Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kale Me Once and Kale Me Twice and Kale Me Once Again

Happy New Year!  Hope you all finished your 2012 with much satisfaction and started the new one on a happy and healthy note.  We have started our routine with kids back in school, hubby back to work and me doing the things that I do (cook, clean, chauffeur, administer play dates, workout when I can and stay healthy).

Speaking of staying healthy, I was introduced to kale by a friend of mine not long ago.  This was at a dinner party and she had prepared this fantastic kale salad (the dinosaur kind) with Pecorino cheese dusted all over it.  It was one of the most unassuming and most delicious salads that I had ever had!  In fact, I loved it so much that I had three servings of it that night.  I asked how she made it and it was as simple as one could think, except that you really need to make this one in advance in order for the dressing to really do its job on the giant kale leaves.  From that night on, I can honestly say that I am a kale addict!  I have been buying kale from my Farmer's Market every weekend; making kale salad and storing it in large containers in my refrigerator.  Typically, these last me for 2-3 days which I have everyday for lunch with different variations.  The only difference is that I buy the curly ones not the dinosaur since that's what my market has to offer.

Some facts about kale (courtesy of Wikipedia): Kale is a form of cabbage in which the central leaves do not form a head.  Some kale plants can reach the height of six or seven feet.  Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C and rich in calcium.  The most common leaves that you might find are the curly kale and the dinosaur kale (also known as Tuscan kale or Tuscan cabbage).  I don't remember seeing kale in Iran, but that doesn't mean there may not be any.  So, here is a simple kale salad recipe that you can add your favorite ingredients to.

Fresh Curly Kale

Basic Kale Salad

A bunch of fresh kale about 8 cups – washed, dried and de-stemmed
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Wash and thoroughly dry the kale.  Using your fingers, take the stem off of each leaf.  Break off the leaves into smaller pieces and put in a container.  Mix all the other ingredients in a small bowl and pour over the chopped kale.  Close the container and shake gently side to side.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours up to 3 days.

I thought this might be a healthy option for your upcoming Superbowl party!  Set up a "Kale Salad Bar" with different "add-on" options so people can create their own favorite kale salad.  I think this will be a hit, don't you?

Here's a kale salad with cooked garbanzo beans and cherry tomatoes that I had the other day.

 Kale Salad with Garbanzo Beans & Cherry Tomatoes

 Another day, I had my kale salad with 1/2 of a persimmon that I sliced with some toasted pumpkin seeds.

 Kale Salad with Persimmon and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Today, I added crumbled feta cheese, sliced Persian cucumbers and toasted pistachio nuts on top and it was absolutely delicious.

Kale Salad with Feta, Persian Cucumbers & Pistachios

For your upcoming Superbowl, you can add as many options as you like to your kale salad bar and let your guests make their own favorite combination.

And yes, I consider garbanzo beans, persimmon, Persian cucumber, pistachios and feta cheese Persian ingredients ;)

Have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cardamom Truffles Are the Next Best Thing

So, it's that time of the year again.  Why, you ask?  Holidays are just around the corner and for some holidays are already here.  I had been thinking of some new recipes to post and just can't help but posting something sweet and amazing.  If you remember, I posted a couple of chocolate truffle recipes with a Persian twist last year.  I thought why not doing a different variation while staying true to my Persian roots...

Once again, This is being tried for the very first time and I hope that they turn out as amazing as they sound in my head ;)  It's funny, how we start with a theory and it almost always sounds perfect and amazing; then you try to execute based on the knowledge you have and the information that you gather.  The result is not always so great!  This kind of takes me back to my engineering days or even research days at the engineering school.  Everything always sounded great in theory IF you had enough information to back it up.  My partners and I even designed and made a prototype for a Sequential Transmission made of wood and plastic.  Our advisers and professors seemed to "buy" the idea since we had a book published with information to support it.   Who knows if the "real" thing actually worked or not - by then, we had graduated.  My point is that it's not always easy to come up with recipes like this.  Remember my last blog?  The science of baking is more complicated than we think and it definitely requires a certain knowledge and lots of practice.

So, let's keep our fingers crossed and hope that these truffles will taste as amazing as they sound!

