Baby Arugula Salad with Date and Citrus Dressing

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I’ve been experimenting with more Middle Eastern flavors in my cooking lately and this salad is a riff on California meets Iran. What’s more Californian than arugula and citrus and what’s more Iranian than dates, mint, and pistachios?

I was iffy on how well citrus and dates would pair in a dressing the first time I made this, but the results were stellar. A little bit sweet, a little bit sour, you’ll want seconds of this salad.

Baby arugula salad with date and citrus dressing

Ingredients:

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1 cup mandarins, peeled and segments cut in half
1/2 cup pitted dates, thinly sliced, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 Belgian endives, sliced
6 cups baby arugula
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons mint leaves, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup toasted pistachios
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved (about 1 cup)

1. Whisk together olive oil, sherry vinegar, orange juice, shallot, and 1 tablespoon dates. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Place mandarins and remaining dates in a large bowl. Reserve and set aside 6 tablespoons vinaigrette. Drizzle remaining vinaigrette over mandarin mixture, and, using your hands, pull dates apart into individual slices. Add endives, arugula, parsley, mint, and remaining vinaigrette; toss to coat.

3. To serve, garnish with pistachios and shaved Parmesan cheese.

Iranian Okra Stew (Khoresh-e Bamieh)

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For the uninitiated, khoresh is a general term for stews and curries in Iranian cuisine that are served alongside basmati rice, fresh sabzi (herbs), and torshi (pickled vegetables). From eggplant to fenugreek to split peas to pomegranates, there are countless varieties of khoresh and at gatherings you’ll see at least two types served alongside other dishes.

My favorite khoresh, though, is a less common one: khoresh-e bamieh. This okra stew hails from southern Iran and although both of my parents are from Tehran, my mom’s family grew up eating this. She introduced it to my dad when they were married, who counts it among his favorites too. And me? Well, I go crazy for this stuff. Luckily for me (and you), it’s easy to make. It’s not quite as good as my mom’s, but I’m getting there.

Like most khoreshs, it can be made vegetarian by simply omitting the meat. You can also substitute the chicken for leg of lamb that’s been cut into 2-inch cubes. Just be sure to adjust the cooking time and water accordingly.

Khoresh-e bamieh

Ingredients:

2 onions, peeled and chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 pounds skinless chicken legs and thighs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tomato, chopped
juice of 1 lime
1 pound fresh or frozen okra

1. In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, brown onion, garlic, and chicken in the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and turmeric. Add the tomato paste and tomato. Pour in 1 1/2 cups water, cover, and simmer over low heat for 1/2 hour until the chicken is tender, stirring occasionally.

2. When the chicken is tender, add lime juice and okra. Simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes over low heat. Check to see if okra is tender. Taste the stew and adjust the seasoning if needed. Serve warm with chelo (Iranian-style rice).

Iranian Lentil Soup (Adassi)

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This recipe is greater than the sum of its parts. With only seven ingredients, it’s easy to overlook, but don’t be fooled. One spoonful of adasi and I’m instantly transported back to my childhood summer visits to Tehran. I can almost taste the freshly-picked and hand-dried angelica seeds and the bright, tart Persian limes that are so difficult to come by in the U.S.

I’ve substituted Meyer lemons here but the golpar, or angelica powder is essential to this hearty soup. You can find angelica powder at Iranian and some Middle Eastern grocers.

After the gluttony of the holidays, adassi is simple, comforting, and exactly what I’m craving in the new year.

Adassi

Ingredients:

2 cups lentils, cleaned and washed
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon angelica powder
1 lime, halved

1. Place lentils in a saucepan and add 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally; adding more water if needed.

2. In a skillet, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until golden brown. Add it to the lentils, season with salt and pepper, and let simmer over low heat for another 45 minutes.

3. Add angelica powder and lime juice to taste and remove from heat. Serve hot.

Spinach Borani

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No Iranian meal is complete without a yogurt-based side dish of some sort. The cucumber and mint-flecked mast-o khiar is most common (and a close cousin to Indian raita and Greek tzatziki). Spinach borani flies under the radar, despite it being just as delicious.

More substantial than its cucumber counterpart, spinach borani is a simple but perfect side dish alongside an Iranian khoresh but it’s just at home next to curry (and if you’re like me, straight out of the bowl as a standalone snack). Borani keeps for a few days in the fridge, so it’s perfect with leftovers.

Spinach borani

Ingredients:

1 pound spinach (about 1 bunch), washed
2 to 3 cups Persian or Greek-style yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper

1. Blanch the spinach: bring a pot of water to a boil; add spinach, and blanch for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and drain spinach in a colander, rinsing under cold water. Squeeze spinach to remove excess liquid and coarsely chop.

2. In a serving bowl, thoroughly mix yogurt, spinach, garlic, adding salt and pepper to taste.

3. Chill the bowl in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving, allowing the flavors to set. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Khiar Shoor (Pickled Cucumbers)

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Khiar shoor literally translates from Persian to English as “salty cucumbers,” but it is so much more than that. Shoor are a category of Iranian pickled vegetables, be they cucumbers or cauliflower or carrots or nearly any other vegetable. There’s also torshi, but that’s a whole other classification of pickled vegetables that we’ll save for another post.

Every summer while I was growing up, my mom and all the Iranian aunties would gather in someone’s home and spend the day peeling vegetables and peppers and onions, making the next year’s batch of shoor and torshi. The air would be ripe with the smell of vinegar and garlic and the kids would be enlisted to help. The shoor would be ready to eat a few weeks later; the torshi would need to wait months, sometimes even years.

Nowadays you can buy shoor or torshi at any Middle Eastern market but nothing comes close to the homemade version. I made this version when I found myself with too many Armenian cucumbers from my parents’ garden. Once ready, these cucumbers go wonderfully with sandwiches or kotlet.

Pickled Armenian cucumbers

Ingredients:

2 red or green chili peppers
2 pounds Persian or Armenian cucumbers
5 cloves garlic, peeled
7 sprigs tarragon
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
kosher salt

1. Wash, clean and drain the vegetables and herbs. Sterilize canning jars, drain and dry thoroughly.

2. Fill each jar almost to the top with cucumbers, garlic, tarragon, and bay leaves.

3. Bring 6 tablespoons salt, 12 cups water, peppercorns, sugar, vinegar, and chili peppers to a boil. Remove from heat and fill each jar within 1/2 inch of the top with this hot liquid. Let cool and seal jars. Store the jars in the refrigerator for at least 10 days before using.