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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Kitchen Sink Salad

Over Christmas break, my mom and I set out to recreate my great Grandma's recipes after they were mailed to me, packed snugly in a graham cracker box. It wasn't hard for us to figure out the one we should try first, as page one of Good Housekeeping Institute was marked with a handwritten note, "chicken pie 96." Page 96 was the only page bookmarked. Page 96 was also the only one marked with another handwritten note, "good pie." Great Grandma Lauer couldn't have given us any clearer of a sign. 

chicken pie || planting my roots

What wasn't as clear was what side to pair with this "good pie." We knew we'd need something light and with texture to contrast with the warm, soft biscuit topping and vegetable sauce. We weren't totally sure what sides Grandma Lauer preferred, but a chopped kale salad at the salad bar kept catching our eye. It marked all the boxes for us - crunchy, fresh and bright. It also seemed easy enough for us to recreate!

kitchen sink salad || planting my roots

With that as our "launchpad," the salad took on a life of its own with some other ingredients we picked up along the way - a fresh pomegranate instead of dried cranberries, thinly sliced radishes for extra crunch, and crumbled goat cheese with apricot and thyme. One thing that stayed the same was the matchstick carrots - doesn't that seem identical at every salad bar??

kitchen sink salad || planting my roots
kitchen sink salad || planting my roots
kitchen sink salad || planting my roots

This salad is worthy of the title "Kitchen Sink Salad" for two reasons: 1) Essentially all prep can happen over the kitchen sink if you have a big colander and 2) The recipe is forgiving enough that you can toss in everything...but the kitchen sink. You can swap red onions for radishes for a bit of bite and crunch. Kale can easily be substituted with any other leafy green. If you prefer cranberries to pomegranate seeds, go for it! The sky (err fridge) is the limit. 

kitchen sink salad || planting my roots

The first step is to grab a large colander and place it in the sink. Then, chop the kale into bite size pieces and toss into colander. Rinse thoroughly and shake dry. As remaining water dries on kale leaves, prep your other ingredients and toss them into the colander as each one is prepared - peel and matchstick the carrots, thinly slice the radishes, deseed the pomegranate, chop the dates and crumble the goat cheese. This does require a bit of prep work, so think of it as good meditative time or turn on your favorite album. Enjoy the process.

When you're ready to serve, toss in the walnuts and a dressing of your choice. I've paired it with both a raspberry vinaigrette and cherry balsamic dressing. Something fruity pairs well with these flavors, but I think a poppy seed dressing could also work wonderfully. As with the other ingredients in this recipe, the dressing is also chef's choice - it is forgiving!

kitchen sink salad || planting my roots

Kitchen Sink Salad

serves 4

what you'll need:
1 head kale, roughly chopped into bite size pieces
1/2 pound carrots
1/2 pound radishes
seeds from 1/2 of a pomegranate
1/2 cup mejdool dates or apricots, roughly chopped
3-4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts
salad dressing, to taste (recommend flavors of raspberry, cherry or poppy seed)

what you'll do:

  1. In large colander, rinse chopped kale. While kale is drying, rinse carrots and finely chop into small matchsticks. Rinse and thinly slice radishes into quarters or bite size pieces. Add both to colander.
  2. Remove seeds from 1/2 of a pomegranate, dropping directly into the colander.
  3. Add chopped dates or apricots to colander, then add crumbled goat cheese. Finally, use hands to toss all ingredients in colander. Pour into large serving bowl. 
  4. If eating immediately, toss in walnuts and dressing of choice to taste. Mix thoroughly and serve. If making in advance, add walnuts and dressing when ready to serve. This salad can be made one day in advance. 

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.

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.)

IMG_7592.JPG

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.