The Ancient Kingdom of Persia was always known for it’s exemplary food. Renamed in 1935, this area is now referred to as Iran. Politics aside, to ignore this country’s cuisine would be a true tragedy. Their culinary history is rich with the flavors of fragrant spices, sweet pomegranates, cool mint, slow cooked meats and warm roasted nuts. When I was writing my cookbook, my Persian friend invited me and my mom over to her house to learn about Persian Cooking. It was a magical afternoon where she shared everything from the proper way to serve tea to how your rice should “dance” in the pot when it was boiling. She stressed to us that “presentation is everything” and that taking this extra step when cooking for others is considered crucial in her culture.
After greeting us the front door, my friend poured us a sweet and sour drink called SEKANJABIN. It was a refreshingly cold drink that reminded me of my travels through Jordan. It’s perfect for a hot summer afternoon with friends.
The syrup is made ahead of time and stored in the fridge. You pour a couple of tablespoons into the bottom of a glass, add ice and cold water, and stir. Garnish with shredded cucumber, fresh mint leaves and a lime rind. I will post the recipe at the end of this blog.
I learned how to make Persian style Basmati rice. Slightly boiled, but mostly steamed, this rice should be drier than that North Americans tend to serve. Her Jeweled Rice, which graces the cover of my cookbook, is traditionally served at weddings. It’s named for the colors displayed by the saffron infused rice, sour red barberries and bright green pistachios. The recipe is in my cookbook so I won’t repeat it here, but her food was so delicious that I went on the hunt for the ingredients. I couldn’t get over the flavor combinations.
One ingredient that is used to both decorate and flavor many dishes is rose petals. I thought it would be hard to find food grade rose buds, but I saw them at my local Asian store.
I ground some up in my mortar and saved it in a jar. The aroma is divine and so is the taste.
Back to my gorgeous afternoon. My friend served us the Jeweled Rice with a saffron chicken dish (also in the cookbook), herbed yogurt and pickled vegetables. It was delicious, and that’s an understatement.
After lunch, she served us tea. She placed cardamom pods in the kettle with the water to boil and then poured the hot water through loose leaf tea brought in from England. She set her hourglass timer to the appropriate steeping time and explained that tea should be served in glass cups, so that the deep colors could be enjoyed.
Motivated after this amazing spread I searched for Persian recipes where I could find all the ingredients at my local grocery store. What I found was Spiced Lamb Turnovers. I spent the extra time on presentation as my friend suggested and I ended up with a beautiful dish. These take time to make, but they’re well worth it. The garnish adds quite a bit of taste, so don’t skip this important step. This recipe makes about 4 dozen, but they freeze extremely well.
- 3 boxes puff pastry thawed 40 mins
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 1 onion diced fine
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup fresh tarragon chopped
- 2 cups fresh Italian parsley chopped
- 1 cup fresh mint chopped
- 1 cup pistachios ground (use food processor)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp tumeric
- 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 tbsp milk
- ground pistachio
- ground rose petals (available at asian stores)
- powdered sugar
In a large frying pan heat the oil on medium heat till hot. Add in lamb, onion and garlic. Add 1 tbsp water and cover. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for 15 mins.
Add remaining ingredients and turn heat up to medium. Cook uncovered for 15-20 mins or until mixture fairly dry. Make sure to break up lamb into small pieces.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Take out puff pastry and cut into 3 inch rounds using a cookie cutter or jar.
Add 2 tsp filling to each round. Fold into a half moon and pinch closed. Place on a cookie tray.
Brush egg wash on tops of turnovers
Freeze extra turnovers on tray. You may transfer them to a bag or container once frozen. (This prevents sticking.)
Bake for 20 mins or until golden brown.
Remove from oven and garnish. Use whole rose buds to decorate your serving platter.
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- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (you may add up to 2 tbsp more to taste if desired)
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1 small bunch fresh mint
- 1 small seedles cucumbers peeled and shredded for garnish
- 1 lime for garnish
Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat on medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves
Reduce heat and boil gently for 10-15 minutes
Add the vinegar and simmer for 30 minutes or until mixture thickens into a syrup. Taste and adjust amount of vinegar/sugar to taste
In the last 2-3 minutes, add in the bunch of fresh mint
Remove from heat and cool completely
Remove mint leaves before serving
When ready to drink, pour a couple tablespoons of the syrup into a cup. Top with ice and water. Stir
Garnish with shredded cucumber, fresh mint and a lime rind