Spring Cleaning, Fruits and Ta'rof


It's still very cold and windy where I live, grasses are dried and brown buried underneath patches of ice and snow, trees are bare and my bird houses are looking very lonely and beaten by the cold. There's no sign of spring in the air, as if it will never arrive. I know this harsh winter and cold weather won't last for long and spring will be here very soon but, like other harsh and cruel things in life, it's sometimes difficult to believe that there will be a light at the end of a dark tunnel. However, life proves to be full of surprises and many unimaginable beautiful outcomes. One of my mother's habits was writing little notes on the corner of blank pages of her favorite books, such as Hafez's poetry book, lines like "in niz bogzarad" (this too shall pass). Seeing my mother's beautiful handwriting and the message while thumbing through the pages reinforces the hope that things will get better! Renewal and change will come soon and spring will bring many blooms, warm rays of sunshine and greenery.

To me spring means hope, brightness, warmth, rejuvenation, colors, birds chirping, flowers and fruits. At this time of the year with spring being around the corner it's time for our traditional, major خانه تکانی - khaneh-tekani (spring cleaning). Which is a top to bottom, inside out, every nook and cranny heavy-duty cleaning, getting rid of the old and bringing in the new. Besides the cleaning I'm thinking of reupholstering my kitchen chairs and painting my stairway, that's why I need at least four weeks to accomplish all of this, and yes, I'll do it all by myself. Changing the seat covers is easy, it's choosing the right fabric that is hard. So far, I've been to my neighborhood fabric store and came back empty handed. I can't seem to find what I'm looking for. Well, I'm not much of an interior designer and it takes me awhile to figure out what works best. I also wrote about spring cleaning (Iranian style) a year ago at this time.


Assorted fresh seasonal fruit platters are usually the center piece of the living room coffee tables in most Iranian homes for Nowruz celebrations and gatherings with friends and family. For us, serving fruits is right up there with serving a fresh brewed cup of tea with sweets. Even though winter fruits are somewhat limited in varieties compared to the summer bounty, you offer a fruit platter with what's seasonally available in your area and part of the world.

As a kid I didn't like the  تعارف   ta'rof ritual, the persistence of offering you food and drinks by the elders in the family. I'm used to it by now and it doesn't bother me anymore. It's all done with the best intentions of wanting to serve and please your guests. I find a little ta'rof somewhat charming. I usually offer our guests something to eat 2-3 times before giving up and saying "please feel at home and help yourself" but my husband, on the other hand, starts peeling oranges, slicing apples, pears and Persian cucumbers and anything else that's on the table and makes a ready to eat fruit platter for our guests! It's very cultural!!


Enjoy!

Masghati - Persian Rose Water, Cardamom Pudding with Almonds and Pistachios


There may be a few different ways of preparing مسقطی masghati but this starch based recipe is the only one that I'm familiar with and love! This is a simple, quick, no fuss and yet decadent dessert recipe! This traditional recipe is infused with aromatic rose water, saffron, crushed pistachios, almonds and cardamom; a perfect treat for any occasion or to just enjoy with a fresh brewed cup of afternoon tea. Traditionally, masghati is cut into diamond shapes, garnished with pistachios and almonds and served with tea. You may also serve it in small bowls if you like.


I also made an adorable heart shaped masghati for Valentine's Day! This tasty sweet has an intoxicating combination of aromas and flavors and it just melts in your mouth and is quite addictive! It also fills my heart with feelings of nostalgia and eshgh (love), the binding source of the universe!



Masghati - Persian Rose Water, Cardamom Pudding with Almonds and Pistachios

Ingredients:
Makes about 30 diamond-shaped masghati

1 cup corn starch or wheat starch (I used corn starch)
1 1/2 cup white sugar (adjust to your personal taste)
4-6 tablespoons butter
1 cup slivered or coarsely chopped blanched almonds
1 cup slivered or coarsely chopped pistachios
1/3 cup rose water (adjust to your personal taste)1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
A pinch of crushed saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons of hot water
Water

Method:

