~HOW TO MAKE LIQUID SAFFRON~
liquified saffron is essential to Persian cooking. You will use it in rice dishes, Khoresht and for deserts and even in your chai. It gives Persian food its unique and subtle flavour and sets it apart. I always keep my saffron in an airtight container in a dark cupboard to ensure its rich yellow colour and to avoid it loosing any of its strength of flavour. saffron is very expensive to buy so you want to take care of it. I personally only buy Persian saffron because I know its good quality and I’ll get the results and taste I want. Spanish saffron is widely available in the UK and I buy this only if I run out ( which almost never happens ).
- Take a really good pinch or of saffron and place it in a pestle and mortar, add a tiny pinch of sugar or salt ( use which ever will suit your recipe) and grind. I use a pestle and mortar but many people use small food processor and powder up bulk batches of saffron strands at a time .
- Place the ground or powdery saffron in cup and add a little boiling water and stir and then cover and allow to infuse for at least 30 minutes. The longer you leave it, the richer the color.
Once you’ve made liquid saffron you can keep it in the fridge for about 2-3 days, but remember to cover it with cling film or keep in an air tight container!
Fact: Saffron is said to help ward off mild depressive thinking. I dont know how true this is but just the colour alone makes you think of sunshine and that makes me smile
Koofteh or persian meatballs will vary depending where you are in Iran. I haven’t made koofteh for years and had almost forgotten how to make them and how they tasted.
It was such a wet and miserable summer afternoon here in the UK yesterday and in a creative mood, I thought I would cook something to warm us up. So this is my version on a theme. This recipe is my own as it doesn’t strictly follow any of the other recipes I have and it doesn’t have a name as such… any ideas will be gratefully received
- 350 gr’s of mince lamb or beef.
- 2 onions finely grated
- 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 cup of yellow split peas
- 1 and 1/2 cup of herbs fresh or dried ( equal parts of parsley, tarragon, chives and coriander) You can really use any herbs but DO use tarragon. If you’re using dried herbs, soak for 20 mins.
- 1 heaped tsp of advieh
- 1 tsp of turmeric
- salt to taste
- a generous grind of the pepper mill
- 1 small egg beaten
* Variations~ Add cooked rice to the meat balls or dates and add zereshk to the sauce.
For the sauce~
- 1 chopped onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 tsp of turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon of saffron and add 1 cup water
- 1 cup of chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp of lime juice.
- 1/2 cup of remaining herbs
- Cook the split yellow peas for about 20 mins, removing the scum that forms on the top. Drain but retain the water and put to one side.
- If you’re using dried herbs, soak in warm water for about 20-30 mins. Then squeeze out the water and place the herbs to one side.
- Finely chop the onions and garlic. For adding to the meat I usually whizz them up.
- Add the onions and garlic to your minced meat, with turmeric, advieh, salt and pepper
- Now thoroughly mix these together. I use a potato masher as it easier than trying to stir the ingredients together.
- Add the 2/3 of the split yellow peas and 1 cup of the herbs and gently turn over with a wooden spoon.
- Finally add enough of the beaten egg to bind the whole mixture together.
- Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan and heat.
- Taking a handful, roll into balls and coat in seasoned flour ( I use a wheat free flour but you can use wheat flour). You can make the meat balls any size you prefer I like mine about the size of a ping pong ball.
- Place the meat balls into the pan and cook until golden.
- Once golden, remove from the pan and leave on kitchen towel to soak off excess oil.
For the sauce ~
- Cook the onions and garlic in a little vegetable oil until golden.
- Add 1/2 tsp of turmeric, salt and pepper and 1 tsp of advieh.
- Taste the sauce and make any adjustments you want to make.
- Add the split pea water retained earlier
- Add the liquid saffron, the rest of the herbs and split yellow peas and then finally add the meat balls in gently.
- Cover and leave to simmer on a low heat for about 30-40 mins.
Serve with rice or bread, natural yoghurt and a dish of herbs.
Nooshi joonet ~ enjoy
If you ask anyone who has never eaten Persian food before they always imagine that it’s heavily spiced, a lot like Indian food! And then they’re always surprised to learn it isn’t!
