Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Persian Nougat- Gaz-گز

On the eve of the last Wednsday of the year, just before Naw Ruz, a special event dating back to Zoroastrian times takes place in Iran. The excitment builds up days before it and planning starts a few days ahead. Of course, food playes a big part in this event and most of the planning involves soaking diffrent types of legumes the night before, preparing herbs and picking wild herbs (infact, 40 different ones) for aash and collecting wood logs and hay for the bonfire. As the adults are busy preparing for the night, the young ones are planning whose houses they should visit for the best treats! At sunset, everyone gathers in the street to see piles of hay in a row waiting to be burnt. The young girls and boys stay put in a queue waiting to jump over the bonfire and some brave ones go through the flame and sing;

Zardi-ye man az to    Sorkhi-ye to az man 

The literal translation is, my sickly yellow paleness is yours, your fiery red colour is mine.

Once everyone had a chance to jump over the bonfire and had some fun, then everyone is off home to have some comfy aash to warm up. By this time outside gets dark and children get ready to go out in the dark to have some fun. Ghashogh-zany (قاشق زنی) involves the children covering themselves with chador (looking like a ghost) and holding a metal bowl in one hand and a spoon in the other hand.  The children would then visit homes in groups whilst continuously hitting the bowl with the spoon.  The sound of spoon hitting the bowl notifies the homeowner to open the door. The person who opens the door puts a treat in their bowls. The treat can be anything from fruits, Ajil (mixture of salted seeds and nuts), roasted chick peas, sweets or for a very unlucky ghashogh-zan a bucket full of water!

It is said that in old days families with young daughters would open their doors and give  treats out if they were happy for their daughter to get married that year  so, khastegary (matchmaking) would happen shortly after and the young couple's wedding would happen sometimes during spring or summer that year.

Now, here is a real treat which would satisfy your taste buds! 



2 egg whites 
1 cup sugar 
1/2  cup  corn syrup ( glucose)
2 tablespoon water


1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup  corn syrup ( or glucose syrup) 


1 1/2 cup   whole blanched almonds or pistachios, toasted.  
2 tablespoon butter or ghee melted 
2 teaspoon rosewater or vanilla extract


  • Heavily butter a pan, set aside   
  •  Heavily butter a large bowl, set aside

 To make the Meringue
  • In a stand mixer, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
  • Boil sugar, corn syrup and water over medium heat.  Stir until sugar is dissolved and mixture starts to boil ( if sugar crystals still present, cover and boil until sugar is dissolved). uncover and  boil on low heat for 10 minutes, without stirring. The thermometer should read 230 F( It's good to use thermometer but not necessary for this size batch).
  • While mixing carefully and slowly add hot liquid in a steady stream over egg whites. Beat the mixture for another 10  minutes, until mixture holds its shape and is lukewarm. Transfer to prepared bowl.
to make the syrup; 
  • in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and corn syrup. cook and stir until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes to a boil( if sugar crystals present, cover and boil until sugar is dissolved). Uncover and use clean spoon to stir on medium heat for 10 minutes longer. The thermometer should read 275 F ( It's good to use thermometer but not necessary for this size batch).
  • Pour the hot mixture over the Meringue ( Do Not Scrape Saucepan) and  with a large wooden spoon stir until blended. 
  • Mix melted butter and rosewater
  • Gradually add rosewater mixture and pistachio until blended. 
  • Transfer to prepared pan and stand for several hours before cutting in small pieces. Wrap in wax paper. Store in cool and dry place. 

    Wednesday, 13 March 2013

    Ghottaab - Walnut and Almond Crescents - قطاب

    Ghottab ( قطاب‎ , qottâb) captures the essence of Persian baking.  A delectable exotic treat with rosewater, cardamom, walnuts and almonds wrapped in a light pastry and rolled in icing sugar is the queen of all Persian pastries.  Ghottab, a souvenir of the city of Yazd, is popular all over Iran and a special treat for Naw Ruz.  My uncle Sana's love for ghottab (or perhaps a little obsession) meant that he made numerous trips to the best ghannadi (bakery baking ony sweets) to stock up on this moreish treat.  The best ghannadi being in our hometown, we often had him drop by and we knew instantly why he was there!   The last time, we shared a batch of ghottab with uncle Sana was in October 2010 and we all knew why we were having ghottab over a cup of tea!  It is interesting how foodie stories became so engraved in our minds that it is simply impossible to talk about food without having a little story behind it. 

    I have been through many different recipes to perfect my ghottab making skills.  I started off with frying my first batch which turned into an oily fritter, the second batch had almond filling and the result was not quite ghottab, the third lucky batch had more flour in the pastry and 50% more walnuts than almonds.  My third batch was the winning formula and my persistence finally paid off.  Ghottab is not difficult to make but the key elements are patience and perfection.  Below is a recipe for you to try and it will fill your kitchen with a heavenly exotic aroma.


