Monday, 29 October 2012

Rhubarb-hazelnut meringue cake

Rhubarb-hazelnut meringue cake
I wanted a drop-dead rhubarb dessert to use up the rhubarb left over from making that lovely Persian stew. I was imagining something nutty; something autumnal, and found just the thing at this lovely baking blog. 

The Berry Lovely recipe is for a 26-cm cake, which would be serious overkill for two people, even if I had a cake tin big enough! Luckily, the Young Man owed me one and agreed to scale it down to fit our equipment. With his graphic calculator. Knew it would come in handy someday : )

The cake was everything I hoped it would be: tart, but sweet and fabulously nutty--it even stood up to being prized out of a regular cake tin after I failed to heed the instructions about using a springform tin! The only teensy little problem is that it really doesn't keep well. Next time, I'll have enough friends over to make sure there are no leftovers.

Rhubarb-hazelnut meringue cake

Makes one 19 cm cake

For the cake layer
96 g butter
60 g castor sugar
2.5 egg yolks
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
120 g flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
90 ml milk

For the meringue layer
2.5 egg whites
160 g castor sugar
50 g ground hazelnut
300 g rhubarb
2 tbsp hazelnut slices

1 Preheat the oven to 180° C. Line a 19-cm  springform cake tin with grease-proof paper.

2 In a bowl beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and mix until incorporated. Add the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder, and add to the mixture, alternating with the milk.

3 Pour the mixture into the prepared springform tin and bake for about 20-25 min. Take out of the oven and let cool slightly. Lower the oven temperature to 160°C.

4 Clean the rhubarb and cut into small pieces. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then gradually add the castor sugar and beat until stiff. Fold in the ground hazelnuts and the rhubarb pieces. Spread the meringue on the cake base and sprinkle with the sliced hazelnuts.

5 Put the cake back in the oven and bake for another 35-40 min. Cool the cake on a wire rack before removing it from the tin.


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Khoresht-e rivas: Persian stew with rhubarb, mint and lemon

Persian stew with rhubarb, mint and lemon
When I was a little girl in Scotland, we lived in a big sandstone house with a huuuge back garden (or so it seemed then). Growing in the garden were such things as grow readily in that mostly-dismal climate: gooseberries, potatoes and... rhubarb! As a sneaky treat, we kids would pull off a stalk and "dook it in a poke of sugar". Knowing me, though, I probably ditched the bag of sugar and ate my share au naturel. My passion for sour things goes way back!

Rhubarb is not readily available in Japan and it was years since I'd had it. It has been in the back of my mind, though, as it seems to have been enjoying a surge of popularity in the UK the last few years and my favourite foodie haunts are full of rhubarb recipes. When a translator friend posted pictures on Facebook of rhubarb dishes his wife had made and, better yet, let it be known that she actually has it for sale, I knew my time had come!

And what better reintroduction to rhubarb than this Persian stew, adapted from one in Pomegranates and Roses: My Persian Family Recipes by Ariana Bundy. I bought the book as soon as it came out and it is fast becoming one of my favourite Persian cookbooks. The spicier "Gulf" dishes are especially welcome, as many similar books on Persian cooking tend to focus on the dominant cuisine and skip the regional delights. Better yet, quite a few of the recipes, including this one, are doable on a weeknight!

The khoresh is tart but not too tart, and wonderfully fresh-tasting with all that lovely mint. I prefer to kepps some for garnishing with before serving, but in Iran, they would all be cooked with stew. Watch the rhubarb carefully for doneness. You want the pieces to stay whole and not disintegrate. Mine were ready in less than five minutes after hitting the pot!
Khoresht-e rivas: Persian stew with rhubarb, mint and lemon

Serves 6

1 large onion, chopped into small dice
1 stalk celery, chopped into small dice
1 kg chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp brown sugar, or to taste
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
1-1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
25 g fresh mint, finely chopped
150 g flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
650 ml unsalted chicken stock
1 tsp dried mint
750 g rhubarb, cut into 5 cm pieces on the diagonal
1/2 tsp saffron threads ground in a small mortar and dissolved in 2-3 tbsp hot water

1. In a heavy pot over a medium-high heat, heat the olive oil and brown the onion, celery and chicken until the vegetables are golden and the meat is seared--about 10 minutes. Stirring frequently, add the garlic cloves, butter, turmeric, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Stir in 2/3 of the fresh herbs. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the stock and dried mint. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.

