A Persian Dinner Party Feast

Persian food is unlike any other cuisine I’ve had before. It balances unlikely flavor combinations like tart, tangy pomegranate molasses and tannic walnuts. Recipes measure herbs in handfuls, not teaspoons or pinches. It feels opulent, drawing from a pantry filled with ingredients like rose water, cardamom and saffron. The only thing Persian cuisine celebrates more than its sweet, savory and sour stews (yes, all three are excellent at once) is its crunchy, crackly golden rice - tahdig.

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Brussels Sprouts with a Pop of Pomegranate

Pomegranate molasses is a thing of beauty. It's got a deep, rich ruby red color and a complex flavor that is all at once sweet, tart and fruity. It's a popular ingredient throughout the Middle East and its distinct flavor is incredibly versatile. I came to rely on pomegranate molasses as a near pantry staple once I discovered my love of muhammara, a roasted red pepper dip. It also plays a starring role in fesenjan, a Persian chicken and pomegranate molasses stew, a dish I've come to love during these cold winter months. 

brussels sprouts with a pop of pomegranate || planting my roots
lentil salad with pomegranate molasses || Planting My Roots
lentil salad with pomegranate molasses || Planting My Roots
lentil salad with pomegranate molasses || Planting My Roots

For this recipe, pomegranate molasses' flavors beautifully complement pan-fried Brussels sprouts. Like in muhammara, walnuts also add a bit of texture and irreplaceable nutty flavor. I initially served this as part of our family's Thanksgiving spread, but I think the colors and flavors work wonderfully for any holiday table. In this case, it's not too late to try it out for Christmas! Try to sneak it in before you do something silly like give up sugar in 2018. 

brussels sprouts with a pop of pomegranate || planting my roots
pomegranate molasses || planting my roots
brussels sprouts with a pop of pomegranate || planting my roots

Something that's important in this recipe is making sure your frying pan is hot before you toss the sprouts in. Place the pan over a burner on medium heat and let sit. Sprinkle a bit of water into the pan. If it sizzles upon contact, you're good to add the sprouts. Just be careful not to let any hot coconut oil splatter! And one other pro-tip: If you'd like something a bit heartier, add cooked beluga lentils to the mix once your sprouts are throughly pan-fried and tossed with all the other fixings. It makes for a hearty lunch on a cold day! 

brussels sprouts with a pop of pomegranate || planting my roots

Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Molasses, Dates and Walnuts

serves 4

what you'll need - pomegranate molasses:
4 cups pomegranate juice
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

brussels sprouts:
1 pound Brussels sprouts, rinsed and chopped in half
3 tbsp coconut oil
5 large mejdool dates (approximately 1/2 cup), roughly chopped
1-2 tbsp pomegranate molasses (see recipe above)
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (roughly 1/4 pomegranate)
1/2 cup roasted walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp coarse salt, plus extra to taste

what you'll do:

for pomegranate molasses (recipe adapted from Tori Avey)

  1. Pour pomegranate juice, sugar, and lemon juice into a small saucepan. 
  2. Over medium heat, bring sauce to light simmer. Whisk until sugar dissolves. Allow sauce to simmer very lightly for 60-80 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Simmer and stir until the liquid reduces by 75% to about 1 cup of molasses.
  3. The sauce is ready when it has a light syrupy consistency and coats the back of a spoon. Don't let it thicken too much, or it will harden when it cool. I always remove from heat just before I think it's just about done to be on the safe side. 

for brussels sprouts:

  1. In large microwave-safe large bowl, put 2 tbsp coconut oil. Place in microwave to melt oil (should take 15-20 seconds). Once melted, remove bowl from microwave and add sprouts, plus salt. Toss to coat sprouts evenly with oil and salt. 
  2. Place large frying pan over medium heat. Once pan is heated, toss in oil/salt coated sprouts. Add remaining 1 tbsp coconut oil and stir in to coat bottom of pan. Fry sprouts over medium-low heat for about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning and ensure even cooking. Remove from heat once sprouts have deep brown, slightly charred exterior, but be careful not to burn.
  3. Toss hot sprouts in serving bowl. Toss in pomegranate seeds, chopped dates, roasted walnuts, and pomegranate molasses. Adjust pomegranate molasses to taste based on desired sweetness.

Mizuna with Tarragon and Capers

Mizuna is new to me. Fresh tarragon...oddly enough, pretty new to me too. Take the two of them together and you've got a new recipe for me and for you! I first came across mizuna when it arrived in my CSA box last week. I starred at it a bit quizzically because I've been on a bad "veggie identification" streak as of late. I've mistaken Jerusalem artichokes for ginger, watermelon radishes for rutabagas, rutabagas for turnips. Not great. At first I was thinking the mizuna was some sort of arugula. Turns out that wasn't too far off (albeit, still wrong), but arugula does have a slight peppery taste like arugula. Though in comparison, it has a much thicker stem and to steal a phrase from Serious Eats, the leaves are more "frond-like" in appearance.

mizuna with tarragon and capers || planting my roots

After some more digging, I learned that mizuna is native to Japan and considered a mustard green. It's typically pickled, but I've also found several recipes that call for it tossed in salads. The first time I dipped into my mizuna CSA stash, I simply sautéed it with salt and coconut oil, then tucked it underneath salmon . Inspiration struck as I piled my fork high with sautéed mizuna, plus the dijon and tarragon crusted salmon. In one bite, there were hints of bitter greens, some acidity from the dijon and sweet, anise-y tarragon. They balanced each other in such a wonderfully unexpected way, and thus, a new recipe was born. 

mizuna with tarragon and capers || planting my roots

Since mizuna struck me as a much lighter - almost feathery - green, I wanted to avoid weighing it down while sautéing with something like dijon. To replicate the brininess and acidity of the mustard, my brain went to capers. It may seem a bit strange to mix the sweet and salty flavors here, as both capers and tarragon have very distinct flavors, but they really do complement each other beautifully in this dish. Pairing with a side of salmon certainly doesn't hurt either!

