Monday, 22 March 2010

Aash-e reshteh: Ottolenghi's take on the Persian soup

Happy Persian New Year! It's No Ruz again and that means aash-e reshteh (Iranian noodle soup) at the Saffron household.

A couple of weeks back, Yotam Ottolenghi posted this recipe for legume and noodle soup in his New Vegetarian column on the Guardian website. One look at the picture and I was mitten. It wasn't until I read through the recipe that I realized it was the Ottolenghi take on aash-e reshteh! And just in time for the spring equinox, and No Ruz. I knew I had to try it!

Chock-full of greenery to celebrate the arrival of spring, I have always thought of aash-e reshteh as a herb and spinach noodle soup, but I guess there are other interpretations (g). With three different legumes--chickpeas, butterbeans and yellow split peas--legume-lovers will certainly cheer at Ottolenghi's version (g).

The soup has a lovely velvetiness from the yellow split peas and is garnished beautifully with turmeric onions (you could also add some dried mint to the onion garnish, as Najmieh-khanom does), sour cream and a few reserved butterbeans and chickpeas. It's those cheffy but not fussy little Ottolenghi touches that I love. It looks lovely and tastes like spring should.

All those lovely legumes means, of course, that you are going to have to get them recipe-ready (almost, but not quite cooked). The easy way--if you have a pressure cooker-- is to soak and cook each variety separately. After soaking for 8 hours, it only took me about 10 minutes to get both legumes cooked up this way (around 2.5 min for the chickpeas once they came to pressure, and around 6 min for the "butterbeans" (in my case a pricey larger Japanese variety called shirohana-mame). Real butterbeans would probably take less time, I suppose.) I don't soak with bi-carb soda, but it could make a difference to the cooking time, who knows? When in doubt about cooking times, err on the side of caution with a pressure cooker. You can always cook some more if you need to.

Does all that sound like a lot of work? It's really not. I made this version much quicker than the Najmieh Batmaglij recipe I usually follow from Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies. And the results were just as fabulous, even substituting hard-to-find ingredients like kashk (whey paste) with readily available ingredients like sour cream and vinegar. I'm now hard-pressed to say which version I prefer!

I have been tickled pink to see Ottolenghi showcasing Persian cooking of late; first with eggplant kuku and now aash-e reshte. With food this moreish, all I can say is More please!

Legume noodle soup: Ottolenghi's take on aash-e reshteh

Serves 8

125 g dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight with 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
125 g dried butterbeans, soaked in water overnight with 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
2 large onions, thinly sliced
10 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
80 g clarified butter
1½ tsp turmeric
Salt and black pepper
225 g yellow split peas
Roughly 2 litres vegetable stock
35 g chopped parsley
35 g chopped coriander
15 g chopped dill
100 g spring onion, thinly sliced
150 g baby spinach
100 g reshteh (or linguine) [S: broken in half]
150 g soured cream, plus 1 tsp per portion to finish
1½ tbsp white wine vinegar
4 limes, halved

1 Drain and rinse both the chickpeas and butterbeans, then either boil them separately in lots of fresh water until almost cooked – anywhere ­between 25 and 55 min, or cook under low pressure for around 2.5 min for the chickpeas and around 5 min for the butterbeans, once they come to pressure – and drain. Reserve a few of each legume as a garnish

2 In a large, heavy-based pot, sauté the onion, garlic and butter on ­medium heat for 20 minutes, or ­until soft and golden-brown. Stir in the turmeric and some salt and ­pepper, then lift a third of this mix from the pot and transfer to a dish for use later.

3 Add the chickpeas and butterbeans to the pot, then add the split peas and stock. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off the froth occasionally, or until the peas are tender. Add the herbs, spring onion and ­spinach, stir and cook for 15 minutes more; add extra stock (or water) if the soup is very thick. Taste and season generously.

4 Add the noodles and cook for about 10 minutes, so that they are just done. Stir in the soured cream and vinegar, adjust the seasoning and serve at once, garnished with extra soured cream and the reserved cooked onion mix. Serve lime halves to squeeze over every portion.


Sunday, 7 March 2010

Kotmis Garo: Georgian chicken with garlic and walnut sauce

I've been meaning to delve further into Georgian cooking for ages. The cuisine's tart, herby and garlicky tastes are like a red rag to a bull to me. Even just reading the recipes, I know the big, bold tastes are going to excite my taste buds.

This recipe comes from Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook by Anya von Bremzen & John Welchman. I can't tell you how much of a treasure this book is. Written in the dying years of the USSR, it covers all the states of the Union. The vastness of the USSR ensures that many of the world's great cuisines are represented in or at least influence "Russian" food. That makes this book, alongside other favourites likeThe Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden and Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian Cookbook, a real tour de force tour of the the world's cuisines.

I've heard it said more than once that Georgian cuisine is the "best" of the Soviet cuisines. I can't verify that, but I can easily see the attraction. Take this recipe: chicken marinated with garlic, lemon and olive oil, roasted, then slathered in a walnut-garlic sauce spiked with coriander, fenugreek, turmeric and cayenne pepper--a pared-back approximation of the Georgian spice mix khmeli-suneli.

