Khorest-e Ghaimeh Bademjan (Vegan Persian Eggplant and Yellow Split Pea Stew)

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A couple of years ago I flirted with veganism. I had started seeing a holistic nutritionist and she suggested a wheat-free vegan diet. Needless to say it didn’t last long…….I missed lamb chops and spaghetti bolognese way too much! But, it did instil in me a respect and appreciation for meat-free cooking and I must admit it was the healthiest I have ever felt.

My mother taught me this vegan version of Khorest-e Ghaimeh Bademjan years ago when I was having a vegan friend over for lunch and was at a loss as to what to prepare. Rich and  nourishing, this stew combines caramelized onions, eggplant, mushrooms, yellow split peas and aromatic spices in a silky tomato sauce. Khorest-e Ghaimeh Bademjan is so delicious and hearty that I can guarantee you won’t miss the meat!

Khorest-e Ghaimeh Bademjoon

canola oil
2 medium eggplant or 5 japanese eggplant
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp turmeric
8 oz cremini mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
4 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water
juice of one lime
1/2 cup dried yellow split peas
salt and pepper

Cut the top off the eggplant, peel them and quarter them (if using Japanese eggplant just half them).  Put them in a colander and liberally sprinkle salt on them to remove any bitterness. Leave them for 30 minutes – 1 hour.

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Meanwhile, in a large pot (or Dutch Oven), heat the canola oil over medium heat. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric and fry for another minute.

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Add mushrooms and fry for about 5 minutes until starting to brown.

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Add the tomato paste and fry for one minute. Add the vegetable broth, the split peas, the lime juice and the saffron water. Cover and bring to a gentle boil. When boiling turn the heat down to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

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Rinse the salt off of the eggplant and pat dry. In a separate non-stick frying pan, heat about 1/4 canola oil over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant in batches until browned on all sides (about 2-3 minutes per side). Add more oil if necessary as the eggplant will absorb it.

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Add the eggplant to the stew and simmer for another hour to hour and a half or until the split peas and eggplant are tender.

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When ready, taste and season with salt, pepper and more lime juice if necessary.

Serve with steamed basmati rice. Enjoy!

Adasi (Persian Style Lentils)

I began my love affair with lentils a few years ago. We had always been friends but in the past few years my love for these legumes has blossomed.  Lentils are versatile, delicious and extremely nutritious. They are an excellent source of vegetarian protein, fibre, iron, vitamin B and folate. They are low in dietary fat and extremely economical. They are a staple for many vegetarians, as well as omnivores like me that try to adhere to “Meatless Mondays”.

I get a lot of requests for vegetarian/vegan recipes and Adasi is one of my favourite Persian meatless dishes. Lentils with caramelized onions and fragrant spices that can be served hot or cold, as a side dish, a dip, a main dish served with rice or (as my mom grew up with) a delicious breakfast dish.

For those of you unfamiliar with Golpar (Angelica powder) it comes from the seeds of a wild plant that grows in the mountains of Iran. Golpar is very aromatic and is found in a variety of Persian dishes. It is often used with legumes because it reduces the digestive gas that is often associated with eating beans and legumes.

Adasi
(Serves 4)

3 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup dried green lentils, rinsed
3 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1 tsp golpar (ground angelica powder)*
1 tsp ground cinnamon
salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan heat the canola oil over medium heat. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric and garlic and fry for another minute.

Add the lentils and vegetable broth to the pot. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Turn down to low, cover and let simmer (stirring occasionally) for about 1 hour or until the lentils are very soft. If it gets too dry, add some extra water.

The consistency should be thicker than a soup but not too dry. Add the golpar, cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or cold. Enjoy!

*Can be found at Iranian supermarkets and specialty stores.

Persian Inspired Israeli Couscous Salad

Also known as my “Peace in the Middle East Salad” or my “Make Love Not War Salad”. When Israel and Iran work together, beautiful things can happen. If only politics could be this easy!  In my modern interpretation of a traditional Shirazi Salad, toasty Israeli couscous meets fresh cucumber, tomatoes, red onions, mint and lime. The result is a delicious, refreshing and hearty middle eastern salad.

