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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sweet pea, apple of my eye

last we caught up, i was bouncing all around georgia and mississippi in search of the perfect peach pie and fried green tomatoes. little did i know that mississippi is the land of sweet potatoes, and i returned home hooked on sweet potato coffee of all things! i had an absolutely wonderful time during my campus visit and hope to return very soon. stocking up on more sweet potato coffee being only one of many reasons. 

sweet potato coffee || planting my roots

following my weekend in the south, i headed back home to pennsylvania for easter weekend, then baltimore for a friend's birthday. it's been non-stop, go go go. fast-forward to last weekend, and it was packed with drinks on the stoop, a merdian hill park day, the new infinity rooms exhibit at hirshorn, botanical garden exploring, iced coffee at the farmers market...all good things, very, very good things. and all things that make me want to take a nap once i list them all out. can you tell it's finally nice and we're taking advantage of the beautiful weather? 

stoop drinks || planting my roots

but you know what's perfect in the early days of spring, when it's sunny and lovely late but there's still a bit of a chill in the air? or, days like today when it's just been a massive non-stop downpour? soup. more specifically, a soup that's colorful and bright and light. a pea and mint soup, to be exact.

sweet pea and mint soup || planting my roots

there are many things i love about this recipe, and not only the fact that it makes me want to play amos lee on repeat: 1) few ingredients, but the flavor is spot-on and super fresh, 2) the color is gorgeous, 3) it makes for easy meal prep, 4) it's super speedy to create, and 5) it is perfectly dunkable with freshly baked bread. the two greens - mint and peas - complement each other perfectly and together, they make for a wonderfully light lunch on a cool or dreary spring day. 

sweet pea and mint soup || planting my roots
sweet pea and mint soup || planting my roots

mint and pea soup

serves 4

what you'll need:
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/4 tsp crushed garlic
1 pound frozen or fresh peas
5 - 6 sprigs fresh thyme (about 3/4 tbsp)
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup whole or 2% milk
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint, roughly chopped
juice of half a lemon
kosher salt
black pepper

what you'll do:

  1. in large saucepan, melt butter, then sauté onion and garlic. add a generous pinch of kosher salt and stir periodically. 

  2. once onions are translucent (about 6 minutes), add in peas, thyme, 1/2 tsp of kosher salt and black pepper, to taste. stir over heat for about 5 - 6 more minutes, then pour in stock. simmer for 10 minutes.

  3. remove from heat, add in fresh mint and lemon juice. pour soup into blender or food processor, blend for 2 minutes, then pour in milk. blend for another 3-4 minutes, or until completely smooth. serve immediately. 

perfect pistachio and pomegranate hummus

i'm writing this from a hotel room, as i've unexpectedly ended up with a 24 hour layover in atlanta, georgia. i was supposed to be in starkville, mississippi yesterday in the early afternoon, but delta had other plans in mind! i tried to turn these travel woe lemons into lemonade, and ended up having a blast taking the evening to explore downtown atlanta. 

as soon as i landed and settled into my last-minute hotel room, i head downtown to do some market hopping. i started out at krog street market, then made my way to ponce city market. in both places, i weaved in and out of what felt like a mini UN of culinary creations. from indian to south korean to italian to middle eastern, it felt impossible to decide where to eat (or if i should've just "settled" on a big bowl of jeni's ice cream for dinner.)

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sean brock has been on my radar for quite a while thanks to mind of a chef, so i ultimately couldn't pass up finally trying out one of his restaurants, minero. i was not at all disappointed with the choice! i sipped on a pineapple agua fresco and ate every single bite of carnitas with salsa verde cocida, roasted pumpkin and pepitas (and 2/3 of their renowned warm corn tortillas). i was really craving some soul food or classic southern food while in atlanta, but minero snuck a bit in there since the carnitas were nestled on top of hoppin' john. 

after grabbing dinner, i walked along the beltline before heading back to my hotel. so many people were out on the trail i felt like the entire city of atlanta was in tow for a weekend evening stroll. i strategically placed myself behind a puppy and worked off some of those carnitas, but alas, didn't end up making enough room for some of jeni's. a heaping cone of roasted strawberry buttermilk ice cream will just have to be on my bucket list for next time!

pistachio, mint and pomegranate hummus || planting my roots

having extra time on my hands also finally gave me the space i needed to get this new post up! as you have probably noticed at this point, i'm a sucker for all things pistachio > mint > pomegranate. for me, it's the trifecta of ingredients that can be made sweet (imagine as an ice cream topping!) or savory (mmmm on roasted chicken shwarama).

in this case, i've swirled together into a rich, creamy hummus. this dip comes together so quickly, and is wonderful to serve as an appetizer with some toasted, crunchy pita, or as a spread on a sandwich or wrap. you may also want to toss a big spoonful on the side of a veggie-heavy salad, as it adds a wonderful burst of flavor. 