I'm still learning my way around mizuna, but I like to think that hopefully this first attempt would make Samin Nosrat proud. I could almost hear her voice in my head repeating "Salt Fat Acid Heat" as I tried to pull through those elements. A pinch of kosher salt, a spoonful of coconut oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and hit of capers - sautéed over heat to perfection. Salt, fat, acid and heat. We've got the whole gang here!

mizuna with tarragon and capers || planting my roots
mizuna with tarragon and capers || planting my roots

Mizuna with Tarragon and Capers

serves 2

what you'll need:
1 bunch mizuna (about 8 oz), roughly chopped
1 1/2 tbsp coconut oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 tbsp capers
2 tbsp fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
kosher salt, to taste
juice from 1/4 - 1/2 of a fresh lemon

what you'll do:

  1. Heat coconut oil in medium frying pan for one minute over medium heat. Add in minced garlic, stirring frequently for about one minute. Be careful not to burn garlic. 
  2. Add mizuna to frying pan, stirring frequently to coat greens with garlic and oil. Reduce heat to low and sauté for about 4 minutes, or until greens begin to wilt. 
  3. Remove from heat. Stir in capers and chopped tarragon. Add pinch of salt and squeeze of lemon to taste. Serve immediately. 

brussels sprouts, meet cacio e pepe

when it comes to thanksgiving, i'm the point person on brussels sprouts. i've never deviated from my pan-fried sprouts with parm, balsamic glaze and garlic, but come november, i may be mixing it up thanks to this cheesy, garlicy, peppery brussels sprouts recipe. 

does your family have a routine when it comes to your thanksgiving meal? who brings the pies; who is responsible for carving the turkey? in my family, we're pretty flexible as to who cooks what (exception being aforementioned brussels sprouts, our TWO versions of stuffing and green bean casserole). we all know our way around the kitchen, so we're lucky to have a lot of helping hands in between macy's day commercial breaks and many cups of coffee. 

cacio e pepe brussels sprouts || planting my roots

my overseeing of the brussels sprouts all started way back - man, almost seven (???) years ago when i tried a recipe for them at thanksgiving. i don't recall where the recipe came from, but by now i know it like the back of my hand and have served it at many a family dinner. i guess it was beginner's luck that the first time i ever served theses sprouts was definitely the best i've ever made them. i set the standards too high... the dish itself was simply pan fried brussels sprouts, which you cook on the stove top until golden brown with olive oil. then in a separate bowl, you toss liberally with balsamic glaze and parmesan cheese. it's one of those tried-and-true recipes that i'm willing to bet could turn anyone into a brussels sprouts fan. 

for this recipe though, i wanted to try something beyond tried-and-true. i suppose it's somewhat ironic then that i turned to an ultimate comfort food for inspiration and gave these brussels sprouts the cacio e pepe treatment. translating to "cheese and pepper," it's not too hard to see where i went with these...

cacio e pepe brussels sprouts || planting my roots
cacio e pepe brussels sprouts || planting my roots

with only five ingredients, these cacio e pepe brussels sprouts are simple, stunning and a show stopper. the same can be said of cacio e pepe, which traditionally is a beautifully basic pasta dish of black pepper, parmesan cheese, pasta, salt and olive oil. i highly recommend with a glass of red wine or two.

the trick to brussels sprouts is to make sure you place on an already very hot baking sheet. that will help them get that rich, golden color. the extra coating of parmesan cheese and olive oil doesn't hurt either...this year, thanksgiving may be a whole new brussels sprouts ball game. 


cacio e pepe brussels sprouts

serves 4

what you'll need:
1 pound brussels sprouts, sliced in half
3 tbps extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp black pepper, plus a few pinches extra for serving
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese, plus 2-3 tbsp for serving

what you'll do:

  1. preheat oven to 375° fahrenheit. place an aluminum foil lined baking sheet in oven as it preheats.
  2. place brussels sprouts in large bowl. add in extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt, pepper and finely grated parmesan cheese. toss until sprouts are evenly coated with cheese.
  3. carefully remove baking sheet from oven and quickly place parmesan coated brussels sprouts on sheet, flat side facing down. place back in oven and roast for 20 minutes. remove from oven and let rest for 5-6 minutes.
  4. in large bowl, toss roasted brussels sprouts with extra parmesan and black pepper to taste. serve immediately. 

preparing for flight

in between endless airbnb searches as i look to what the summer will hold, i've been focusing on more winter-friendly fare. exhibit one: this winter skillet hash. it's a blend of sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts and red onion, made even sweeter thanks to cranberries, goat cheese and sage. you can serve this as a side dish for dinner, or served cold it makes for an easy, veggie-heavy lunch. 

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