I have recently become obsessed with Israeli couscous. It is so versatile and is delicious in warm pilafs and cold salads and is a good substitute for rice, pasta or quinoa. Israeli couscous, also known as Ptitim, is a toasted wheat “pasta” that is shaped into little pearls. It is a very popular dish among children in Israel and is available in whole wheat and spelt for the health conscious. I like preparing it for my daughter with some butter, parmesan and lemon.

This salad is one of my favourite ways to serve Israeli couscous. It is a delicious accompaniment to a variety of grilled meat and fish dishes. I especially love it with Jujeh Kabab!

Persian Inspired Israeli Couscous Salad
(Serves 4-6)

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
2 cups water
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium tomatoes, diced (1/2 inch pieces)
1 cup diced seedless cucumber (1/2 inch pieces)
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 tsp  salt
1/2 tsp pepper

In a small pot, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the couscous and toast for 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for 12 minutes (water should be evaporated and the couscous tender).

Put into a large bowl and add 1/8 cup olive oil. Let cool. When it is cool, fluff the couscous up with a spoon. Sometimes the pearls stick together you might need to spend a few minutes separating them with the back of a wooden spoon.

Add the tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, mint, lime juice, salt, pepper and remainder of the olive oil. Stir to combine.

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavours to blend. Taste and season with more salt, pepper and lime juice if necessary. Enjoy!

Shole Zard (Persian Saffron Rice Pudding)

A couple of weeks ago I received a recipe request for Shole Zard. This delicious Persian dessert is pure nostalgia for me. It reminds me of my dear maternal grandmother who made the best Shole Zard in the world. Every time I taste this sweet saffron rice pudding I think of her.

Growing up we didn’t eat dessert often.  According to my mother there was no better dessert in the world than fruit. Oh mother, I would beg to differ…..I would take a slice of chocolate cake, apple pie, a bowl of ice cream, a chocolate chip cookie over a pear any day!!! But unlike my Canadian friends who had dessert every night after dinner, dessert for us was only saved for special occasions and holidays. That’s why it was such a special treat when my grandmother would make Shole Zard. My brother and I would devour bowls of it whenever we got the chance!

Like traditional rice pudding, Shole Zard is creamy and sweet, but the saffron and touch of rosewater add an elegant sophistication and the almonds add texture and crunch. The perfect ending to a Persian meal.

Shole Zard
(Serves 6-8)

1 cup arborio rice (or other short/medium grain rice)
7 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup slivered almonds
3 tbsp butter (or non-hydrogenated margarine)
1/2 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water
2 tbsp rosewater

Wash the rice four times.  To do this put the rice in large bowl, cover with cold water and agitate with your hands. Drain the water and repeat.

Put the rice and 6 cups of water in a large oven proof pot and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water is boiling, turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You will notice that foam will form on top of the water while simmering. Skim the foam off.

Taste the rice and make sure it’s cooked. Add one more cup of water, the sugar and slivered almonds. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (if it’s too thick add another 1/2 cup water).

Add the butter, the saffron water and the rosewater. Simmer for another 5 minutes.

Take the rice pudding off the heat. Put the lid on and transfer to a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes (or until desired thickness). The below picture shows the thickness I like……I like it thick but still to have a bit of creamy liquid.

Stir well and pour into serving dishes. You may put it in one big dish or individual servings. Let cool and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour. If you wish, decorate with cinnamon, slivered almonds and chopped pistachios. Enjoy!

Adas Polo (Persian Rice with Lentils, Dates and Raisins)

The first time that I ever made Adas Polo was on Christmas Eve about six years ago. My (non-Persian) in-laws asked if I could bring something to add to their traditional Christmas Eve dinner of Tourtiere and baked beans. They requested Albaloo Polo (Rice with Sour Cherries) as that was one of their favourite Persian dishes. I had made it a few times so I happily agreed. Unfortunately, I burned the sour cherries and my Albaloo Polo was ruined. I was not about to venture out on December 24th to the grocery store, so in a panic I looked in my cupboards and realized that I had all the components of Adas Polo. I called my mom and she gave me instructions over the phone. It was a hit at dinner……who knew that Adas Polo would go so well with Quebecois meat pie and baked beans!

