Sunday, July 5, 2009

Menu 6: A Persian Fourth of July

Our Fourth of July dinner for friends, Kit from LA and Nancy and Bill from Sonoma, was not your usual grilled affair. I felt more inclined to support free and fair elections for the people of Iran than to celebrate the birth of American freedom with burgers and buns. So I planned a dinner around one of the most famous dishes in Persian cuisine: Fesenjan or Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce. We ate the Fesenjan with an herby rice dish and two salads. You’ll find these recipes below. We started with hummus and toasted pita in the living room over our first glasses of wine and a selection of gorgeous cheeses and finished with a decadent Chocolate-Lime Cheesecake from Nigella Bites. It was a splendid dinner, colorful and delicious.

Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce (Khoreshe Fesenjan)

10 chicken thighs, extra skin and fat removed
3 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon poultry seasonings or za’tar*
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste or harissa*; or 1 tablespoon of each
2 cups walnuts, very finely chopped.
Note: Use a food processor if you have one. Stop before the walnuts become a paste.
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon smoky hot paprika or regular paprika
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup fresh pomegranate juice (Pom brand is very good)
2-3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup or molasses*
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

1. Sauté the chicken in the butter, sprinkling each side with the poultry seasoning or za’tar, salt and pepper, until light brown on all sides. Remove to a plate.
2. Remove all but 3 tablespoons of the combined chicken fat and butter. Sauté the onions in the remaining fat until golden brown. Add the tomato paste and/or harissa and sauté for a few minutes. Add the walnuts and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly so as not to burn the walnuts.
3. Add the stock, salt, cinnamon, paprika, lemon juice and pomegranate juice and syrup. Cover and let cook on a low fire for about 35 minutes. Taste the sauce and add salt if necessary and sugar if the sauce is too sour for your taste.
4. Arrange the chicken in the sauce. Cover and let simmer for 20-25 minutes. Taste for seasoning. I needed to add more salt and a bit more lemon juice.
5. Decorate with parsley and serve with rice.

*Za’tar, harissa, and pomegranate syrup or molasses are available at Middle Eastern or Persian food stores or delis.
You can make this the day before. Reheat gently before serving and garnish with the parsley.

6-10 servings, depending on appetites
Adapted from Maideh Mazda's In a Persian Kitchen

Rice with Herbs (Sabzi Polow)

2 cups basmati rice
Salt for boiling the rice
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups finely chopped herbs of your choosing.
Note: A combination of tarragon, chives, flat-leaf parsley, and dill is good. Use a food processor to chop, if you have one.
6 scallions, finely chopped in a food processor
6 tablespoons butter or 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Wash the rice in warm water and drain.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Pour in the rice and boil for about 12 minutes, until the rice is still slightly undercooked. Drain.
3. In the same pot, heat half the butter or oil. Pour in the rice, mixing in about ¾ of the fresh herbs and the teaspoon of salt. Add the remaining butter or oil. Stir gently.
4. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and steam for 15-20 minutes over very low heat. You want to create a very lightly brown crispy layer on the bottom of the rice. After the rice has finished cooking, you may need to turn up the heat a bit to crisp up the bottom, watching it carefully.
5. Add the remaining herbs just before serving. If you are using a nonstick pan, you may try flipping out the rice onto a large platter. If you have not, use a spatula to scrape the rice out into a serving bowl, displaying the beautiful crust or crusty bits on top.

You can also make this using leftover plain cooked rice from another occasion. Just begin the process at #3. If the rice is cold, it will take longer than 20 minutes to reheat and to form a crust. You can keep peeking inside the pan to check on the crust.

6-8 servings
Adapted from Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

Beet and Yogurt Salad or Dip

2 large or 4-5 small uncooked beets (red or golden) OR
1 can (16 ounces) cooked beets, drained
1 cup drained plain yogurt or more depending on your amount of beets and your serving bowl
Note: Buy thick Greek yogurt or drain soupy yogurt by lining a sieve with two layers of paper towels, pouring in the yogurt, and letting it drain over a bowl for several hours. To see a photo of the draining process, check the Cucumbers and Yogurt recipe.
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or slivered mint or 1 teaspoon dried mint

1. If using fresh beets, steam them with the skins on for about 1½ hours or longer until tender.
Place fresh beets in a baking dish filled with ½-inch water. Cover with foil. Bake in the oven at 400 F for 45 minutes for small beets, longer for larger. I usually use this method.
2. Peel the fresh beets. Cut cooked or canned beets into ¼ - ½-inch cubes. Mix with the sugar and salt to taste. Chill until ready to serve.
3. Immediately before serving, spread the yogurt in the bottom of a shallow serving bowl. Place the beets on top, gently nestling them into the yogurt. Garnish with the mint. Serve as a salad or as a dip with toasted pita bread.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Najmieh Batmanglij's New Food of Life

Parsley, Celery and Herb Salad

2 cups parsley leaves
½ cup 1-inch snipped chives
½ cup tarragon leaves or mint
4 stalks celery, cut on the bias about 1/8-inch thick
An equal amount of fennel
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon, Meyer if possible
Salt and pepper

1. Combine the parsley, chives, tarragon/mint, and celery.
2. Mix together olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
3. Just before serving, pour the olive oil mixture over the greens and toss gently. Taste for seasonings.
Note: The proportions can be varied depending on the herbs you have at hand. Celery leaves are a good addition. You can also add 2 small seeded tomatoes for color.

6-8 servings
Adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, January 30, 2005, David Bazirgan at Baraka

1 comment:

lwilshusen said...

hello Katherine - tried your Chicken w Pomegranate Sauce & Zucchini w Feta recipes this evening & they were really terrific - made a few modifications of course but love the idea of cooking w pomegranate juice & pom molasses, which I was happy to find in our local grocery.

I really like your blog - I'm curious that you stopped writing it though. So many new recipes to try from my (generally speaking) favorite culinary region. Your stories of Iran are fascinating.

I'm Zephyr's mother. I mentioned at our recent lovely Thanksgiving gathering that I have a blog, & Ben said you do too. So I had to check it out. Here's mine:

I'm so excited to have a new cookblog. Thank you!

- Linda