By the way, did you know that cardamom is the world's third most expensive spice by weight?  The other two are saffron and vanilla!  Cardamom is used for flavoring food and drinks.  There are different types of cardamom but the most common ones are green and black.  Cardamom has a strong, unique taste with an intense aroma. Black cardamom has a distinctly more smokey - though not bitter - aroma with a coolness some consider similar to mint.  Green cardamom is one of the most expensive spices by weight, but little is needed to impart the flavor. It is best stored in pod form because once the seeds are exposed or ground, they quickly lose their flavor.  Grinding the pods and seeds together lowers both the quality and the price.

Cardamom Plant (image: wikipedia)

In Iran, cardamom is often used in sweet dishes, cakes and so forth; however, in some countries it's also used in savory dishes.  In my household, my mother always put a cracked green cardamom in a tea pot while making fresh brewed black tea.  This has now become a tradition in my own home when I make tea.  It gives tea a certain flavor and aroma that you must just try.

Green Cardamom Pods

Dark chocolate Cardamom Truffles

½ cup of semisweet chocolate
½ cup of bittersweet chocolate
1 cup of heavy cream
½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon whole green cardamom
Finely chopped pistachio nuts (or any nuts of your choice)

Do-ahead: crack the cardamoms using a mortar and drop them in pre-measured heavy cream.  Cover and seal well.  Leave in the refrigerator overnight (for at least 24 hours) to infuse the cream.

Cardamom-infused heavy cream

Chop the chocolates finely with a sharp knife. Place them in a heat-proof mixing bowl.

Pour the cream into a small sauce pan using a small sieve to collect the cardamom seeds and shells (you can also use the back of a small spoon to push down on the cardamoms to squeeze the cream out).

Using a small sieve to collect cardamom shells/seeds

Heat the cream until it starts to boil. Turn off the heat and allow the cream to sit for about 10 seconds.  Then add the cream to the bowl with chocolate.  With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and melted chocolate together until the chocolate is completely mixed with cream.  Whisk in the vanilla extract.  Set aside at room temperature (this may take up to 3-4 hours so be patient).

Using a small ice cream scoop, drop a dollop of chocolate onto a cutting board lined with parchment paper.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes, until firm. Roll each dollop of chocolate in your hands to roughly make a round ball.  In a paper bag, add finely chopped pistachios.  Drop a couple of round truffles and close the bag tightly and shake gently so the truffle balls are coated.  Makes 24 truffles!

Dark Chocolate Cardamom Truffles

You can keep the truffles refrigerated, but serve at room temperature.

So these turned out amazing.  You must try them.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Persimmon Nut Bread Made Me Nuts

Have you ever eaten a fresh persimmon?  They are fantastic.  My grandparents used to have a persimmon tree in their backyard and when they were in season, my cousin and I would pick them off the tree, wipe them with our shirt and start eating them.  They are very sweet, but you have to make sure that they are ripened otherwise they have a "funny" taste and you wouldn't want to eat them again!

 Persimmon Flower (image from wikipedia)

I have personally seen two different types of persimmon in the U.S. - the flatter one (which I used to eat in Iran) and the heart-shaped one or Hachiya persimmon.  It's best to leave this fruit at room temperature until it's soft and ready to eat.  Persimmons are eaten fresh, dried, raw or cooked. When eaten fresh they are usually eaten whole like an apple or cut into quarters, though with some varieties it is best to peel the skin first.  One way to consume very ripe persimmons, which can have the texture of pudding, is to remove the top leaf with a paring knife and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.  Riper persimmons can also be eaten by removing the top leaf, breaking the fruit in half and eating from the inside out.  The flesh ranges from firm to mushy, and the texture is unique.  The flesh is very sweet and when firm due to being unripe, possesses an apple-like crunch.  Persimmons contain high levels of dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and manganese.  They are also rich in vitamin C and beta carotene. 

