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.