Saturday, September 5, 2009

Trinity of Flavors: Sholeh Zard

One of my favorite desserts, and conveniently vegan, is Shole Zard (literally translates into "loose yellow"): a saffron, rosewater-infused rice pudding. The flavors are delicious and distinctly Persian, embodying what I call the trinity of flavors. Shole Zard is a Persian delicacy commonly served during important days, a religious holiday, a cause for a family celebration or commemoration. This dish conjures nostalgic memories of endearing, extended family dinners , and my grandmother signaling the not-yet-end of dinner with the lovely surprise; always topped with intricate, artistic designs, dazzling in cinnamon, slivered blanched almonds, and pistachios.

Shole Zard has three main ingredients: rice, saffron, and rosewater. These ingredients are both integral to the region and found in numerous Persian specialties. The origins of the dessert are unknown (at least in a google search), but likely originated in the northern parts of Iran where rice was once more predominant while others parts of the country relied more on bread.

Rice is a staple in Persian cuisine, and traces its presence in the country back to the first century AD in Susa, where the grain was unearthed in an ancient grave. The grain was likely brought from Southeast Asia or India in ancient times.

The second ingredient, saffron, was cultivated in ancient Persia by the 10th century BC throughout the empire. Invaders and trading throughout Asia brought the golden threads to far western Europe and as far east as ancient China. The love affair with the world's most expensive food continues today as Iran is the world's largest producer of the aromatic spice.

And lastly, the third pairing in the trinity, rosewater or "golab," (also this blog's namesake) is the beautiful masterpiece of Persian cuisine. It is used heavily in most desserts, including pastries, ice cream, and of course, Shole Zard. Islamic historians indicate that Islamic chemists first introduced rosewater to the region for drinking and perfuming (Wikipedia). It is no surprise however, that Persians would infuse their sweet delicacies with the fragrant flower, and bring the sweet scents of spring to the dinner table.

Shole Zard incorporates the essentials of Persian ingredients to infuse a creamy, soul-warming dessert that appeals to tastebuds and senses alike. Take a lazy Saturday afternoon, turn on your favorite Persian old school album, and get stirring. I promise the results are well worth the effort!

This isn't the best image, and so better pictures will follow soon!

Shole Zard


1 cup basmati rice
1 cup evaporated cane sugar
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup rose water
2 teaspoons ground saffron diluted in 2+ tablespoons warm water

3/4 cup slivered almonds

For garnish:
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
2 tablespoons ground pistachios
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon


1) Wash 1 cup of short grain rice. Rinse and drain the rice several times until the water runs clear. Add the rice to a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.

2) Add 7-8 cups of water into the pot of rice and partially cover with a lid. Bring the rice to a boil over medium heat, occasionally skimming the foam off the top.

3) Once your rice is soft and boiling (approximately 30 minutes), add 1 cup of sugar and stir gently to dissolve. Add an additional 2 cups of water and 1/4 cup canola oil, and stir to combine. Keep the rice partially covered and continue to cook over a medium-low heat for approximately 20 more minutes. Stir occasionally.

4) Add ½ cup of rose water, and 2 teaspoons of dissolved ground saffron threads. Pour this into the rice and stir thoroughly to combine (and watch all the flavors dance with one another!) Continue to cook, partially-covered, for another 20 minutes over low heat.

5) Remove the lid and stir well. The mixture should start to look like a thick pudding-like cream; all the water should be boiled out at this point. Add 3/4 cup slivered almonds.

6) Pour the mixture into serving dish(es) and refrigerate until shole zard solidifies.

7) Garnish with cinnamon, more slivered almonds, and sliced pistachios. Serve warm or cold.

Monday, July 20, 2009

On the Ocassion of Tiregan

Persian holidays, in tune with nature, cycles in observance of the four seasons. Mehregan, in the fall, Shabeh Yalda in the winter, Norooz in the Spring, and the legend of Tiregan in the Summer. Tiregan, the ancient rain festival celebrated in July, commemorates archangel Tir (arrow) or Tishtar (lightning bolt) who appeared in the sky to generate thunder and lightning for much needed rain. The legend of Arash-e Kamangir settles a land dispute between Iran and Turan, which lacked adequate rain. Arash was chosen to shoot his arrow on the 13th day of Tir and where the arrow landed, there would lie the border between the two kingdoms. Once the border of Turan and Iran were settled, peace and rain poured onto the two countries (Wikipedia: Tiregan).