Fresh Persimmons

During my last trip at Costco, I bought one box of each kind!  I have been eating one persimmon a day (sometimes even two).  I still have plenty of persimmons that I left out to ripen.  So naturally, I wanted to do something different with them.  A while back, a friend of mine, shared a great berry-nut bread recipe with me that I improvised and have been using for all kinds of berries and nut combinations.  I decided to incorporate my leftover persimmons in this recipe and see what happens.  This recipe has not been tried yet as I'm writing this blog!  It can either be a hit or miss... so, let's find out together ;)
So my first attempt was a disaster!  It came out pretty horrible and gooey - not exactly what you expect from a bread!  My toothpick test passed (after allowing additional 10-minute baking), so I pulled the loaf out of the oven.  I let the loaf cool and watching it slowly deflate - not a good sign probably.  As I was trying to cut a slice, my knife wasn't doing its job since it was too sticky.  I should've known as I was pouring the batter into the pan... it just didn't seem to have the consistency that I normally get.  Persimmons also have a lot of water in them and that's exactly what happened...  So, back to the drawing board! By the way, have I ever mentioned that I am not good at baking?  Cooking comes much easier to me than baking since I like to taste as I move along. 

1st try = disaster

Since I hate wasting food, I decided to slice the loaf and put them back in the oven until the gooey portion bakes and becomes firm.  That way, I could also taste them and change the recipe as needed; hence the above picture!

Okay, it's now 4 days later... I "adjusted" the recipe and it was a success!  What a relief - I was so worried about wasting ingredients.  Below is the "good" recipe and result and the great thing is that it tastes pretty good.  What I liked about it was that it gives you that cozy holiday season feel without adding too many seasonal ingredients. 

Persimmon Nut Bread

1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cardamom powder

¼ cup melted butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup apple juice       

1 ripened Hachiya persimmon – scooped out and puréed in food processor

½ cup chopped walnuts

Persimmon scooped out with spoon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter a 9 ½ x 6 loaf pan.  Mix the dry ingredients.  Mix the 2nd group of ingredients – make sure the melted butter is cooled before adding the egg, otherwise you might end up with scrambled egg!  Then add to the flour mixture and mix well.  If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment on a low speed.  Stir in the persimmon purée and walnuts using a spatula.  Bake for 50 minutes until the toothpick comes out clean.  Cool and remove from pan.

Persimmon Nut Bread

Enjoy and have a wonderful week.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Long Time, No Blogging!

Hi!  Remember me, the Persian Foodie?!  Yes, it has once again been a while since I got close to my keyboard to write anything.  I won't bore you with the detail on why, let's just say that time was not on my side!

Anyhow, have you been eating any good Persian food lately?  I ran into a neighbor of mine who has been kid of inspired to follow my blog and eat Persian food.  She and her husband were so excited to let me know - that while out of town - they dined at a Persian restaurant and their 18-month old also loved it.  Made me so proud.

You might remember that Fall is one of my favorite seasons.  When I go to my local farmers' market, I pick up a lot of fall vegetables.  I tend to make a lot of soups during this time of year with whatever vegetable I have in hand.  However, one vegetable that I simply steam and eat as a snack is one of the least favored one by most people: TURNIP.  You have to trust me on this one.  I know it may not smell all that pleasant, especially while cooking it, but it will taste great if you just follow my suggestion.

Turnip is a root vegetable.  The most common type is white-skinned except from the upper part which protrude above the ground and are purple, red or greenish wherever sunlight has fallen.  The interior flesh is all white.  The leaves grow directly from the above-ground shoulder of the root.  Turnip leaves
are sometimes eaten as "turnip greens", and they resemble mustard greens in flavor.  Very small turnips - also called baby turnips - are specialty varieties. These are only available when freshly harvested.  Their flavor is mild, so they can be eaten raw in salads like radishes and other vegetables.  Turnip's root is high in vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant and also acts an anti-inflammatory; the green leaves are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and calcium.

Fresh Turnips
Now that you are all educated about turnip (thanks to, I can tell you how I ate it growing up.  I remember that I never liked having turnips due to the scent that they have.  It automatically turned me off which I can understand why some people refrain from eating them.  But as I grew older, I tended to really enjoy them.  My mother used to buy the baby ones, slice them thin in a shallow bowl, add a little salt and vinegar, let them sit (tightly covered) in the fridge for a little bit and then serve them.  They were really good.  The vinegar really took out that bitterness out but left the peppery flavor in.  This was usually served with our salad and whatever meal we were having.  It had a very fresh flavor of a pickled vegetable which was commonly made in my house.

