for the feedback on this recipe! Many of you asked for instructions on how to make it without a rice cooker. We gave it a go and the results were equally wonderful- and we ended up with a bit of delicious tahdig (crunchy bottom) to boot!

The recipe utilizes the same ingredients as the rice cooker version. Here, I used a nonstick standard pot.  Instructions are below. Feel free to share your results and happy cooking!

 

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Tuscan Inspired Lemon-Rosemary Chicken with Cannellini Beans & Roasted Squash-Arugula Salad

Tuscan Inspired Lemon-Rosemary Chicken with Cannellini Beans & Roasted Squash-Arugula Salad

There’s something so fulfilling about roasted chicken and this sense of satisfaction is universal. The warm aromas that fill the kitchen while it cooks are comforting and feel like home. I love the different ways you can roast chicken with endless herbs and veggies- somehow lemon and rosemary end up on the rotation more often than others. There is something magical about how this combination marries with garlic and olive oil. You can develop deep flavors in this  simple recipe. The cannellini beans are creamy and filling and beautifully absorb the rosemary, garlic + lemon. The kitchen will smell divine too.

Once the salad is made, serve with chicken and a nice glass of white wine. If you’re inspired by the rustic Tuscan flavors, try a nice Vermentino. Tuscany is known mainly for it’s red wines but there are lovely whites as well from the coastal regions of Tuscany known as “La Costa Toscana!” Just the name is divine! (forgive me, I’m taking Italian lessons and I’m in love with the language). According to Zester Daily, “Vermentino should have an appealing sapidità, a difficult word to translate into English — “sapidity”. Essentially it should leave you wanting another taste, or indeed another glass.”                  No arm twisting required here…

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Lemon-Rosemary-Garlic Chicken with Cannellini Beans

 

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Roasted Squash-Arugula Salad

 

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Musical Inspiration:

Andrea Bocelli, Melodramma (Vivere Live in Tuscany)

 

Versatile Salmon, done 3 ways

Versatile Salmon, done 3 ways

Beyond being nutritious and tasty, salmon is also an incredibly versatile ingredient to work with. I only use wild caught salmon. Stay away from the farmed variety.  The diet the fish are fed are is bad for our bodies and pollute the water. They also have 1/10 of the omega-3 fatty acids which is one of the main reasons I like to have this nutritious protein in my diet.

Here I highlight a few simple but elegant ways to prepare this wonderful protein:

Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche Canapes with Fresh Dill

Sesame Crusted Salmon Fillet

Cold Salmon  Salad

I love to entertain often, but don’t always have time to prepare extravagant menus. The smoked salmon canapes with creme fraiche are easy to make yet quite elegant. Simply place small pieces of smoked salmon on a thin cracker of your choice or pumpernickel cocktail bread. Top with a dollop of creme fraiche and sprig of fresh dill and voila! These are a hit every time.

Smoked Salmon & Creme Fraiche Canapes with Fresh Dill

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Sesame Crusted Baked Salmon

This recipe is great for dinner any night of the week or on a large salmon fillet for entertaining.

 

 

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Cold Salmon Salad or Sandwich

What’s better than a fabulous dinner? A new fabulous lunch with the leftover.

I love cold salmon sandwiches or salmon topped on a bright and colorful salad.

You can choose any veggies you like in your salad.

Here I  mixed arugula and spinach with chopped tomatoes, raw cauliflower, red beats and chopped onion.

Toss with lemon juice + good olive oil, then top with leftover salmon.

An important final step: delight in a healthy, colorful, nutritious  and fabulous salad while you reflect on the beautiful food you’ve made and the people you’ve shared them with…

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Mint & Cannellini Bean Tuna Salad

Mint & Cannellini Bean Tuna Salad

We all have busy schedules and not having the time to prepare satisfying meals on the fly can be challenging. That’s why I’m a fan of utilizing beans, veggies and herbs along with basic pantry products to make a nutritious, colorful and tasty meal!

This filling and fancy tuna salad will do exactly that. And surprisingly, hummus is a great alternative to mayo!

 

 

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Black Bean Bowl

Black Bean Bowl

Make this for a quick and satisfying lunch or dinner when you don’t have a lot of time.

It’s high in protein and flavor and quiet satisfying for a low calorie meal. The kick from the jalapeno gives this recipe a nice heat without being overpowering.

It can also be used as a dip with tortilla chips when entertaining, so it’s versatile.

 

 

 

Baklava

Baklava

Like many other traditional foods of the past, the origin of baklava is difficult to narrow down. Every ethnic group with ancestry connected to the Middle East has some claim to this delicious pastry.  It seems generally accepted that Baklava was first made by the Assyrians around 8th century B.C.- who layered nuts with unleavened flat bread and drenched with honey.

The type of nuts or syrup ingredients often suggest the origin of the recipe. Syrup with rose water and cardamom is most likely be from Iran or Arab countries. While syrup with cinnamon and cloves is more associated with characteristic of the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and those of the western part of the Middle East. The Greeks version is often more walnut heavy.

I’ve had them all! Persian, Greek and Turkish baklava are all sumptuous in their own way. The Persian iteration  with the saffron + pistachios reminds of my Grandmother. The Greek variety takes me back to a wonderful trip to Mykonos a couple of years ago and the Turkish version echoes the sound of the call to prayer which we I  had in the Sultan Ahmed area of the the old city in Istanbul.

In a water-front cafe in Mykonosimg_20140809_170208

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At the top of the world in magical Santorini
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In Istanbul, the honey on the baklava had a unique flavor, served with a rich cream. It was really enjoyable with tea or Turkish coffee of course!img_20151005_000044

So I decided to create my own version, taking a bit of inspiration from each culture. What can I say, I like the harmony of honey and nuts and dough. After all, there is a reason in ancient times Baklava was considered the food of the Gods!

My recipe is below. The layering requires a bit of patience and time but the end result is well worth the effort.

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Musical Inspiration-

Soap Kills – Cheftak

Persian Cucumber Salad with Red Onion & Thai Basil

Persian Cucumber Salad with Red Onion & Thai Basil

This salad is light n’ lovely. It’s aromatic and refreshing. It’s also a great choice when you need lots of flavor but don’t have a lot of time. I use Persian cucumbers because the fresh and fragrant taste is  an important part of the success of this dish. The basil’s slightly sweet, lemony and minty aroma delightfully compliments the green and fruity fragrance of the cucumber.

If you don’t have Thai basil, sweet basil works great too.

 

 

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Rosemary & Sea-Salt Baked Potato Chips

Rosemary & Sea-Salt Baked Potato Chips

These baked potato “chips” are great as a snack on their own dipped in ketchup, or work well as a side dish to any weeknight dinner. They’re super easy to make too!

 

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