Persian cooking is made with a delicate balance of sweet and sour, hot and cold and the flavours are subtle and memorable. Quite unlike most other middle eastern food, Persian cuisine has a flavour all of its own. Often we take a recipe and ‘Persianise’ it, like Spaghetti ! We add what we think it lacks to create a better balance, or a taste that we prefer.
The ingredients of Persian food are largely the same ingredients that food all over the world is made from and yet when we add spice to a recipe, it literally transforms it. In Persian cooking we use fruits, herbs, flowers and ground roots to create a delicate aroma and a rich flavour. Each spice has a purpose and is helpful in maintaining a healthy mind, body and soul.
Here I’ve put together a list of the spices used in Persian cooking. Food is always created with the intention of making a hot or cold meal and we use spices to help create healthy and delicious food.
- Persian advieh is a blend of 5 or more different spices. Although similar to Gharam Masala, the emphasise is less on a hot flavour. Advieh can be bought from Iranian (and Indian) grocery stores already made up but it’s great to make it yourself to your own individual taste. There are different blends of Advieh depending on what you’re cooking, where you come from in Iran and personal taste . There’s one for rice dishes, which tends to be more fragrant and is sprinkled on the rice just before serving, another for khoreshts, which would usually include limu amani and zaafaran and another for pickles which would consist of spicy and sour flavours. The first five on the list are the usual spices used but if you want a spicier flavour add black pepper and cloves. Anything goes really ! For an Advieh basic recipe use equal parts of the following, try using one teaspoon to start with.
- Cardamom seeds
- Coriander seeds
- Dried rose petals
- Star of Anise
- Limu amani
- Black pepper
- sesame seeds
Simply take your spices of choice, grind with a pestle and mortar and store in an airtight container in a cool dark cupboard.
Persian Kebabs are well known for being the most delicious kebabs and that’s all down to the marinade. You can use veal, beef , or chicken and this is the recipe for one of two marinades we use. The other marinade uses mast or natural yoghurt rather than zafaran. Both are divine.
Ingredients for the marinade :
- 500 gr’s Lamb
- 1/2 teaspoon of zafaran
- 2 Onions
- 1 desert spoon of Lime juice
- salt and pepper
- Wash, trim and cut the lamb into large cubes
- Place the meat into a bowl
- Roughly chop the onion into quarters
- Pour on the zafaran and mix it well
- Add salt and pepper, lime juice
- Leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour before grilling
- Put the meat onto skewers and grill or BBQ until brown
Nooshi joonet. Enjoy
Turmeric is such an under valued spice. We use it everyday in Persian cooking but forget all the magical healing qualities of this wonderful spice. It has a rich and vibrant colour and smells great but beyond that there are numerous health benefits.
Turmeric comes from the ginger family of plants. It’s often known as ‘poor man’s saffron’ because it’s less expensive than zafaran. It has a slightly earthy, bitter mustardy taste. The root is cultivated, dried and then powdered and that is what we end with in our supermarkets.
Here are just some of the healing benefits to gained from Turmeric:
1. It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, useful in disinfecting cuts and burns.
2. When combined with cauliflower, it has shown to prevent prostate cancer and stop the growth of existing prostate cancer.
3. Thought to be helpful in preventing lung cancer
4. May prevent melanoma and cause existing melanoma cells to die
5. Reduces the risk of childhood leukemia.
6. Is a natural liver detoxifier.
7. Thought to be helpful in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease .
8. Thought tobe helpful in the prevention of many different forms of cancer.
9. It is a natural anti-inflammatory that works as well as many anti-inflammatory drugs but without the side effects.
10. Has been helpful in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis
11. Is a natural painkiller.
12. May aid in fat metabolism and help in weight management.
13. Has long been used in Chinese medicine as a treatment for depression.
14. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it is a natural treatment for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
18. Has been shown to stop the growth of new blood vessels in tumors.
19. Speeds up wound healing
And here are a few quirky facts about turmeric that I came across! Bet you didn’t know these:
- A spoonful of turmeric added to the water in water-cooled radiators will stop leaks.
- Use turmeric to get rid of ants in your garden…. It might leave the garden a nice colour too!