as with happens every time i travel, i'm sure i'll be returning home from mississippi and georgia with a whole new world of flavors to be inspired by. something sweet with peach or pecan? something savory with fried catfish or sweet potato rolls? there's a lot more taste testing left, and someone's gotta do it.

pistachio, mint and pomegranate hummus || planting my roots

pistachio, mint and pomegranate hummus

what you'll need:

1 15 oz can chickpeas, skins removed and chickpea water (aquafaba) reserved
1/3 cup salted and roasted pistachios, plus extra for garnish
1 clove garlic
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2-3/4 cup tahini (depending on how creamy you'd like it)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
kosher salt, to taste
pomegranate arils, for garnish
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, for garnish

what you'll do:

  1. remove chickpea skins (click for instructions to do this here - see steps 1 & 2 in recipe!).
  2. in food processor, blend pistachios for about 1 minute, or until a pistachio paste forms. then add chickpeas, garlic, lemon, tahini, mint, salt and aquafaba (should be about 1/2 cup). blend to combine until smooth and creamy.
  3. use a spatula to transfer into serving bowl. top with a light handful of pistachios, extra virgin olive oil and pomegranates. 

fattoush feasting

a few months back, when the days were much warmer and we could have backyard picnics, matt and i hosted a birthday dinner party. we were hosting what grew into a feast of lebanese food. while matt smoked lamb for kebabs and made mixed drinks, i was in charge of everything surrounding said kebabs. that meant heaping bowls of smooth hummus, fresh, lemony tabbouleh and my take on a summer panzanella salad. the salad was (biased as i am) delicious in its own right, filled with peaches, goat cheese, poppyseed dressing and buttery, crunchy toasted bread. but, in retrospect, we had a definite theme going on and since we *needed* a flavorful bread salad....how was fattoush not on the menu?

fattoush || planting m roots
fattoush || planting my roots

have you heard of fattoush? hailing from the middle east, fattoush is a fresh, crunchy and crisp salad. the "fresh" and "crisp" comes from fresh vegetables and herbs, and the "crunch" from dried or toasted pita. the recipe i've included here is adapted from one published in a cookbook handed down by my family, called "the art of syrian cookery." the ingredients in that recipe are fairly simple, calling for just syrian bread, green onions, cucumber, lemon, olive oil and a mix of parsley, thyme and mint.

in my version, i've added in colorful cherry tomatoes, sumac (more on that later) and pomegranate molasses. pomegranate molasses is something i've recently gotten into in a big way ever since discovering muhammara. in this recipe, it adds a perfect tang to complement the vegetables. i really love the pomegranate molasses recipe by tori avey!

fattoush || planting my roots
fattoush || planting my roots

what sets fattoush apart from other salads is 1) its crunchy bites of dried or toasted pita and 2) its sumac dressing. sumac is irreplaceable in this recipe, but once you have your first taste of it, i have a feeling you'll find it's irreplaceable in many recipes you never knew needed it. sumac actually comes from dried berries, and the flavor itself is tangy, sour and lemony and the color is a beautiful, deep red. the flavor and color of sumac pops off the palate and plate. 

fattoush makes for a wonderful accompaniment to deliciously aromatic meats, like a kibbeh or chicken shawarma. a perfect bite of food - in my opinion - is fattoush, chicken shawarma and hummus. if you are serving this at a dinner party, hold off on adding the dressing and toasted pita until about 15 minutes before you serve. that will allow the pita to soak in the dressing to soften a bit, but won't totally drench it. 

fattoush || planting my roots

fattoush

serves 2
what you'll need:

2 small pitas, torn into bite-size pieces
1 persian cucumber, quartered
8 cherry heirloom tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup green onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
6-8 sprigs fresh thyme, removed from stem
kosher salt, to taste
sumac, to taste

juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tsp sumac
1/2 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

what you'll do:

  1. preheat oven to 350° fahrenheit. place bite-size pieces of fresh pita on baking sheet and place in oven. bake for 11 - 12 minutes, until golden brown and crispy, but not burnt. set aside to cool.
  2. in large bowl, toss cucumber, tomatoes, green onion, fresh mint, parsley and thyme with a few pinches of kosher salt and sumac, to taste. set aside.
  3. in small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients.
  4. drizzle over vegetables and herbs, mixing in toasted pita chips. adjust salt, pepper and sumac to taste.

on making time

this bowl hit all the right notes for me. it makes for a perfect weekday lunch (which i need to be quick and easy to toss in my bag before i head to work), is packed with vibrant flavors and colors, and abounds with the healthiest ingredients. developing the recipe for this unfolded slowly on a saturday, when i had bread baking in the oven and a spotify playlist serenading me. it was exactly the way i want a weekend day to be.

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