    2 Egg Yolks
    1 Tablespoon Sugar
    100ml Greek Yoghurt
    100ml Cooking Oil
    1.5 Cups Plain Flour
    1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
    1 Teaspoon Vanilla Esscence

    1 Cup Crushed Walnuts
    1/2 Cup Almond Meal
    1/2 Cup Icing Sugar
    3-4 Tablespoons Rosewater
    2 Teaspoons Ground Cardamom
    Extra Icing Sugar for sprinkling

    1. Whisk egg yolks, vanilla and sugar in a bowl until well mixed.
    2. Add the yoghurt and oil and mix to combine.
    3. Add flour and baking powder and mix with a spoon until the dough comes together.
    4. Cover with cling film and rest for 2 hours.
    5. To make the filling: Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add rosewater gradually until the mix is a sticky mix and can hold it's shape.  You may not need all the rosewater.
    6. Roll the pastry into 2mm thick and cut with a round pastry cutter.
    7. Take a teaspoon size of the nut mix and roll into a ball.  Place in the middle of the pastry and fold the pastry over the filling.
    8. Brush the edges with little water.
    9. Squeeze the pastry and twist the edges.
    10. Bake at 160-180C until just cooked.  It should not be golden.
    11. Sprinkle icing sugar over hot ghottab.

    Saturday, 9 March 2013

    Lavash - لواش

    We love cheese and simply love all cheeses!!! Our love of cheese perhaps comes from our childhood days spent sipping sweetened tea with cube sugar and stuffing pieces of bread with feta cheese. These days our love affair with cheese is the force behind us making feta cheese and baking bread only to consume it fresh.  Bread for Persians is fresh bread, warm and inviting, taken home from a local noonvaee (bakery baking only one type of bread) in the morning for breakfast or in the afternoon for dinner. On long summer afternoons, fresh bread with cheese and herbs or with slices of tomato and cucumber was a refreshing afternoon tea, much like crackers and cheese are a simple comforting snack.

    The word for bread in Farsi is nān and does not refer to Indian naan.   Persian Lavash is a thin large sheet of bread dough cooked inside a tanoor. A tanoor, similar to an Indian tandoor, is a massive clay pot or custom built into a well or a wall and it is heated by charcoal or wood. A tanoor is heated for a long time to heat the clay walls. Once the dough is rolled out, it is placed on a long thick oven mitt and the dough is pressed firmly against the tanoor wall. The dough immediately sticks to the hot burning wall. Once, the dough is cooked, it simply peels off the tanoor wall. Without a tanoor at home, nothing stops us from making lavash or barbari (Turkish pide style of Persian bread) at home. Absolutely nothing beats the smell of fresh bread and making lavash is easier than you think. If you have a little time then try this easy no-fail recipe.

    2 Cups plain flour
    1 teaspoons dried yeast
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon sugar
    1 - 1.5 Cups warm water (30C)

    1. Place all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix.
    2. Make a well and add 1/ 2 cup of water.
    3. Mix with a large spoon.
    4. Gradually, add the remainder of the water until the dough comes together and is a little sticky.
    5. Cover and set aside.
    6. Set in a warm place if you are making this in winter.
    7. Once, the dough doubles (1hr is a good rule of the thumb), remove the cover and punch it a few times.
    8. Wait for 10 minutes and take a small ball (size of an egg) of dough and place it on flour covered chopping board.
    9. Heat a flat skillet on the stove or alternatively heat a large fry pan.
    10. Sprinkle a little flour over it and roll with a rolling pin until it is about 2mm thick.
    11. Place on a hot skillet or fry pan.
    12. Once fully puffed, turn it over.
    13. Place cooked lavash on cake racks to cool.

    The dough should not stick to a skillet and there is no need to oil it first.
    Shake off excess flour from rolled dough before cooking as flour left on a skillet will burn.

    Tuesday, 5 March 2013

    Shrewsbury Biscuit - Jamie Dodgers

    As a child I loved eating Jamie Dodgers and now they are the only cookies I bake for so many good reasons.  Firstly, all ingredients are always in the pantry. Secondly, the dough is made in the food processor so, I don't need to worry about creaming butter and sugar and the dough is easy to roll as it is a soft dough.  Lastly, the cookies are presentable and have that special home made feel to them.  One batch goes a long way and baking them is only 10 minutes!  This is always on my baking calender for Ayyam-i-Ha or Naw Ruz.


    200g Butter
    1/2 C Caster Sugar
    1 egg
    2 C Flour
    Vanilla Essence
    Raspberry Jam for filling

    1. Place all ingredients except the jam and process until a soft dough forms.
    2. Take hand fulls of cookie dough and roll it very gently on a floured chopping board to about 5mm thick.
    3. Bake at 160-180C for around 10 minutes.
    4. Cool and sandwich with jam.

    Monday, 4 March 2013

    Persian Dips

    There are no specific foods served for entree in the Persian cuisine.  One would think that side dishes and lighter meals in small portions should be served as entrees for a Persian mehmanee (dinner party).  There are plenty of side dishes and light meals to choose from.  For their simplicity and convenience we've made a few yogurt based side dishes that with a little adjustment can be served as a dip with lavash or plain water crackers. 

