Friday, 23 April 2010

Persian cooking class!

A serendipitous series of events led me to discover that a Persian cooking class is being held right here in Tokyo!

And even more exciting, the instructor, Reza Rahbar, is from down south in the Persian Gulf region of Iran. The Persian cookbooks in my collection do not cover this area of the country, and from the recipes Reza presented on the Ajiwai Kitchen segment of the NHK program Asia Crossroads in April, I knew I was in for something a bit different!

The class was held in a private apartment in swanky Aoyama, just a couple of stops by subway from my office. It was a very homey atmosphere, with a dining table set for 6 and a small hob where the cooking demonstration and hands-on cooking took place.

Reza-sensei was a charming host and very laid back in the kitchen, answering my barrage of questions as we went along.

The first dish we made were adorable kupeh fried rice cakes stuffed with a delicious filling of mince, onions, yellow split peas, sultanas, saffron and cinnamon (photo above). The aroma was very much like that of my favourite adas polo (rice with lentils and dried fruit). I wondered if they also eat adas polo where kupeh are from, and it seems they do. A variation on a theme, then.

The assembly of these little parcels is quite fiddly, but the resulting packets were like tah-dig sandwiches. Delicious.

Next, we made sandali soltan ("the Sultan's seat"), a puree of garlic and turmeric-infused broad beans that was topped with ground dried lemons and sizzling olive oil, giving that unmistakable Persian tartness. I was surprised to know that this relative of the myriad purees, pastes and dips that feature heavily in non-Persian Middle Eastern meze, is considered a borani. I had thought that borani were all yogurt "salads". There you go!

With glasses of wine (at a small extra cost), we ate this with fresh chives and crackers, although it would probably have been lavash in Iran. Great stuff.

The other two dishes were a delectable stew of layered lamb, vegetables and prunes, which had been prepared in advance due to time constraints; and a dessert of dates stuffed with almonds and dusted with rosewater, coconut and cardamom that Reza prepared while we ate the first two courses, all washed down with Persian tea and saffron sugar crystals.

At the end of the meal, we were all happily sated and eager for the next session.

This was a trial lesson for me, but I think I was sold the moment I walked in the door to such a warm welcome, knowledgeable host, and the thoughtful offer of wine. A designer by trade, Reza had personalized our recipe sheets with beautiful artwork, and even presented us all with a thank you gift of two dried lemons in a presentation bag with a tag of his own design.

It was a lovely finishing touch to what had been a very enjoyable session of cooking with (new) friends. I signed up for more on the spot (g).

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Diana Henry's lamb and orange khoresh

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When I wrote about Margaret Shaida's Orange khoresh back in January, I knew I would have to revisit the version in Diana Henry's Crazy Water Pickled Lemons. Diana's version of orange stew was one of my very first forays into the wide world of Middle Eastern cooking. It really opened up my eyes and taste buds to how good the eating is in that part of the world!

There is some kind of alchemy involved in this dish. Other than orange flower water (which I consider optional, as it makes little difference to the taste in all honesty), there is nothing out of the ordinary in this recipe, but for a citrus lover like me, the results are nothing short of phenomenal!

Diana does not give a source for her recipe, but she's definitely done her homework, and perhaps even bettered the other versions of this delightful dish that I've tried since. Her addition of mint is inspired (whatever made her think of adding mint to lamb...? (g)), and really lifts this dish onto a higher plain. I use teeny, tiny peppermint leaves, which do take some prepping, but I think it's worth it.

On the other hand, Diana saves us some time by only boiling the orange peel once to remove the bitterness. Most recipes call for several changes of water to do this job. However, since we are using lamb here, it can take the stronger orange flavour very well.

I've adjusted Diana's recipe for the pressure cooker. The meat will take roughly double the time to cook in step 3 if simmering without pressure.

All in all, I would say that this is my favourite orange khoresh, if not one of my very favourite things to eat. If it takes a little time to make, I'm not going to complain. It is a joy to make something so very good to eat.

Lamb and orange khoresh

Serves 6

3 oranges
40 g unsalted butter
2 tsp caster sugar
olive oil
675 g lamb from the leg, cut into 3-4 cm cubes
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
275 ml orange juice
Juice of 1 lime
275 ml lamb stock or water
salt and pepper
3 carrots
good handful of mint leaves, torn
2 tsp orange flower water
25 g shelled pistachios, roughly chopped, to garnish

1 Remove peel from the oranges with a vegetable peeler, taking care to leave the pith behind, and cut into fine strips about the size of a match. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, cook for 2 min, then strain. Heat half the butter in a a small pan and add the orange rind. Stir, then add the sugar and cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until the sugar has melted and the rind has lightly caramelized. Set aside.

2 Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pressure cooker. Fry the lamb cubes over fairly high heat, so that they get a good browning on the outside. You should do this in batches to ensure that they get properly coloured. Remove and set the lamb aside.

3 Add another 1 tbsp of olive oil to the pressure cooker with the rest of the butter. Heat this and saute the onion until soft and translucent. Sprinkle on the cinnamon and cardamom and cook for another minute. Add the juices, stock and water, and the lamb, with any juices that have run out of it. Season, seal the pressure cooker and and bring up to pressure. Turn down the heat and cook at low pressure for 40 min.

4 Peel the carrots and cut them into batons about 6 cm long. Using a very sharp knife, remove the white pith from the oranges then, cutting close to the membrane, remove each segment. Add the carrots and caramelized orange peel (reserving a little for garnishing) to the lamb once it has been cooking 40 min. Simmer, uncovered, for a further 20 min, adding the orange segments in the last 10 min. Gently stir in half of the mint in the last couple of minutes.

5 Stir the orange flower water, if using, into the khoresh and turn it into a heated bowl, scattered with the remaining mint and orange peel and the pistachios. Serve with plain white rice.