2. Add the rhubarb, lemon juice and saffron liquid and bring to the boil, without stirring too much to avoid breaking up the rhubarb. The stew is cooked when the rhubarb is cooked, but not falling apart.

3. Check the seasoning: if it is too tart, add more sugar and if not tart enough, balance it with a little more lemon juice. Scatter over the remaining fresh herbs and serve immediately.


Friday, 20 July 2012

The little recipe that could: Sultana, walnut and yogurt salad

Sultana, walnut & yogurt salad
This is shaping up to be my recipe rave of the year. It's a real find!

Imagine savory fried onions stirred into strained yogurt. A generous portion of broken walnuts for crunch, some lime to jazz things up, a big splash of hot garlic-mint oil and a crowning of  more walnuts and luscious, sweet sultanas (golden raisins) or dates, as in the original.

It's a mosaic of flavours and textures in the mouth. A truly extraordinary delight.

I pinched the idea from Irish food diva Diana Henry's Cook Simple: Effortless Cooking Every Day. Diana pinched it from the late Armenian polymath Arto Der Haroutunian's Middle Eastern Cookery, and Arto pinched it from any one of a multitude of ways that dates, walnuts and yogurt (or whey) are combined traditionally in dishes called kaleh joosh in Iran. Good food travels; across continents and down through time!

Amazingly, Diana's recipe is merely an accompaniment to a lamb dish. It is one of many great recipes in Cook Simple, a fabulous cookbook for the greedy cook with a bent for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours and very little weeknight cooking time on her hands. And one that can easily take centre stage on a meze table.

For those interested, the kaleh joosh recipe in Middle Eastern Cookery sprinkles flour over the fried onions, adds the yogurt and brings it almost to the boil. Dried mint (rather than the fresh in Diana's take) is used in the oil and the whole thing is topped with saffron water, dates and walnuts. Other versions you can find on the Net include soup-like concoctions, some even with meatballs in them!

Since Greek yogurt is not readily available in Japan, I strain a tub of plain yogurt and use that instead. You can do this by putting the yogurt in a sieve lined with kitchen paper over a bowl, or, to speed things up,  twisting the top of the kitchen paper closed and putting the package in the sieve with a light weight (say, a tin of tomatoes on a side plate) on top. The liquor that strains off makes a lovely thirst-quenching drink.

Sultana, walnut and yogurt salad

Serves 4-6 as part of a meze table

1 large onion, finely chopped
5 tbsp olive oil
125 g Greek yogurt (or 450 g plain yogurt, strained)
40 g walnut pieces
juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
small handful mint leaves, chopped
75 g sultanas

1 If using plain yogurt, strain some of the liquid out of it in a kitchen paper-lined sieve over a bowl.

2 Fry the onion gently in 2 tbsp of the olive oil until soft and golden, Stir in the yogurt, two-thirds of the walnuts, and the lime juice. Spread this in a shallow bowl.

3 Heat the remaining olive oil and quickly fry the garlic until just golden. Add the mint and cook for another 20 sec. Drizzle over the yogurt and onion mixture.

4 Scatter on the sultanas and the remaining walnuts.


Monday, 9 July 2012

Havij polo: Reza's Persian rice with carrots

Reza's havij polo Persian rice with carrots
One of the underground passageways at Tokyo Station hosts an "open-air" market on the fourth Friday of the month. I often stop by a miso maker's stall for the interesting breads they sell. Unusual combinations like komatsuna and miso really tickle my fancy. This last month, they were also selling fresh-picked carrots with their bushy tops still on! Finally, my chance to try my dear Persian cooking teacher's rice with carrots.

It's been a while since the last Persian Table cooking class, but Reza posts delightful illustrated recipes on his blog from time to time, and this charming one really caught my eye.

The carrot tops are used as a herb in this rice, which would make a lovely accompaniment to any Persian stew (I had it with the braised broad beans below). With just a sprinkling of cinnamon and cayenne and saffron, the spicing is subtle, but exotic at the same time. Many recipes for havij polo also call for a topping of fine strips of orange peel. I used an extra splash of lemon juice instead.

If you have one, a mandolin will speed up the carrot preparation. Even if you don't, compared to other Persian rice dishes, this one is relatively quick to make.