The Iranian has more on the Zoroastrian customs and celebration of Arash-e Kamangir and Tiregan :
For reasons which I continue to speculate, Asheh Reshte and Shole Zard are traditional dishes prepared to honor the legend of the Kamangir. Even in the summer, Asheh Reshteh, a deliciously, flavorful, rich spinach soup with fresh Persian noodles, was comforting beyond measure. The entire bowl disappeared faster than you could say "Ey Arash-e Kamangir!" The recipe is simple and straight forward, but as with all Persian cuisine, requires an intensely slow cooking process with several layers of savory flavors.
3/4 cup green lentils
Water to cook lentils
1 can garbanzo beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can pinto beans (multi-colored is best)
1 navy beans beans

3/4 lb fresh baby spinach, rough chop
1 bunch+ green onions, rough chop
1 bunch parsley (optional), rough chop

2 teaspoons+ flour
Warm water

Salt, pepper, turmeric to taste

1 package raw Persian noodles

8-10 cups filter water to cover soup pot

2 large onions, diced, caramelized
4 cloves of garlic, crushed, caramelized
2 tablespoons mint, dried and minced
2 tablespoons+ olive oil
Vegan Kashk: Better than Sour Cream thinned with fresh squeezed lemon juice

Cook the lentils until tender, drain, and add cooked lentils to large pot. Optional: save water and add to soup pot for creamier texture.

Caramelize onions, add half to lentils mixture, set aside the other half.

Add other cans of beans to soup pot, cover with water, and cook for 5 minutes until beans heated through. Add spinach, green onions, and parsley. Allow to slowly simmer for 15 minutes until greens are fully cooked/wilted. Soup pot should be covered with water.

Mix flour with warm water to create thickener. Slow mix into the soup pot to thicken bean/spinach mixture. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Add raw noodles. Break noodles into thirds. Add salt, pepper, and turmeric to taste. The soup mixture should be a minty green color, from the spinach and turmeric. Allow to simmer until noodles are tender. Add filtered water as necessary to achieve the creamiest"ash" consistency.

Meanwhile, caramelize crushed garlic and dried mint leaves in olive oil until they appear a golden, yellow color. Set aside to cool.

Ladle Asheh Reshteh into a large soup pot and garnish with caramelized onions, garlic/mint, and vegan kashk. Serve immediately and prepare for a savory, delicious, summer comfort food.

Can you see the favrahar styled by the garnishes? V gave it a good shot.

A steaming bowl: perfect. The images don't justify the intense tastes and pleasures of this dish, just trust that Arash and his Tir knew what they were doing when celebrating their victory with a nice bowl of Ash.

Next post: Sholeh Zard

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chelo Kabob Koobideh

For my first attempt to veganize a steadfastly un-veganizeable Persian dish, I needed to tackle the national dish of Persians: Chelo Kabob. When Persians go out to eat, the place to go is a chelo kabob restaurant. For outdoor celebrations, Persians barbeque kabob and wrap with warn naan. 13-bedar, for example, is one of those occasions, where Persians stream into the local park en masse 13 days after Persian New Year (Norooz, or "New Day") and make kabob.

I can typically find something vegan on every restaurant menu (even the loathed steakhouse has a vegetable entree), but always forced to eat white rice and salad whenever I end up at the chelo kabob resaurant.

With Norooz quickly approaching, just five days until the first day of Spring (!), this is one feat I needed to conquer.

I made a simple Chelo with Tahdig (see previous post), along with kabob and Salad Shirazi.

Vegan Kabob Koobideh

1 package Gimme Lean Sausage
1 medium onion, grated very finely or blended
2 cloves garlic,minced
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 bunch cilantro, chopped finely
2 tablespoons sumac
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garlic powder (or to taste)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 squeeze of lemon juice, about 1 teaspoon

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Mixing with your hands is the best method. Form into small, flat patties. Refrigerate for one hour or more, best if overnight.

The Gimme Lean has zero fat, but we decided to try it on a Foreman grill. It turned out good, but a tad dry. I would suggest brushing with olive oil to keep the meat moist. Serve covered with pita or lavash bread to keep warm. We used whole wheat Afghan barbari because that's what the store downstairs had.

