Nowrooz Potato Lyonnaise. Just for Fun.

It’s Spring! No, really. The Spring equinox was at 11:01:53 on Wednesday 20th March 2013. Which happens to coincide with the Persian New Year (Nowrooz). So we wish you all a happy and prosperous 1392.

Iranian celebrations to welcome in the new year/spring go back millennia, to ancient Zoroastrian times and beyond, and there is a lot of symbolism attached. Every house lays out a ‘sofreh’ like the one in the picture: on it they will place candles and a mirror for light, goldfish for prosperity, and seven things beginning with the letter ‘s’ (in Farsi of course), which are known as the haftsin. This comprises sabzeh (wheatgrass) and samenou (wheatgrass mousse) and sombol (hyacinth) and sumak and sekeh (coins) and sib (apple) and senjed (wild Russian olives) and serkeh (vinegar), and esphand (wild rue). Oh, and lots of sweets: you are meant to start the new year as you mean to go on, and sweetness is a must. The white stag and Hiawatha seemed to have strayed into the picture from a different celebration (i.e. I’ve no idea what they’re doing there).

The food eaten at this time is also very traditional, involving lots of herbs and plenty of spring garlic. Sabzi pulao is one such dish (recipe coincidentally in Veggiestan…): herbed garlicky rice served with meat or vegetable stock (or smoked fish). The recipe below is kind of a cross between sabzi pulao and potatoes Lyonnaise; the result a slightly-naughty-but-intriguing side dish or snack.

Ingredients (as a side for 4-5):

  • 600g waxy potatoes (desiree work well here, or a salad pot like Maris Peer), peeled (or at least scrubbed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 100g butter
  • 2 medium onions, finely sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, steeped in boiling water
  • 2-3 bunches spring garlic, finely chopped
  • big handful fresh coriander, chopped
  • big handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dill weed (or fresh chopped dill)
  • sea salt and coarse ground black pepper

Cut the pots into thickish slices, blanch them in boiling water for around three minutes and then drain them. Next heat the oil in a frying pan and add the butter. Fry the onions until they are starting to brown before adding the saffron water and spring garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes more before taking off the heat. Layer one third of the potatoes in a greased over tray, cover with half of the onion mix and sprinkle with half of the chopped herbs and a little salt and pepper. Repeat with the second third of the spuds and the remainder of the onions and herbs. Top with the rest of the potatoes and bake at gas mark 6 (200C) for around forty minutes or until the potatoes are crispy golden. Enjoy.

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On Pine Nuttiness…

Got to love pine nuts. Their slight crunch, the creaminess, the, well, nuttiness. Such versatile little chaps: they mingle with salads, play nicely with in sweets, flirt with the bread department and excel in sandwiches. And they are such a typical Veggiestani ingredient. BUT they can also destroy your sense of taste at thirty paces.

Not a lot of people know this, but Chinese pine nuts (specifically those of the genus P.Armandii) can trigger something which has become known as Pine Mouth (sounds unfortunately like a bovine ailment, no?) or PNS (Pine Nut Syndrome). And PNS, albeit really quite harmless, is utterly disgusting. It hits 2-3 days after consuming the little buggers, and (in my case) came on very suddenly. I was halfway through eating a kookoo (made by my mother-in-law) when my mouth just filled with bitter-than-bitter-aloes bitterness: I did fleetingly wonder if she was trying to poison me, but as we get on famously this thought was rapidly replaced with panic. Washing the food down with water made things worse, as did a spoonful of honey and an orange. Everything I ate tasted fine at first, but within seconds my tastebuds rebelled and produced this awful awful taste.

After 2 days I broke my self-imposed medical-Google embargo and searched for other bitter mouth sufferers. And it seems that there are thousands of us out there. THIS WEBSITE was the most helpful, and it does scientific stuff too (which is way more helpful than my hand-flappy-oh-my-God kind of approach). The gist of it is that these rogue pine nuts strike at random in the stealth of night, can affect absolutely anyone (and yet if you prove susceptible once it does not mean that the PNS will recur if you eat them again), and that symptoms can last from a few days to a couple of months. Pine nuts from Russia/Korea etc seem completely blameless – it is uniquely the genus above which causes the condition.

I have posted this not to put you off pine nuts, or Chinese products, but to make you aware of the condition, so that if you are unlucky enough to experience it you will not panic or have to wade through the terrifying morass of looking for health symptoms on-line. Also, it may come up in the pub quiz one day…

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A Peck of Pretty Peppers…

Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pretty Peppers. Actually, no, I did on this occasion. Snapped this on a cheap package beano to Icmeler in Southern-ish Turkey a year or so ago. Peppers are sooo good for you. All peppers: long ones, fat ones, sweet ones, hot ones. And versatile: stuff them, pickle them, puree them, chop ’em. And they have the habit of appearing in conveniently price-reduced batches if you shop judiciously (that means corner-shops and markets).