- Turmeric paste is a home remedy for sunburn and it is also an ingredient in many commercial sunscreens.
Aash e Reshte is a warming, nutritious soup and is totally sumptuous. It’s thick and hearty, just what you need in those cold winter months. It’s usually is made with reshte, a persian noodle which can be bought from any Iranian grocery store. Reshte is however made with wheat flour and if like me you have Coeliacs disease, substitute the reshte for a gluten-free noodle or spaghetti. It works just as well.
- 400 gr’s of Reshteh
- 2 medium onions
- 1 bunch of coriander
- 2 bunches of parsley
- 2 bunches of spinach
- 1 bunch of chives
- 1 bunch of dill
- 150 gr’s lentils
- 150 gr’s cannelloni
- 150 gr’s chick peas
- 150 gr’s pinto bean
- 1 cup Kashk or liquid whey
- ½ tablespoon turmeric
- salt and pepper to taste.
- a dash or two of lime juice ( optional)
and for the garnish
- Wash all the herbs well, remove the stems and roughly chop
- chop the onion
- Use tinned beans or soak the beans in water for at least 2-3 hours before using.
- Fry the onion in a little oil and when golden put about half aside, add the turmeric to the rest with about 4-5 cups of boiling water
- Add the lentils and beans, salt and pepper and cook for about 30 mins, until soft.
- Add more water as needed
- Add the herbs, stir in and cook for a further 15 -20 minutes
- I add a few dashes of lime juice but this is optional
- Add the reshte ( or gluten-free alternative) and leave to simmer until cooked
- When cooked remove from heat and stir in the kashk saving a little for the garnish if you wish.
- Pour into a serving dish
- Meanwhile take your fresh or dried mint and fry it in a little oil until it goes dark and gently spoon onto the top of the aash.
Now you are ready to serve. Sprinkle or decoratively add the fried onion and mint you put aside earlier on the top.
Khoreshte Karafs is awesome. A great winter warmer and well loved by all, even those who aren’t usually keen on cooked celery. It has a zesty tang from the limes and herbs which is unforgetable. This khoreshte can be made all in one pan and is completely gluten-free.
- 500 gr’s Lamb diced
- 2 bunches of celery washed and cut into 2-3 cm length strips. Use the small fresh leaves of the celery and add with the other herbs.
- 2 large onions sliced
- 500 gr’s of mint and parsley or 1 bunch of each chopped
- 5 teaspoons of lime juice and 2 limu ormani or whole dried limes
- 1 teaspoon of turmeric
- Salt and pepper to taste
- cooking oil
- Clean and chop the celery and herbs
- Chop the onions
- Dice the meat
- Gently fry the onions until they become slightly golden
- Add the diced lamb and mix with the onions
- Add the turmeric, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- Add a little hot water enough to cover the meat and stir.
- Add the lime juice and/ or limu ormani
- Add some more hot water and allow to cook for about 45 minutes.
- Add the chopped celery and chopped herbs and stir
- Add more hot water if necessary and cook for another 30 minutes. The celery should not become too soft.
- You may wish to add a little more lime juice if you like you khoreshte more sour.
- When you’re ready to serve, sprinkle a little fresh mint on the top of the khoresht
Serve with polou ( rice).
Sabzi is one of the great characteristics of Persian cuisine. It refers to the leafy part part of the herb and is used both in Khoreshts for flavour and bulk and in sabzi khordan as an accompliment to meals. Some herbs are easy to grow yourself such as mint, and coriander and there’s nothing more satisfying than picking herbs fresh from your own garden. However I haven’t had much luck with tarragon here in the UK. Sabzi is always best fresh but this isn’t always possible and it’s difficult to produce enough to meet all your needs. A great alternative is sabzi khoshk or dried herbs and most of these are easily sourced and available in nearly all supermarkets. When using dried herbs its advisable to soak the herbs before use to ensure maximum flavour. You can buy almost all the dried herbs you need for each dish you want to make from an Iranian Grocery store. If you want to make a persian omelette for example, look for Sabzi Kukoo.