Given the Young Man's more delicate palate, I had to cut back on the cayenne, which would have changed the flavour profile quite a bit. But to me, the sauce was like nothing I'd ever tasted before. Garlicky, a little sharp, a little herby, a little rich from the walnuts and a little musty (if you'd call it that) from the spices. Considering that it is made with finely chopped nuts, it is very smooth: perhaps the nuts "dissolve" a little when they come in contact with the liquid? Georgian cuisine has many delectable sauces, and this is just one.

The original recipe called for fresh tarragon. That herb is sometimes available here, but not on the day I did the shopping, so I substituted chervil, which has a similar anisey note. If you do the same, I reckon up the amount you use, as it is much subtler than tarragon.

As recommended in the OR, I served this with a tomato and garlic salad (recipe also in Please to the Table) and a vinaigrette dressed French potato salad. That was a lot of lip-smacking tartness, so next time I'd do the potatoes with a creamier dressing.

You need to start marinating this dish at least 6 hours, and make the sauce at least 2 hours before you plan to eat. The actual cooking will take just over half an hour, though.

Both the YM and I were licking our fingers after this.

Kotmis Garo: Georgian chicken with garlic and walnut sauce

Serves 4

4 large chicken legs, skin on
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
50 ml olive oil
150 ml lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 sprigs fresh tarragon, stems crushed with the back of a knife

For the garlic and walnut sauce
3/4 cup walnut pieces
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup fresh coriander
1/2 cup chicken stock, warm (not hot)
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt, to taste
1/8 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp ground fenugreek
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1 Rub the chicken pieces thoroughly with salt and pepper.

2 Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon and additional salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the chicken and turn to coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for a least 6 hours, turning occasionally.

3 Meanwhile, prepare the garlic and walnut sauce. In a food processor, combine the walnuts, garlic and half of the fresh coriander. Process until the walnuts are finely ground.

4 Transfer to a bowl and stir in the stock, lemon juice to taste, salt coriander, fenugreek, cayenne, turmeric and the remaining fresh coriander. Let the sauce stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.

5 Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Heat a large frying pan over high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and, without drying, place meat side down in the pan. Sear for about 3 min, turn once and sear the skin side for about 3 min. Place in hot oven and roast for 30 minutes, turning and basting with the remaining marinade once so that the skin side takes on a golden colour.

6 Serve accompanied by sprigs of fresh coriander, tarragon and mint.


Thursday, 4 March 2010

Fried potatoes with paprika and mint

I was in a bind. I'd not done the weekly grocery shop as fridge space and time was at a premium getting ready for my big party. I literally just had staples in the house, and no chance to get groceries in before the weekend! It was a bit of a challenge, but the Young Man and I managed to eat very well, thanks to a binder full of recipes like this one I printed up ages ago from NPR.

S&L readers will probably already be familiar with the quintessentially Turkish paprika-mint flavour profile. It seems to have been news to NPR food writer T Susan Chang, however. She charmingly tells of her discovery here, and throws in a few recipes for good measure, including some adaptations of recipes from Australia's very own Greg and Lucy Malouf!

Essentially just potatoes, fat and spices, these are totally addictive! I made them to go with a red lentil soup (not the one in the article), so we had a Turkish supper made only from kitchen cupboard basics. I reckon these would also be great with beers (if you're into that) or instead of potato chips in front of the TV (if you have time for that).

I've upped the paprika and mint by 50% below, and added some cayenne to my own portion. Enough is just never enough with some people (g).

Fried potatoes with paprika and mint

900 g yellow-fleshed potatoes, such as Yukon gold or carola
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons sweet paprika, divided
1 1/2 tablespoon dried mint, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

1 Fill a large saucepan with water; add the potatoes and as much salt as if you were cooking pasta. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size of potatoes, or until you can just pierce them with a sharp skewer. They shouldn't fall apart. Drain the potatoes and set aside to cool.

2 When the potatoes are cool enough to handle (and don't rush it), cut into 8 mm slices with a sharp knife. If you have large potatoes, divide them lengthwise in half before you start slicing, so you end up with half-moons rather than coins.

3 Heat the largest, heaviest skillet you have — cast iron works best — over high heat until it makes a water droplet dance. Add the olive oil, swirl it and immediately add the potatoes, half the paprika and half the mint. Spread the potatoes out into a single layer as best you can (you may need to do two batches). Let them cook without disturbing for 3 or 4 minutes, or until they have formed a gorgeous golden crust. Flip them over with a spatula, and cook the other side the same way, for 3 or 4 minutes. (If you're really obsessive about getting a good crust, as I am, you may find yourself swapping the outside potatoes into the center a few times.) [Me too, Susan]

4 Season with the remaining paprika and mint, and salt to taste. You don't really need pepper, but you might like it. Serve immediately.