Another way that turnip was offered in my house on a fall afternoon, was in a steamed form.  Here's how to make and consume them! 

Steamed Turnips

Bunch of smallish-medium sized turnips (about 4-5 turnips) – cleaned & washed with the skin on
¾ Cup water
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
Freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a small sauce pan, add the turnips and water.  Water should not cover the turnips since we are steaming them rather than boiling them!  Put the lid on and bring to a boil, then let it simmer until the turnips are fork-tender (you can easily poke them with a fork without any resistance) about 35-45 minutes.
Steaming Turnips

 Put the turnips out on a plate to cool.  Once they reach room temperature cut them in small wedges.  Add freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Eat immediately!

Steamed Turnips

I recently offered this "mid-day snack" to out sitter.  She politely refused to try it, but changed her mind after I asked her how she had it before...  She actually enjoyed it and said that she didn't think the simple seasoning could make a difference!  There you have it - I actually converted her to like turnips with my simple seasoning :) 

Enjoy your week.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer Just Got More Interesting with This Squash Salad

One thing that I really love about nicer weather is having a Farmer's Market about 2 blocks away from my house every Sunday.  It's something that I look forward to on the weekends.  I usually have a list prior to making a trip and of course end up buying more fresh and pickled ingredients.

There are a few stands that typically have different types of summer squashes/zucchinis that I don't usually see at our local super markets, but are very familiar to me.  They are smallish, stripe-ish, bellied up, lighter greenish and so forth!  These types of zucchinis remind me of back home where they were packed with flavors and much less water content.

On my last trip to Iran, a friend took me out for dinner at this beautiful restaurant which was in the garden of an old palace that was now turned into a gallery and a book shop.  I ordered a "zucchini salad" dish as a starter.  Not only it looked so pretty on a plate, but it also tasted amazing!  I remember taking every bite and trying to figure out all the flavors and the ingredients in this dish.  It was so refreshing and only left me wanting more...  Ever since, I have been wanting to try this dish and now that I have access to all these amazing types of summer squashes and zucchinis, I can finally try to execute this dish (from my memory nearly 11 months ago).

Fresh Summer Squash from Farmers' Market

Summer Squash Salad

4 small squashes – washed and thinly sliced
1/3 cup sliced almonds – lightly toasted
Few springs of fresh mint – washed and julienned
Few springs of fresh dill – washed and separated

¼ cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

This recipe makes 2 large plates.

On a large plate lay out the sliced summer squashes.  Pour the dressing over it and sprinkle the mint and dill.  Add the toasted sliced almonds and serve.

Thinly slice the squashes either using the slicer side of the grater or using a very sharp knife...

 Summer Squash Salad

This dish definitely took me back home and it tastes exactly how I remembered it :)  I hope you enjoy it just as much.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mixed Berry and Mint Syrup Fizz

Happy Monday!  We have officially survived the heat waves here, but I feel so bad for those slightly below us as well as in the middle of the U.S. who are still going through the super high temperatures.

So, I made a mistake of not signing up my son for camp this week (granted, I sent the application in early February), so now I have to come up with whatever entertainment I possibly can to divert him from his video games or even watching TV all day long.  Back in February, I thought we might go away for this particular week considering that July 4th is on a Wednesday.  Well, it didn't quite work out like that...

Although Mondays are my sitter days - which allows me to do things that I otherwise cannot do with my kids in tow - I decided to make a day trip for the kids and our sitter to a relatively new park in Brooklyn (since we haven't been there yet, it's new to us).  There is a new carousel all covered in glass called Jane's Carousel.  I once noticed this beauty while riding a subway on the Manhattan Bridge and decided that I should bring the kids for a visit.  When I started googling this carousel to find out how I could get there with 2 kids, I found out that this carousel is a restored historic carousel from 1922.  I became even more eager to check it out.  I must say that it is a beauty in a glass!  If you live around here, you must go for a visit - it is located in the DUMBO section of the Brooklyn Bridge Park.  The surrounding area and the park are also so pretty with a great view of Manhattan.  Luckily, there was also a playground for the kids to run around as well.