For a list of the herbs you need for Persian recipes follow this link
Parsely or jafari You may know that parsley is native to Mediterranean land and has been used by the ancient Greek and Romans. What you may not know is that Persians have cultivated and used parsley in a wide variety of dishes for thousands of years. Parsley is part of many herb mixes of Persian cooking such as Sabzi polow, Ghormeh sabzi, Aash, Karafs and Kuku herb mixes.
Dill weed or shivid is extremely aromatic and is mainly used for food seasoning in many countries around the world. Persians, however, have used dill weed in a unique way in rice dishes such as shevid polou (Dill and rice mix) and Baghali polou (broad beans and rice). It is also mixed with other herbs as part of preparing other delightful meals like sabzi polou (a rice dish), khoreshte karafs (a stew) and kuku e sabzi (vegetable omlette).
Coriander or Gheshniz. Corriander is native to Iran and easily found in any supermarket across the globe. It’s also easy to grow here in the UK. It has a distinctive musky smell and is used in salads, and for Ghishniz polou and kuku. No persian kitchen would be without it is some form, either fresh or dried.
Fenugreek or shanbalileh is one of the world’s oldest and widely used medicinal herbs. It has a variety of attributes and is used for increasing libido in men and as an aphrodisiac generally. The seeds have to be ground and can be used to make tea, for fevers, to reduce menstrual pain and treat skin infection. The leaf of the fenugreek is high in iron and helps with respiratory and sinus problems. In persian cooking it’s used in Aash ( soup) and in khoreshts such as ghormeeh sabzi.
Tarragon or tarhoon is again heralded for having many health benefits. Its used for the relief of stomach cramps, toothache, menstrual pain and as a cure for bile and high blood pressure. It’s a vital herb in the Persian diet, used on its own or with pickles torshi and in khoreshts. It has a peppery aniseed taste and is grown easily in Iran although I haven’t had much success growing this myself.
Mint or nanar is another vital. This is very easily grown yourself and spreads rapidly so once you start to grow it, you shouldn’t ever have a problem with quantity again. Used in a variety of dishes from must o khiar a yoghurt and cucumber side dish to chai tea. Its eaten with meals on its own, mixed into salads, and as one of the many herbs needed in khoreshts. You can also buy ab nanah or mint water. I always keep a bottle at hand as its great for stomach ailments and indigestion. I have found it really useful if by some accident I have eaten something glutenous…. it helps relieve the cramps.
Sweet Basil or reyhan is widely grown all over the world and a favoured herb of the Italians. However was originally native to Iran and was grown there over 5,000 years ago. It has a sweet pungent taste, is easily grown at home on your kitchen window sill or in the green house during colder months and in your garden during the summer. It can be frozen and kept for several months. Health benefits are numerous: asthma and diabetes and as an antiviral to name a few. Sweet basil is a great compliment to all the peppery herbs in sabzi khordan and is widely used in many recipes.
Cress or shahi in contrast to basil has a peppery taste. High in iron, calcium and folic acid its a great immune booster as well as a stimulant, a diuretic and good for the digestion. In the east it’s often marketed as a sexual stimulant for men .. I can’t verify that! On the minus side, it is known to cause cystitis in some women because of its strong alkaline properties. Cress is fairly widely used in persian cooking for its strong flavour. It makes a great addition to sabzi khordan and can be easily grown at home in pots or in your garden. If you buy cress, please ensure you wash it thoroughly as commercial growers use animal waste to promote its quick growth.
Leek chives or tareh are from the onion family and have a distinct onion garlicy taste. It’s the green hollow stems that are used both in cooking and for sabzi khordan. Leek chives are so easy to grow at home. Once planted they are prolific and will sprout up all over your garden. They require very little attention and can be chopped and frozen to see you through the winter months for cooking with. Health wise they are very similar to garlic but less strong and are thought to be good for the circulation.
Radish or torabeh is a wonderfully colourful addition to sabzi khordan and Salad Olivieh. The skin is bright pink in colour and white inside and it really compliments the range of green herbs both in appearance and texture. The texture is moist and crunchy amidst all the softness of the herbs. Radishes are easily available from your supermarket all year-round. The radish is a root vegetable, easily grown in your garden during the summer months. There are a huge variety to choose from. Persian radishes are also easily grown here in the UK. They are slightly more peppery than european radishes. The only problem I’ve had growing my own is a lack of consistent sunlight, hence the end result is a little smaller than I would expect to have found in Iran. Medicinal benefits include protection against coughs and colds and general infections and as a cure for constipation.
