Monday, 17 May 2010
Persian cooking class 2: Nan-cheese-herbs, fesenjan & rose jam
I was super excited about my most recent Persian cooking class, as it was fesenjaan again! After my success with Najmieh Batmanglij's recipe in February, and after seeing our instructor Reza cooking this version on the NHK program Asia Crossroads, I was more than ready for another plate of Iran's classic party dish.
Reza's version, which somehow came to be dubbed "pomegranate curry" in Japanese, is certainly simpler than Najmieh khanom's. Onions and chicken are sauteed, and then spices and roughly chopped walnuts added. The chicken is removed, water added and the onion-nut mixture left to simmer for 20 min. It is then ground into a paste in a food processor or blender, making the sauce base. The chicken is returned, pomegranate paste and saffron water added and the lot left to simmer some more. The food processing bit seemed a bit radical to me, but certainly resulted in a smooth and dark sauce, so it looks like a winner.
None of my Japanese classmates had had fesenjaan before and were, I think, very pleasantly surprised by the combination of pomegranate and walnuts. In any event, there was a great deal of chatter about it round the table. Sour notes are not especially well represented in main dishes here, other than vinegared dishes like sushi, I suppose. No doubt an Iranian would probably have a similar reaction when presented with vinegared rice!
Speaking of rice, saffron rice was also on the menu, and the Iranian way with rice was another hot topic with my classmates. Japan is no stranger to rice, of course, but I can't think of any dish where boiling and draining the rice occurs. Grains that just hold together are preferred to separate grains, which would be much more difficult to corral with Japan's pointed chopsticks.
All of us had a surprise with our teacher's chosen method of cooking the nan for nan panir sabzi (bread, cheese and herbs), which was the appetizer for the evening. Flour tortillas (which being readily available, do duty as all kinds of flat breads) were toasted on a stove-top griller that's normally used for grilling fish here in Japan. Apparently it's the best way he's found of crisping up nan in Japan. There's a bit of a knack to getting the tortillas to puff up, but it works a treat. Must tell my dear Indian friend Sm next time he's in Japan!
The dried rose petals are soaked in water for 3 hours, so you need to plan a bit in advance. Other than that, it's just sugar, rosewater and lemon or lime juice. But oh, oh! What a flavour. Although we had it with ice cream, rose jam is equally delicious on pancakes, bread and stirred into yogurt.
In Iran, of course, fresh rose petals are used, and it seems that when they are in season you get them from the veggie shop. How great would that be??!