  1. Heat a cup of water on medium to low heat, add sugar, stir until sugar is dissolved. Keep warm.
  2. In a small bowl dissolve the corn starch in a cup of cold water till there are no more lumps.
  3. In a medium heavy pan add the dissolved starch and 3 cups of water on medium to low heat and cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Then, add the dissolved sugar and stir well.
  5. Add butter, almonds, saffron, cardamom and 1/2 cup of pistachios (keep the rest of the pistachios for garnish). Stirring constantly for about 5-7 minutes until with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth, well blended and thick. Reduce the heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes.
  6. Add the rose water in the last 10 minutes of cooking.
  7. Remove from heat and spread into a rectangular flat pan that has been lightly buttered or oiled. Your pan needs to be at least one inch deep. Smooth the surface with a spatula or the back of a spoon and then let it cool for a couple of hours.
  8. Cut masghati into diamond shapes, place on a serving platter and garnish with pistachios and almonds. 

 I wish you all a very happy Valentine's Day filled with love and happiness!

Peace and blessings!
Enjoy!

Ash-e Mast - Hearty Persian Yogurt Soup

This is a fabulous recipe from Azarbaijan, the north western region of Iran, and it somehow found its way into our home. آش ماست Ash-e mast is a warm and cozy soup perfect for chilly winter days or even hot summer days. This healthy soup is filled with rice, chickpeas, a mix of fresh herbs, yogurt and small meatballs, topped with sauteed onion/garlic and mint. The addition of yogurt during cooking gives a pleasant sour taste to the soup and a creamy rich texture. Yogurt has a special place in Iranian cooking, there's usually a bowl of our popular yogurt side-dish (mast-o-khiar) or just plain yogurt served along with lunch and dinner.


I am a big fan of all soups, light or hearty, and they are healthy and relatively easy to make. In Persian cooking the main herbs for any kind of ash usually consists of one or more of the following: flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, dill, chives/leeks/scallion (tareh), spinach and  beetroot leaves (barg-e choghondar). I think any combination of these herbs with any kind of beans, some noodles, and just a dollop of yogurt on top, makes a great soup! That was all I'd like to eat after a long day of work and train commute when I was expecting my second child some years ago.


My youngest brother who still lives in Iran, told me of his recent travel to Sareyn, Azarbaijan where there are mineral water hot baths everywhere that can ease any ailment. He said his chronic foot pain had gone away after this trip! He told me about the fresh air, Sabalan honey, Lighvan cheese (feta cheese), the best milk and yogurt. Hopefully, one day I can come with my family and all of us together may travel to the region and enjoy the beautiful nature.


Ash-e Mast - Hearty Persian Yogurt Soup

Ingredients:
Serves 6

1/2 cup rice, rinse
1/2 cup chickpeas, rinse, soak in water overnight, drain and rinse before cooking. You may substitute yellow split peas (lapeh)
1 cup plain yogurt at room temperature
1/2 cup dill, washed, chopped
1/2 cup scallion (green parts), washed, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, washed, chopped
1/3 cup mint, washed, chopped
1/3 cup parsley, washed, chopped
1 egg yolk
1-2 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Water

 For Meatballs:

1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 medium onion, minced
2-3 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste

For Topping:

1 large onion, thinly sliced
4-5 garlic-cloves,chopped
2-3 tablespoons mint, fresh (chopped) or dried
Vegetable oil

Method:
  1. In a skillet melt butter and saute onion until golden brown. Add turmeric, stir well and continue sauteing for another 3-5 minutes on medium heat. Set aside to cool.  
  2. In a bowl combine beef, onion, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly with your hand and shape into tiny balls. Set aside.
  3. In a large soup pot place chickpeas and add 6-8 cups of water, bring to a boil on medium heat. Lower the heat and cook until chickpeas are soft and tender.
  4. Add rice and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Add more water if necessary.
  5. Gently add the meatballs into the pot and add the seasoning.
  6. Add the vegetables and stir well for a minute and cook for another 20 minutes.
  7. In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolk, 2 tablespoons of yogurt and 1-2 tablespoons of flour.
  8. Combine the egg mixture with the remaining yogurt and mix thoroughly.
  9. Add the yogurt to the soup, stir well and cook on low heat for 30-40 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  10. For the topping, heat oil in a small pan, saute onion until golden brown on medium heat, add garlic and mint, saute for another 2-3 minutes. Careful, garlic burns easily!
To serve, ladle the soup into a deep serving dish and garnish with the fried onion mixture.

Enjoy!