Shallots or musi are from the onion or piaz family and available in most suppermarkets globally. Slightly sweeter, firmer and harder than an onion shallots are smaller in size. shallots are a natural inhabitant of Iran and generally favoured above the onion because of their whiteness and strong taste. They are so hard that they often need to be soaked before the can be used. They are usually eaten with kebab and used to make ma’ast musir.
Sabzi khordan literally means ‘ eating greens’ and refers to a collection of herbs and vegetables that are traditionally served with lunch and dinner. Sabzi khordan is usually made up from the herbs above but it can be whatever you want it to be, what ever is available to you and seasonal.
To go with the herbs it would be traditional to add walnuts or gerdu and feta cheese or panir. The walnuts are usually soaked in water before serving to soften them.
If you are having a dinner party and want to prepare your sabzi khordan dish before hand, you can cover the herbs with a damp paper towel and add the walnuts and feta immediately before serving.
Sabzi khordan offers a light and refreshing side dish to main meals and is rich in nutrients and vitamins. It’s also a colourful addition to your table with the greens and pink radishes.
Iranian restaurants often feature ‘sabzi khordan’ as a starter ( grr… a personal irritation)
Persian food is diverse, each corner of Iran having its own culinary preferences, culture and tradition.
Mealtimes provide the main structure of life : breakfast ( sobhaneh) lunch( nahar) and dinner ( shaam) . The Persian diet is healthy, nutritious and largely gluten-free so great for me as a coeliac. It uses a huge variety of fruits , nuts, lentils, vegetables, herbs and spices and many of the ingredients have medicinal values. Each meal is accompanied by a variety of herbs, Tarragon, coriander, flat leave parsley and usually naan ( flat unleavened bread) and must (natural yoghurt). There is a tendency to use a lot of butter or ghee and oil but I have adapted my recipes for a healthier version, omitting unhealthy amounts of both. It stills works well and tastes delicious.
Most lunch and dinner dishes involve a meat dish of either lamb or chicken, however I do include a number of vegetarian options for the less carnivorous. See the recipe for Estamboli polou for example. There are some ingredients and equipment that are essential for your kitchen if you want to cook persian food. Here is a list, it’s not conclusive so please send in any suggestions you think are a must have and things you couldnt manage without.
- ab limu ( lime juice)
- rice (berenge)
- ground limes
- za’faran ( saffron)
- zarchube ( turmeric)
- olive oil
- zareshk ( barbarries)
- tomatoe paste
- a variety of dried herbs known as ‘sabzi’
- advieh a collection of mixed spices
- addas ( lentils)
- A heavy bottomed non stick saucepan with a lid.
- skewers for kebab … these have to be persian skewers which are long, wide and flat and mostly only available in Iranian grocery stores.
- A large mesh sieve so you dont loose your rice through the holes!
- a rice cooker ( some say! I prefer the long method but it comes in handy)
- a pestle and mortar. It only needs to be a small one.
- a good thick tea towel used to absorb the condensation created in the steaming process of cooking rice. This is wrapped and securely fastened around the lid of the pan.
~~SAFFRON AND IT’S MANY USES~~
Saffron or za’ferân is a delicate spice derived from the crocus flower. Widely used in the east it is a much under used spice in the west. It has many medicinal qualities and is said to help ward off depression and make you laugh… that can’t be bad! The ancient Persians were feared by their enemies as they developed a reputation for using it as a drug to sedate and as an aphrodisiac . Alexandra the Great is reputed to have stolen the idea from the Persians and used Persian za’feran in his baths, for his food and as a cure for battle injuries. No doubt he tried it with the ladies too. Other uses include help with child-birth, as a dye and as a cure for headaches.
Saffron is widely available and can be found in most supermarkets. There is a large amount of Spanish saffron on the market but I recommend you buy a high grade saffron such as Iranian za’faran as its colour and scent is much stronger and you will therefore use less of it. Most Iranian grocery stores stock it but I have to warn you, its expensive. If you don’t live within access to an Iranian grocery store, try an indian one.