After refrigerating the patties overnight, my partner in crime made them for lunch the next day by browning them in grapeseed oil. The results: delicious! The flavors had time to marinate overnight, and the extra oil helped to keep the kabob koobideh moist and flavorful. I recommend this method of cooking, rationalizing that you are cutting A LOT of fat and toxins by veganizing koobideh in the first place.

Here it is cooking:

And plated with rice:

Salad Shirazi

3 Persian cucumbers, chopped
1 large tomato, seeded, chopped
1 half yellow onion, chopped
Juice of one lemon
Salt and Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)

Mix together for an incredible, accompanying salad to your chelo kabob. This salad is refreshing and tasty, and goes well especially with rice dishes or topping a sandwich.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tahdig Tutorial

Persians notoriusly fight over the "tahdig" or the crispy yumminess that forms at the bottom of the steamed "polo" or rice. I've had my last piece of tahdig, saving to the end to savor as my last bite, shamelessly swiped from my plate while I was distracted or just too full to be able to react. It is, hands down, the best of part of the Persian meal, where the crispy crust absorbs the flavors of the stews or "khoresht" or enjoying the fried, rice crust plain.

There are three known ways of making tahdig: rice, bread (lahvash or pita), or with thinly sliced potatoes. The method below uses a rice crust, but is the basis for all three and can be modified based on your preference.

A note about Persian polo or "chelo." If you are going to make it, you WILL judged by how good it is. Like making tea, a girl will never be married off unless she knows how to make a good chelo. A Persian grandmother once grabbed a full serving platter of rice and threw it in the garbage after only one bite, declaring that "it was unfit to eat." The rice was fine, but it wasn't basmati and a few grains crumbled. Nonetheless, the hours worth of preparation followed the rice into the trash can.

Use good basmati rice, from a middle eastern or indian market. Pari is popular and is sold in many supermarkets now. Pheel Neshan (with a picture of an elephant) is recommended by my Persian grandmother, and she will use Royal Basmati rice if Pheel Neshan isn't available. It is fragrant and flavorful, essential to Persian chelo.

1 cup of rice is about right for two people. Wash the rice three or four times with warm water until the water is more or less clear. Persian grandmothers soak the rice for at least 30 minutes or so, usually while they are preparing either kabob or the stew (khoresht). Bring a large pot of water to boil(with a dash of salt, some oil, and for Shirazis a squeeze of lime), and par-boil the rice until halfway cooked. Drain the rice in a colander.

Cover the bottom of your quart-size pot with oil and heat slightly. Dissolve a pinch or two of ground saffron (the threads work too, but the ground saffron dissolves completely) in a tablespoon of warm water. Add the saffron water to the warmed oil and swirl around to coat the bottom of the pan with saffron color and oil mixture (including an inch up to the side of the pot). Heat oil until the water begins to pop and oil slightly smokes. Add a thick layer of the par-boiled rice, patting it down slightly so that you create a loose cake of rice. Let the oil cook the rice for 60 seconds or so, and then add the rest of the rice. Cover the pot with either a light rag or a few layers of a paper towels to help seal the lid of the pot. Cover with a tight lid. Cook the rice on medium to low flame for about 20 minutes.

The 20 minutes cook time is such a guesstimate. I know my rice is cooked in two ways. Moisten your finger and press quickly against the side of the pot. If it goes "GEEZ" then the pot is hot enough where the tahdig can form. You should be able to smell the fragrant basmati rice at this point. Before it begins to burn, I might stick a fork through the middle of the rice to see if the crusty rice has formed.

When ready, flip over the chelo in all its glory on your plate and serve with vegan kabob (I know you have been waiting for it! Coming up next!) or your favorite khoresht. Just make sure your little, greedy brother doesn't steal your tahdig ration of your plate as you are stuffing your face with yummy rice and fesenjoon.


