I would appear to be a glutton, not for punishment but for really good food. Post a weekend in Wellington for Wellington on a Plate and our second annual NZ Food Bloggers Conference I found myself back in Auckland and at Cook the Books for a cooking class - A Taste of Persia.
I couldn’t miss this one as it has been a long time coming, a case of the third time is indeed a charm. I was curious, as I’m not familiar with the cuisine and flavours of Persia, but a feeling that it could only be fragrant and exotic and it was with saffron, dried limes, cinnamon, dried rose buds and fresh herbs.
Iranian or Persian cuisine is one of the world’s oldest and shares history and ingredients with its neighbours the Mediterranean and Iraq leading to fragrant, aromatic dishes that meld sweet and savoury in some wonderfully flavourful and exotic dishes.
First up za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend made with toasted sesame seeds, dried herbs, sumac and salt. The blend of herbs and proportions vary from region to region so flavours can range from nutty to tangy to more herbal to salty, so blend to suit your own taste. Whip up a batch in no time and it will keep for up to 6 months.
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp dried marjoram
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried thyme
1/4 cup sumac
Place the sesame seeds in mortar and pestle along with the salt which will help get the grinding going. Grind and then add all the other ingredients and mix well to combine. Store in an air tight container in a cool dark place for up to 6 months.
In Iran za’atar it is often mixed with olive oil and spread on flat bread for breakfast or used as a dipping spice for bread. It is also used to spice up meat and vegetables or sprinkled on labneh or even scattered over fried eggs. So most definitely a versatile little spice blend to have on hand. I am also thinking za’atar roasted potatoes would go down a treat alongside the Sunday roast.
I can also attest that it is terribly moreish mixed with olive oil and mint and spread over flatbreads. They will most definitely be a regular for the upcoming BBQ season.
Another tasty morsel was the smokey aubergine with tomato, a rustic spread with roasted aubergine, tomato, coriander, cayenne, garlic and olive oil. This would also be good with the aforementioned flatbreads.
Next up Persian Potato Pancakes or Kookoo. Potato and pancakes, for me that can only be a good thing and these were indeed good, well more than good. They are like an exotic potato scone. Yes, in Scotland we can even make scones from potato. It was a regular from my Dad on a Sunday afternoon. Left over potatoes, mashed, add a little butter and roll out before frying and then slathering in more butter....need I say more??
For this more exotic variation potatoes are boiled, shredded and mixed with coriander, turmeric, saffron and garlic before being shaped in to patties and fried until golden brown. Served with a cucumber yogurt sauce sprinkled with rose buds for an exotic note, these were almost as moreish as the flat breads. A love of potatoes is inbuilt in to my Celtic genes so I don’t think there was ever any doubt that I could scoff quite a lot of these.
But there’s more, of course there’s more! One never, ever goes hungry at Cook the Books. And pre the finale as it were a Persian Zucchini Frittata or Kuku Kadoo. This is no ordinary frittata, turmeric and ginger make it something quite special and elevate the zucchini to something a little exotic, so one to bookmark for the Summer zucchini glut. A perfect lunch served alongside a Shirazi Salad. A bright, fresh mix of cucumber, red onion, parsley and tomatoes dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.
And for the grand finale Albaloo Polo, loving all these names. What is albaloo polo, well that would be Sour Cherry Rice which is not only a stunning and vibrant centre piece but oh so flavourful. Rice is cooked (perfectly) with saffron to deliver an vibrant yellow hue and an earthy depth, that is then layered with sour cherries and toasted almonds.
Alongside the rice Fesenjoon which is one of the oldest recipes, its history dating back to the time of the Persian Empire. Duck or chicken is cooked in a rich and potent pomegranate and walnut sauce. Turmeric, cardamom, dried limes, saffron, allspice and cinnamon add layers and layers of flavour.. Certainly fit for an exotic feast!
For more culinary inspiration...
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