 Jane's Carousel (Photo from their web site)

Looking South - Brooklyn Bridge

Looking North - Manhattan Bridge 

We ended up having a great time and eating lunch in the area.   By the time we got back, I had enough time to write a new blog!  Over the weekend, since the weather was so hot, I made this drink for the hubby.  He loves carbonated water, so this was the perfect cooling beverage on a hot summer day for him.  I once again, used him as my tester and luckily I passed this time!  I couldn't be happier - he's a very tough/honest critic.

Berries of choice: blueberry, strawberry, raspberry
2 cubes of the frozen mint syrup
Ice cubes
Carbonated water of choice

In an 8oz glass mix all the ingredients.  Mix well and enjoy the flavors!

 Mixed Berry & Mint Syrup Fizz

This can also count as my red, white and blue :)  Happy 4th of July everyone.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Heatwave and Watermelon Salad

Couldn't be happier that my kids started summer camp this week.  What a relief!  So, for the past three weeks with school year coming to an end, I was busy with my kids' end of school year events, plays, picnics,"graduations," and even days off here and there.  Everyone's schedule was off, including me.  I missed my Pilates workout for 3 weeks in a row and I wasn't able to blog as much as I would've liked.  My kids had a week off last week before starting their summer camps this week.  So, I was the sole entertainer/tour guide for a whole week.  I must tell you that it's no easy task to go around town on public transportation with 2 toddlers and different personalities.  Not to mention the bathroom trips with my newly potty-trained little girl...  My son who is the older one - and almost never had any tantrums growing up - suddenly had the most tantrums compared to my daughter who is the younger one (and always has tantrums).  It truly was a treat...  I got a sense of what it would be like to have a teenager around the house.  So you can imagine how much happier I am sending them off to a place where other people get to entertain them for a few hours and I trust that they will be much happier spending their days with other kids.

Yes, I am no super mom - just a regular mom.

With the heatwave slowly making its way to north east, I have already started lecturing my kids about drinking lots of water and staying out of the sun.  I don't know about you, but I tend to lose my appetite on hot days and start indulging on cool treats: ice cream, sorbet, Popsicle and so forth.  However, my favorite thing to have on a hot summer day is watermelon!  I just can't get enough of it.  Frankly, I think it is the best summer snack or even a meal.  It has a high water content, yet sweet enough to get you going.  Not to mention that it cools you off too.

Some fun facts about watermelon: Did you know that watermelon is a good source of vitamin C?  Well, it's true.  Watermelon rinds are also edible and contain many hidden nutrients but most people avoid eating them due to their unappealing flavor.  I remember one of my aunts used to salt the rinds and eat them - she claimed they tasted very good.  Watermelon is also diuretic which means it elevates the rate of urination.  So, please avoid eating watermelon on long car rides - just a little advice!

One of the hot summer day meals in my household growing up was feta cheese on flat bread, served with watermelon and fresh herbs.  Still, to this day, you might meet a Persian who suggests this dish when it's hot outside.  I personally never liked the idea of mixing sweet and savory and only slowly trying to have an open mind about this mixture!  I just thought that you don't mix your salty with your sweet.  First, you have your meal, then indulge in something sweet afterwards.  Chocolate covered peanuts make no sense to me, nor do chocolate covered pretzels and so forth.  But that's just me.  I am starting to actually see more trends of mixing sweet and salty.  Suddenly caramel with sea salt is all the rage.  Granted, it tastes good and it's an interesting combination, but c'mom it's not all that exciting!

So, the recipe for today is inspired from the mentioned meal above with my little twist.  It's sweet and savory all in one plate!

Watermelon Salad

Watermelon – cut into small ½” thick triangle wedges
1/3 cup feta cheese – diced into small cubes
1/4 cup toasted pistachio nuts – shelled
1 tablespoon fresh mint – washed and julienned
1 teaspoon mint syrup

Flat bread or Lavash bread (optional for the carb lovers)

Please note: the measurements are not critical for this recipe.

On a large plate arrange your watermelon slices.  Add the feta, mint and toasted pistachio nuts.  Drizzle the mint syrup over them.  Serve immediately with or without bread.

 Watermelon Salad

Happy 1st day of summer :)