Adas Polo is very simple to prepare and is extremely flavourful. Aromatic basmati rice with lentils, caramelized onions, sweet dates and raisins. A beautiful balance of sweet and savoury. Adas Polo is delicious served on its own as a vegetarian main dish but also pairs very well with a variety of meat dishes such as Lemon and Saffron Roasted Chicken.

Adas Polo
(serves 4)

2 cups basmati rice
1 cup green lentils, rinsed
1/2 large onion (or one small onion), thinly sliced
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 cups chopped dates (preferably Medjool)
2/3 cup raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water
2 tbsp butter, cut into pieces*
salt and pepper
canola oil

Put rinsed lentils in a small pot with 3 cups water and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and cook for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large frying pan heat 3 tbsp of canola oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, fry the onions for about 8-10 minutes until golden. If they start to brown too quickly, turn down the heat slightly. Add the turmeric and fry for another minute. Add the chopped dates and raisins and fry for another minute. Take off heat and set aside.

Wash as much starch off the rice as possible. To do this put the rice in large bowl, cover with cold water and agitate with your hands. You will notice that the water will become milky. Drain the water and repeat. Keep doing this until the water is clear (about 4-5 times).

After the rice is washed, cover with 6 cups lukewarm water and 1 tbsp of salt. Allow the rice to soak for at least 30 minutes (this step is optional, but the rice will be tastier and fluffier if you do it).

Fill a large non-stick pot ¾ full with water and 1 tbsp salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the soaked rice and add to the pot of boiling water.  Turn down the heat slightly to medium-high (it should still be boiling) and boil for 6 minutes stirring occasionally.

Drain the rice in a wire sieve.

Using a paper towel, dry your pot. Pour enough canola oil into your pot to just cover the bottom. Add the saffron water to the oil.

Using a spatula, add enough rice to form a layer to cover the bottom of the pot and form the ta-dig (the golden rice crust).

Sprinkle about 1/3 of the lentils on top. Then add 1/3 of the onion/date/raisin mixture.

Mix the cinnamon and the cumin and sprinkle about 1/3 over the mixture.

Repeat the layers forming sort of a pyramid and sprinkle 1/2 tsp salt over the top.

Using the handle of a wooden spoon poke three holes in the rice and pour over 1/4 cup water mixed with 2 tbsp canola oil. Cover and cook over medium-high heat for 10 minutes.

Turn down the heat to medium low and take a clean dish towel and cover the lid of the pot.  Make sure that the lid is on tightly. Alternatively you can use a double layer of paper towel between the pot and lid. Let the rice steam for 40 minutes.

When rice is ready add the butter and very gently mix the rice with the lentils and date mixture. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Using a spatula transfer the rice to a serving dish. Loosen the ta-dig with your spatula or a wooden spoon and serve with the rice. Enjoy!

*vegans can substitute non-hydrogenated margarine

Zereshk Polo (Persian Rice with Barberries and Saffron)

Iran is known for many of its exports …… oil, saffron, rugs, and of course Persian cats:) But one commodity that many in the West may not know of is zereshk. Iran is the biggest producer of zereshk in the world. Zereshk are dried barbarries –  small delicious tart berries that have been cultivated in Iran for over 200 years. They are used in jams, dried fruit leathers and candies. But one of the most popular dishes that features zereshk is Zereshk Polo.

Zereshk polo is one of the easiest and yet most elegant Persian dishes to prepare. This traditional rice dish has the perfect balance of tart and sweet. Zershk Polo is delicious on it’s own, but I find that it goes exceptionally well with Saffron and Lemon Roasted Chicken.

Zereshk Polo (Persian Rice with Barberries & Saffron)
(serves 4)

2 cups basmati rice (preferably Indian)
canola oil
3/4 cup zereshk* (dried barbarries)
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp butter**
1/8 tsp ground saffron disolved in 1 tbsp boiling water
salt and pepper

Follow instructions to make Persian Rice (click on link for recipe). You may omit the potato if you wish and the rice itself will form a crust.

When the rice is ready you can begin making the zereshk mixture.

Wash the zereshk by soaking them in cold water for a couple of minutes and then draining them in a sieve.  Melt the butter in a small frying pan under medium heat. Add the zeresk, 1/2 tsp salt and the sugar. Cook for about two minutes over medium-high heat. The barberries will get a bit fragrant and plump slightly. Turn the heat off and add the the saffron water.

