Monday, October 17, 2016

Iran/ Persia

Iran has always seemed like a magical land to me. The very names of places infused it with a glamour, a sense of a place that was beautiful beyond imagination. Isfahan, Samarkand, Persepolis and Tabriz could evoke a mystical fascination for me. In college, my best friend's family had lived there for several years and her father and brother were still there, so I got firsthand glimpses of this beautiful land through memories of others.

Later on when food became a passion, one of my aims was to be able to cook food from around the world. Before the kids were born we used to have world food week at home, wherein each day the menu was composed of food from one particular country. I experimented with a couple of Iranian dishes then and then for years forgot about them.

Then last week a friend who was hosting a Friday night bacchanalia said she would cook Iranian-style mutton. I was inspired to volunteer a Persian Pulow with herbs. It turned out so well that Sunday saw me turning out a Potato and Green Beans Pulow with Persian-style red lentils. Both delicious!

Both Pulow recipes from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian cookbook - my favourite!

Herbed Pulow

I large bunch each - chives, dill, parsley, coriander and the green part of spring onions; chopped very fine
1 tbsp yogurt; 3 tbsp water
2 garlic cloves
2 cups basmati rice
1 pinch saffron, dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water
1 tbsp oil; 1 tbsp melted ghee
Salt to taste

Non stick pan with tight lid
Wide flat plate/ tray for serving

Put ten cups of salted water to boil. When it reaches a rolling boil, add the rice and cook for 5-6 minutes until parboiled but still chalky. Remove and strain, put aside.

Meanwhile, mix the chopped herbs together with the garlic and season to taste with salt.

In a non-stick pan on a low flame, put in the tbsp of oil. Add the yogurt and the water and mix well. Layer one third of the herbs at the bottom of the pan, followed by a third of the rice. Continue this way, building 3 layers each of herbs and rice.

On the top layer of rice, spread the melted ghee and the saffron water. Cover and cook on medium low for 4 minutes, medium high for 5.

Then remove the lid and wrap it in a towel. Replace the lid on the pan, flipping the ends of the towel on top of the lid to prevent it catching fire. Cook on low for 25-30 minutes.

To serve:
Remove the lid. Place the serving plate/ tray upside down on the rice - i.e. the serving side should face the rice. The plate should be as large as the circumference of the rice.

Loosen the edges of the rice with a rubber knife/ sharp-edged wooden spoon. Flip the pan over so the plate is on the bottom and tap the pan a couple of times to ensure the rice comes out from the pan ( like extracting a cake from the cake tin.

When done properly, the rice looks like a cake, with a thick, brownish crust. Very important - do not discard this crust, it is amazingly delicious.

Serve with mutton/ vegetable stew and a boorani ( yogurt raita) on the side.

Potato Pulow with green beans
2 cups basmati rice
2 cloves garlic
2 onions, finely chopped
1 cup green beans, chopped into 1 inch pieces
3 small tomatoes chopped small
1-2 large potatoes cut into 1/8th inch slices
1 tbsp tomato paste/ ketchup
1 stick cinnamon
1 tbsp salt
1.5 tsp turmeric
2 tsp oil
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp water
Salt to taste
Green chilly if desired

Parboil the rice as in the Herbed Pulow recipe.

Meanwhile, put some oil in a pan and saute the onions until translucent. Add the cinnamon, garlic, onions and fry till the onions are translucent. Add tomatoes, chillies, ketchup, salt and beans and a splash of water and cook, tightly covered, until the beans are tender but still have a bit of bite.

Put the non-stick pan on low heat and add the butter and turmeric, and 2 tbsp water. Layer the potatoes around the base of the pan in overlapping layers to cover the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of rice. Add 1/2 the green beans mixture, cover with another 3rd of the rice. Repeat the green beans and rice, ending with a top layer of rice.

Cover and cook in the same way as the Herbed Pulow; use the same method of eviction from the pan.

Serve hot with a boorani and the red lentils

Persian Red Lentils

1 cup red lentils ( masoor dal)
2 onions, chopped fine
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
2-3 pieces garlic
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 tbsp oil + 1/2 tbsp oil
3 cups water
1/2 cup tomato paste (I used ketchup)
Sour cream
1 tsp cumin powder
Salt to taste

Put the oil on to heat and fry the onions on low flame until they brown. Once well browned, add the tbsp of oil and tsp of salt and cook for 5 more minutes on medium high. Set aside.

Put 1/2 tbsp of oil on to heat. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon and garlic. Add the lentils, ketchup and water and cover and cook until the lentils are well cooked and mushy.

Meanwhile add the cumin powder and salt to taste to the sour cream ( I used hung yogurt, and also added chopped chives).

Serve hot topped with the caramelized onion and the sour cream/ yogurt mix.

With a typical Shirazi salad, it makes for a wonderfully light and delicious meal which is also healthy!

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