Havij polo: Reza's Persian rice with carrots

Serves 4

320 g (2 rice cooker cups) long grain rice (Japanese rice is also fine)
pinch of saffron threads
2 tbsp boiling water
1 tbsp each butter and olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 medium-sized carrot, sliced into matchsticks
1.5 cups carrot leaves, stripped from the hard stem and chopped finely
1 tsp cinnamon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp butter (optional)
1 Wash rice several times until the water runs clear, drain and set aside. Grind the saffron with a little sugar or salt and dissolve in the boiling water.

2 Heat butter and olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat and fry the onions until soft. Turn the heat up to high and add the carrot leaves, then the carrots. Fry, stirring, until the carrots become pliant. Add the cinnamon and cayenne pepper, if using. Salt lightly, remove from the heat and add the lemon juice.

3 Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well salted water to the boil. Add the rice and stir a couple of times to ensure it does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil on medium heat for 6 minutes or until the rice is semi-cooked but still firm in the middle.  Drain into a large colander and rinse briefly with cold water.

4 Turn rice into a large bowl, stir in the saffron water and then the onion-carrot mixture. Check seasoning and add more salt if necessary.

5 Pour the remaining oil into a large pot that has a tight-fitting lid. Pile the rice mixture into the pot in a pyramid shape. Using a chopstick or skewer, push holes into the rice, all the way to the bottom of the pot. Pour water around but not over the rice. Place a clean tea towel or kitchen paper over the pot and cover with the lid. Steam for 25-30 minutes on the lowest heat possible, moving the pot around from time to time to prevent burning. Place on a damp towel for around 5 minutes to loosen the bottom and stir in the remaining butter, if desired. Serve with a Persian stew.


Friday, 6 July 2012

Caspian broad bean braise with garlic, dill and lime

Broad beans (favas) with garlic, dill and lime
This is my absolutely favourite thing to do with my very favourite spring beans. Garlic and dill are a classic combination that packs quite a punch, but this dish seems to go down well with grown-ups and kids alike (all except the Young Man, who has a thing about broad beans (and dill, for that matter)).

The recipe is adapted from one in Najmieh Batmanglij's glorious romp through the veggie side of Iranian, Afghan and Central Asian food, Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey. I adore Najmieh and love the way she can make something totally exotic and moreish out of basic ingredients. This is such a dish, and can be served with rice as a main course, or with bread as an unusual appetiser (I once took it to a pot-luck party, right in its frying pan).
Don't baulk at the head of garlic called for here. The beans can take it, believe me! And make sure you do peel the beans. It's a pain, I know, but it makes all the difference.

Najmieh says this dish is from Gilan. We didn't visit Gilan during our trip to Iran a few years back, but it was broad bean season when we were there (April-May), and our hostess in Esfahan made vinegared broad beans that the rest of us munched on while waiting for the then Much Younger Man to recover from a bout of travel exhaustion.

Actually, the Iranians seem to have a great appreciation for the broad bean. A classic dish of the Persian New Year (March 20 or 21) is baqala polo or rice with broad beans and dill. You can see Najmieh herself showing Martha Stewart how it's done here.

The broad bean season is a little later here in Japan. Luckily I have some in the fridge for another round this weekend.

Caspian broad bean braise with garlic, dill and lime

Serves 4 (or more if served as an appetiser)

500 g podded and skinned broad beans
1 tbsp vegetable oil, butter or ghee
1 bulb garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp fresh lime juice (preferably Persian lime juice)
1 cup water
1 cup chopped fresh dill, or to taste
4 large eggs

1 Heat the fat in a wok or deep frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 1 min. Add the broad beans, salt, pepper, turmeric and lime juice and stir-fry for 5 min. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce  heat, cover and simmer on medium-low hear for 15-20 min of until the beans are done. Adjust seasoning to taste. Add the dill.

2 Just before serving, break the eggs gently over the beans, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, cover and allow to simmer for 5-8 min, until the eggs are set.


Monday, 19 March 2012

Reza's Shami (Syrian) kebab

When back in Australia recently (or at least "recently" when I started writing this post (g)), I was bemoaning the time it takes to shop for groceries in the town my parents live in. I mean, aside from the sheer number of options for any given product--yogurt, say--the shop layouts are so much bigger and the massive shopping trolleys so much less manoeuvrable than ours here in Japan. Plus the three supermarkets in town all have different goodies, so you have to visit them all! Saffron Papa's comment: It takes so long because of all the weird and wonderful things you're trying to buy! Touche, I guess.