There are a number of different ways that you can serve this dish. Some people add the zereshk mixture to the rice and let it steam together but I find that this turns the zereshk brown and not as appetizing. Some serve the rice and sprinkle the zereshk mixture on top. But I prefer to mix it in right before serving that way you get the sweet and tart in every bite.  Pour the zereshk mixture (reserving some for serving on top as well) on the rice and very gently mix in. Using a spatula, sprinkle the rice on serving dish and scatter the remaining zereshk mixture on top.

You may serve the Zereshk Polo on it’s own but it goes exceptionally well with Saffron & Lemon Roasted Chicken (click on link for recipe!)

*You can find zereshk in Iranian or Middle Eastern supermarkets

**You can substitute vegetable oil for the butter in order to make this a vegan dish.

Persian Rice and Golden Potato Crust (Ta-dig)

I feel I can’t go any farther without first including a recipe for basic Persian rice (Chelow). Rice, water, salt, simmer, done….If only it were so simple!

To Persians, making rice is an art form. There is a great deal of care and detail involved in making the perfect fluffy and delicate rice we are famous for. The crown jewel of Persian rice is the Ta-dig. The delicious, crunchy golden crust that forms at the bottom of the pot during the cooking process.

Ta-dig is beloved by Iranians and it often disappears as soon as it hits the dining table. When I first started dating my husband, who is Canadian, my younger brother tried to convince him that non-Iranians were not allowed to eat the ta-dig in a desperate attempt to keep it all for himself.

Ta-dig comes in many forms. Some make it with simple saffron rice, others add lavash bread, yogurt, tomatoes, scallions or leeks…..the possibilities are endless. But my absolute favourite is ta-dig made with thinly sliced potatoes. The potatoes form a crispy crust that almost tastes like a cross between a french fry and a potato chip……can you think of anything better than that?

Persian Rice with Golden Potato Ta-dig
(Serves 4)

2 cups basmati rice (preferably Indian)
water
2 tbsp salt
canola oil
1 thinly sliced russet potato
1/4 tsp ground saffron* dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water

Wash as much starch off the rice as possible. To do this put the rice in large bowl, cover with cold water and agitate it with your hands. You will notice that the water will become milky. Drain the water and repeat. Keep doing this until the water is clear – it will take about five or six times but can take up to ten times.

After the rice is washed cover with 6 cups lukewarm water and 1 tbsp of salt. Allow the rice to soak for at least 30 minutes. This step is optional but the longer it soaks, the more flavourful and fluffy the rice will be.

Fill a large non-stick pot ¾ full with water with 1 tbsp salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the soaking rice and add to the pot of boiling water. Turn down the heat slightly to medium-high (it should still be boiling) and boil for 8-10 minutes stirring occasionally. You will notice that the rice will not only expand, it will rise to the top of the water when it is almost ready.

Make sure to taste the rice as you go along. When it is ready it should be soft but not mushy and over-cooked. Drain the rice and rinse very lightly with lukewarm water.

Clean out and dry your pot. Pour enough canola oil in your pot to just cover the bottom. Cover the bottom of your pot with a single layer of sliced potatoes. Pour the saffron water over the potatoes.

Using a spatula gently sprinkle the rice in the pot forming a bit of a pyramid over the potatoes. Using the back of a wooden spoon poke three holes in the rice. Pour a mixture of ¼ cup water with 2 tbsp of canola oil over the rice. Cover and turn the heat up to medium high for 10 minutes.

Turn down the heat to medium low and take a clean dish towel and cover the lid of the pot (tie the ends so they don’t burn). This is so the steam doesn’t go back into the rice.  Make sure that the lid is on tightly. Alternatively you can use a double layer of paper towel between the pot and lid. Let the rice steam for 30-40 minutes.

When the rice is done, use a spatula to gently sprinkle the rice onto a serving dish. This will help ensure that the grains of rice separate and are fluffy. Invert the pot onto a plate to loosen the delicious and crispy ta-dig. Enjoy!

*When you buy saffron it comes in strands. Use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind it into a powder.