~STORAGE OF SAFFRON~ What ever you do, you must store it in a cool, dark airtight container otherwise the colour and scent of the za’faran will diminish.Never leave it on the shelf or it will be almost useless and taste less.
~PREPARATION OF SAFFRON~ I usually grind mine in a pestle and mortar as I need it. However many cooks grind it in advance. I don’t think there is any advantage either way. If the meal you are cooking is sweet, such as Khoreshte Fesenjun, use a tiny pinch of sugar to help grind it down but otherwise use a tiny pinch of salt. Once your za’faran is ground to a powdery like substance it is ready for use.
~TO MAKE LIQUID SAFFRON~Take a pinch of za’faran and place it in a small cup. Add a little boiling water and stir and then cover and allow to infuse for at least 30 minutes. The longer you leave it, the richer the color. Once you’ve made liquid zafaran you can keep it in the fridge for about 2-3 days, but cover it with cling film first!
Za’faran is used every day in Iranian cooking not only to enhance the flavour of the food but also for decoration. Its used in a variety of dishes across every meal. I even place a tiny pinch of it when I make chai ( black and flavoured tea) …. a cup of za’faran infused chai everyday can help ward off depressive thinking. It certainly cheers me up as it soooo delicious. You can also use za’faran flavoured ‘nabat’, a sugar candy used to sweeten chai. Nabat can be bought at most Iranian grocery stores. Unfortunately this isn’t widely available and I have not yet seen it in a supermarket in the west.
DECORATIVE USES ~ Most Iranians use za’faran to decorate and flavour rice dishes. I often use it in throughout the cooking process and as for a decorative finish. This is a picture of Zereshk Polou, steamed Iranian rice with zereshk ( barberries and slithers of almonds) and I will feature the recipe soon.
Za’faran has a huge number of uses in an Iranian kitchen. It’s an essential and fundamental feature of Iranian cooking.
Estamboli Polou is a versatile all time fav in our family. For lunch or dinner its always a hit, especially with children. There are many variations so you can vary the ingredients to suit your own taste, use up left overs or create your own unique combination. Some cooks use minced meat or lamb but by leaving meat out, you have a perfect vegetarian meal too. In the recipe below I have added chilli to spice it up a little. The method remains the same whatever ingredients you use. You can’t go wrong.
This recipe serves 4-5 servings.
- 3 cups of basmati rice thoroughly washed
- 1 large onion diced
- 1 large potatoe diced
- A handful of green beans cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 beefsteak tomatoe or a few smaller tomatoes chopped, alternatively you can use a tin of tomatoes
- 1 green chilli chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 3 tablespoons of tomatoe purée
- 1 garlic clove ( optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup of saffron infused water
- Boiling water
- a little vegetable or olive oil
- a desert spoon of butter.
- thoroughly wash the rice until the water runs clear. No need to pre soak
- clean and chop all your ingredients.
- Prepare your saffron infusion
- fill up the kettle and put it on so that you have hot water available when you need it.
- you will need one large pan with a lid
- Gently fry the chopped onions and potatoes in a little oil until they begin to turn golden
- add the turmeric and stir up
- add the chopped tomatoes, green beans, chilli and garlic, stir up and allow to cook for a few minutes
- add the tomatoe purée and stir
- add the saffron infused water and stir
- add some salt. I recommend a teaspoon but if you like your food saltier go ahead and add more.
- Give it all a good stir and allow to bubble away for a few minutes.
- Finally add the water. This is the tricky bit. You’re aiming for a slightly sticky end result but not too sticky so begin by adding 3/4 pint of hot water and topping it up as needed. Keep your eye on it now and monitor the amount of water the rice has to cook in. The rice needs to expand in length without becoming sticky so use your instinct and add more water as needed.
- when the rice has begun to expand add a desert spoon of butter or ghee and place a covered lid on the pan.
- cook on a low heat for about 1 hour. You can check it from time to time and add a little more butter or ghee as you like.
Serving suggestion: salad, shirazi salad, kebabs, natural yoghurt, herbs and bread. Or enjoy it just as it is