I was keen to recreate the Shami kebab and jewelled rice meal I'd learned at my Persian cooking class for my dear friends in Australia, but was having trouble getting a couple of the ingredients, namely chickpea flour and dried rose petals (for the jewelled rice). Luckily, being Persian cooking and having a whole lot of flavours going on at one time, we were able to get by without them.
I made these patties with 100% beef in Australia and they had quite a different texture to the beef-pork blend we used in the cooking class. It could be a matter of familiarity, but I actually liked the texture of the blended mince better. In Iran, of course, it would be a lamb/mutton-beef blend.

Saffron Papa and Mama were clean out of dried tarragon, so I used about 2 tbsp of fresh and was pleased with the results. Because I'd omitted the chickpea flour, my meat mixture was quite loose, but a few minutes in the fridge before cooking solved that problem.

These are the brassiest "burgers" I've yet to come across. Definitely recommended, whether with jewelled rice, another Persian rice dish, or just for something a bit interesting at your next barbecue!

Reza's Shami (Syrian) kebab

Makes 4 largish ring-shaped patties

300 g beef, pork or chicken mince
1 onion, chopped finely
3 tbsp chickpea (gram) flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp dried tarragon
1 tsp garlic paste (or crushed garlic)
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
shake of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
grilled cherry tomatoes and soft fresh herbs to garnish

1 In a large bowl, lightly kneed mince, then add the onion, chickpea flour, egg, parsley, tarragon, garlic and ginger pastes, baking powder, turmeric cayenne and salt. Kneed very well until ingredients become pasty.

2 Divide the meat in 4 and form into round patties. Using a finger, open a fairly large whole in the middle of each patty. Make the outside edges of the patties slightly thinner than the ring in the center.

3 Fry or grill on both sides until nicely browned. Serve with grilled cherry tomatoes and soft herbs and rocket.


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Nazuktan: Turkish eggplant appetizer with mint & almonds

When I was a little girl, we used to sing a little ditty about going round the mulberry bush. I had no idea what a mulberry was, but at least I knew it grew on a bush! ...Or so I thought.

The first time I saw an actual mulberry was in Shiraz, Iran--the city of roses and poetry. Two giants of classical Persian poetry are buried there, and the mulberries were growing in the mausoleum of one, Hafez. And they weren't growing on a bush, either. Our dear hostess reached up an plucked what looked like very long blackberries from a tree and offered them up to an amazed Young Man and I. I mean, is it even okay to DO that in a sacred burial place??! It turns out that it is, and the three of us enjoyed a few sweet and sour berries, while other visitors sat on the steps of the monument reading poetry in quiet tones or milled about enjoying the gardens round about.

The next time I saw mulberries was at the local park in my parents' town to the west of Melbourne. Imagine my surprise at the free bounty to be found just across the way from the jungle gym! It was not long before some Turkish picnickers joined us and, between us, we just about stripped the poor saplings of fruit. Our Turkish friends know a good thing when they see it (g).

I was not surprised, then, to find dut pekmezi (mulberry molasses) on an expedition to procure supplies from the Turkish-run Middle-Eastern superstore Basfoods in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. I thought the mulberry tartness would make this pekmez a fine substitute for the sometimes over-sweet notes of regular (grape) pekmez in this lovely blackened eggplant dip from Ghillie Basan's Classic Turkish Cookery. As it turns out, mulberry pekmez is quite sweet, too, so a little more lemon juice was required.

Nazuktan: Turkish eggplant appetizer with mint & almonds

4-5 Asian or 2 regular eggplants
juice of 1/2 lemon (or to taste)
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed with salt
1 tbsp pekmez
2-3 tbsp roasted almonds, roughly chopped
small bunch fresh mint (approx 20 g), roughly chopped
salt and fresh ground black pepper

To garnish
few whole roasted almonds
fresh mint leaves

1 Place the eggplants under a hot grill or hold them directly over a high gas flame, turning them until the skin blackens and they become very soft. Slit them open and scoop out the flesh.

2 Chop the flesh to a pulp and put it in a bowl. Add the other ingredients, except the pekmez, and mix well. Season to taste.

3 Place in a bowl and drizzle with the pekmez. Garnish with the roasted almonds and mint leaves and serve with flatbread.