    As no elaborate Persian meal is complete without yogurt, sabzi (herbs) and torshi (vinegar preserved vegetables), it'll pay off to learn a simple versatile yogurt based dip to show off your skills in a mehmani and to introduce Persian flavours to friends from other cultures.  One unusual ingredient we used here is basil mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).  This mountainous herb is a fragrant version of mint and is a refreshing change from dried mint leaves in yogurt. 

    Eggplant Borani

    1 Eggplant
    1 small Onion, chopped finely
    3 clove Garlic, crushed
    1 tablespoon Dried Mint
    2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
    3/4 cup, Greek Yogurt
    Salt and Pepper

    1. Grill a whole  eggplant on medium heat on the stove (directly on the flame), if you have a gas stove.  Otherwise, grill it on the BBQ or under an oven grill.
    2. Rotate the  eggplant every few minutes so the entire surface is black and crispy. 
    3. Place it in a bowl and cover with cling film for easy peeling.
    4. Once cool, peel it and chop it very finely on a chopping board or process until mashed in a food processor.
    5. Add the rest of the ingredients and season with salt and pepper.

    Mast-O Sersem

    1 Cup Packed Basil Mint
    1 Cloves Garlic
    1 Cup Greek yogurt or Persian drained yogurt

    1. Roughly chop the leaves on a chopping board.
    2. Place chopped herbs and garlic in a food processor bowl and process until smooth.
    3. Mix with yogurt and season well. Chill before serving.

    Spinach Borani

    1 Cup  packed Spinach Leaves
    1 Cup Yogurt
    2 gloves of Garlic crushed

    1. Cook the spinach leaves with a little water in a small saucepan.
    2. Once cooled, squeeze the water out.
    3. Roughly chop the spinach (or for a dip finely chop)
    4. Mix with yogurt and garlic. Season with salt.

    Kashk -e Bademjan Dip 

    1 Eggplant
    1 Onion
    2 gloves of  Garlic
    1/2 Cup Kashk ( Persian dried yogurt)or Greek Yogurt
    1 Teaspoon Dried Mint
    Olive or vegetable oil 
    salt and pepper

    • Grill a whole eggplant on the stove (directly on the flame), if you have a gas stove.  Otherwise, grill it on the BBQ or under an oven grill.

    • Turn the eggplant every few minutes to cook it evenly until the skin has been burnt.
    • Place it in a bowl and cover with cling film for easy peeling.Once cool, peel and roughly chop the eggplant.
    • Fry onion with little oil until golden. Add the eggplant and fry for another few minutes.
    • In a pan heat 1 table spoon oil. Add mint and remove from the heat immediately.  
    • Place eggplant mixture and garlic in a food processor bowl and process until smooth. 
    • Add the kashk and seasoning.  Mix well.
    • Drizzle the fried mint over the dip. Equally Delicious served hot or cold!

    Saturday, 2 March 2013

    The Days of Fasting Have Arrived ...

    Baha'is around the world fast during the month of `Ala'  (02 - 20 March) before the new year (Naw Ruz). This physical act of abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset is symbolic and a reminder of our spiritual sustenance.  The Baha'i fast is not a ritual, but an individual obligation and a spiritual experience. It is a time for reflection, meditation, recuperation and drawing nearer to God.  Baha'i laws exempt the young, the old, the sick, the travellers, heavy labourers, the pregnant and breastfeeding mothers from fasting.   

    Fasting is a little difficult during the first few days but it does get easier and easier.  The most practical question to be asked is what should we eat during the fast?  Fasting in our household was the time to get ready for the new year.  Our daily ritual consisted of spring cleaning the entire house and shopping for new clothes for the kids and special foods for Naw Ruz.  We soaked  wheat grains to sprout and decorated boiled eggs.  We queued for hours and hours to buy special pastries, sweets and Ajeel (nut mix) and our dinner for the final day of fasting was always a traditional meal of herbed rice with fish.  During the craziness of Naw Ruz preparations, we ate special foods for the fast.  The most basic and wholesome foods were served for breakfast and dinner.  Soaked walnuts, almonds and dates were usually served for breakfast along with Ceylon tea served in small Chai glasses, Turkish pide and feta cheese.  To break the fast, we started with tea and sweets, then some soup or Aash and finished it off with rice and stew.

    Many years later and in a different country, during the fast we prepare the bare essentials for Naw Ruz.  We no longer spring clean, and make a little effort in buying new clothes, and bake all our sweets and pastries few days before the new year.  During the fast however, it is business as usual with food.  We still soak walnuts the night before, buy Bulgarian Feta cheese and dates, still cook the same Aash, make halva and have a meat dish.  The important thing about eating during the fast is not to skip breakfast, drink plenty of water and eat balanced meals.  Eating a balanced breakfast with protein and carbohydrates and plenty of water sustains us for most of the day.  As for dinner, have plenty of water to replenish the fluid level in your body.  The reason why dates and sugary fried morsels are popular during the fast in Iran is for a simple reason of keeping sugar levels in place.

    Happy Fasting!