Spicy Kale Tomato Sauce with Brown Rice Pasta

I got some lovely Red Russian Kale from the Dupont Circle Farmer's Market and was inspired to use my kale in a spicy tomato sauce. Any jarred tomato sauce will do and you can add layers of flavor with sauteed onions, garlic, extra herbs (I used dried basil and oregano), and fresh tomatoes. For protein, I added a can of white cannellini beans, which is another current obsession. I happen to LOVE spicy tomato sauce so added almost a 1 teaspoon of red chile flakes. I added the kale at the end after letting the sauce simmer for a good 10 minutes, so I didn't cook all the nutritional value out of the kale. As an added bonus, I purchased the kale two weeks ago, but it was still fresh when I was ready to use it. My pasta was served over brown rice pasta tubes (which were suprisingly good and pasta-like).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Khoreshteh Fesenjoon with Tofu (Walnut and Pomegranate Stew)

Fesenjoon is one of the best loved Persian dishes and absolutely my favorite of all Persian khoresht (stews served over rice). Persian families like to serve this savory combination of sweet and tart during the winter months, especially for the Shab-e-Yalda celebration of the winter equinox. On this special night, Persians gather to celebrate the longest night of the year by eating anar (pomegranate) and ajeel (mixed nuts and dried fruits). The celebration traces its roots to the Zoroastrian faith that commemorated the victory of light/the Sun over the evils of darkness. The Romans later adopted this Persian tradition into a festival honoring the god of Saturn. With the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire, the Romans adopted Dec. 25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ to coincide with the Roman tradition celebrating the winter equinox.

Alas, the anthropological history of food helps us trace much of our known culture today. I invite you to try something new and expose your taste buds to something unique and really tasty.

Next up: How to make PERFECT basmati rice with a bonus tahdig tutorial.

P.S. To my surprise, had this recipe posted already. Since I am not one to measure, I am posting the PPK version as a real recipe to follow.

1 large onion, chopped
3/4 cup pomegranate concentrate
Optional: 1/4 cup water, cane sugar to taste
1/2 cup ground walnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. extra firm tofu

Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in the first skillet along with half of the chopped onions over medium heat. Add the 1/2 c. of walnuts ground very fine. (My grandmother uses a food processor to grind the walnuts, but you can grind them with a heavy object as well. They should be ground almost to a paste consistency). Cook over medium heat until the onions are soft. There should be a very distinct, walnut-y smell, but make sure it doesn’t start to burn.

Add the pomegranate concentrate, cane sugar and the optional 1/4 cup of water if it seems a little overwhelmingly pomegranate-y. But remember it should be very tart as the flavors will mellow out with the walnuts!

Simmer the sauce over low heat for about 10 minutes, letting it get nice and thick. The color of the sauce should be a very deep earth brown and almost purple.

In skillet #2, heat another tbsp of olive oil with the remaining onions. Drain extra liquid out of the tofu and crumble it into the skillet in chunks (tofu scramble-style). Let cook, stirring frequently until the water has cooked out of the tofu and it begins to brown. Stir the tofu mixture into the first skillet.

Serve over basmati rice.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Haleem Bademjoon with Vegan Kashk (Lentils and Eggplant with Vegan Whey)

Simple ingredients, incredible taste! This is one of my favorite Persian dishes and is very easy to veganize.

1 Cup Lentils
2 Cups Water
3 Cloves Garlic, peeled + 1 large clove garlic, chopped
2 Large Eggplants, peeled and sliced into rounds
Vegetable Oil as needed
1 Onion, diced
1 Large Shallot, chopped (optional)
1 Tablespoon Dried Mint
1 Pinch Saffron + 1 Tablespoon Hot Water
1/3 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
1.5 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper

Slice peeled eggplants into thin rounds (about 1/4 inch thick). Salt eggplant rounds and place in strainer to release the water. Do this as much as in advance as possible, up to one day or at least 20 minutes.

Dry eggplant well by squeezing water out of them with paper towels. Sauté on medium heat with vegetable oil until eggplant is soft and has brownish color.

Combine lentils, water, and three cloves of garlic in a large pot. Put on medium heat to cook until lentils are tender and easily mashed. When fully cooked, mash lentils and garlic into a paste (adding hot water to soften as necessary).

Sauté and caramelize diced onions until they are soft and achieve deep brown color. Set aside.

Sauté garlic, shallots (optional), and mint (add at the last minute) until soft and brown.

Combine eggplant with lentils and mix/mash well. Add half of the sautéed onion mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix vegan sour cream with lemon juice to make vegan "kashk". Serve lentils and eggplant mixture with "kashk", rest of the sautéed onions, and garlic/mint mixture. Mix saffron with water to add on top of the kashk for color.

Serve warm or cold with pita bread.