This recipe uses those long thin peppers: they are perfect for stuffing with cheese or other rich food. Red or green are fine – or use banana peppers (which are, astonishingly enough, kind of banana colour).

Cheesy Stuffed Peppers

  • 6 peppers, washed
  • 200g feta cheese or labneh balls
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (1 if you’re using labneh)
  • 1 level teaspoon black pepper
  • big handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • handful of chives (or spring onion tops), chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • squeeze of lemon juice (ie a couple of teaspoons-worth)

Carefully remove the calyces of the peppers and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Next blend the cheese with the remaining ingredients and use a long teaspoon to ram it down inside the peppers. Place the peppers in a small oven dish, propping the heads against the rim of the dish so that the cheese doesn’t melt and run everywhere.
Heat the oven to gas mark mark 5 (190C) and bake the peppers for about twenty minutes or until the flesh softens and starts to darken. Serve as part of a meze spread – or a self-indulgent Winter lunch. Mind you don’t burn your mouth on that hot cheese though…

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Veggiestan’s Greatest Hits #16: Afghanistan

Like any other nation, Afghanistan is about a whole lot more than you read in the papers. Traditional music features a fast and frenetic beat and is infectiously cheerful. But we couldn’t resist bringing you this little rap number. Boy-oh-boy do Veggiestanis love their rap. This is from someone called DJ Besho. Veggiestanis also love the concept of the ‘DJ’. Enjoy.

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Hariss-law: Coleslaw with Knobs On

Apologies for the slight hiatus in posting. But it was all in a good cause…of which more soon. In the meantime, here’s a lovely little Winter slaw recipe to perk up your January lunchboxes/dire supermarket pizzas/buffet spreads. It is a great way of using up forgotten bits of veg and fruit.
Ingredients (to make a party bowlful – it will keep for 4-5 days):

  • 1/4 small red cabbage, finely sliced
  • 1/4 small white cabbage, finely sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 sticks celery, washed and chopped
  • 2 unloved, shrivelled apples, peeled, cored and chunked
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 100g raw cashews, chopped
  • 75g raisins, soaked and drained

for the dressing:

  • 2 teaspoons harissa
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons lime juice (or lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons orange blossom water
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt to taste

Mix all the slaw ingredients together. Then beat all the dressing ingredients together. Then introduce the two to each other and watch the magic happen….

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Photo of the Week: Vending Veggiestan

The patience of the vegetable vendor. As a shopkeeper, I empathise. This iconic shot was taken in Cairo Bazaar by Ed Yourdon. Do send us any Veggiestan related shots that you’d like to share, whether it’s travel or food related….

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Khoresht-e-Beh: Quince and Split Pea Stew

So the quince season is here once again. Huzzah! is all we can say. There is nothing quite like it for fragrance, natural pinkness and beguiling flavour. Although they are ugly brutes.
They are not very good raw, but poached simply with honey, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon sticks they form possibly the world’s best ‘compote’ (to use the ‘Iranian’ vernacular). To stew them thus remove the skin and cut into segments, BUT LEAVE THE PIPS IN as that is where all the pinkness and goodness lies. Quince pips are astonishingly good for the chest/chesty coughs. Mother Nature certainly knew what she was doing by making quince a Winter fruit, as it is the perfect remedy for so many seasonal ills.
You can also stuff them with a sweet or savoury filling (recipe quince-identally in Veggiestan), or add them to a soup (recipe in Persia in Peckham) or casserole (recipe below)…

Ingredients (to feed four):

  • 150g lapeh or split peas (aka chana dal – harder than English split peas)
  • 1 large onion, peeled + chopped
  • 3-4 sticks of celery, cleaned and chunked
  • oil for frying (sunflower is good here)
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lime powder (or use 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice when you add the water)
  • 1 dessertspoon tomato paste
  • 750ml water
  • 2 large quinces
  • 1/2 bunch fresh coriander, washed and chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and shredded
  • sugar, salt and black pepper to taste

Soak the split peas in water for around half an hour. When you are ready to cook fry the onion and celery in some oil in a saucepan; when they have softened add the turmeric, lime powder and (drained) split peas. Fry for a few minutes, stirring well, and then add the tomato paste and water. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes.
So to the quinces: peel and core them (Iranian housewives would retain the pips to use as a decoction for coughs) and cut them into thick slices. After ten minutes add the quince to the khoresht along with the coriander. Cook for around twenty minutes, or until the quince is just cooked and the split peas are soft, and then add the spinach and season to taste. I like sharp things, but you may well find the addition of sugar necessary. Bubble for a few minutes more and then serve with steamed basmati rice and some nice thick yoghurt.

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Welcome to Vegg-E-stan!

Yup – you can now download Veggiestan on to your Kindle, iPad or other new-fangled thingummybob. Being an old fashioned (quorn) sausage, I am yet to be persuaded of the virtues of digital cooking, but I can see that it might be fun. It certainly seems to be real popular.

While we’re linking this with that, don’t forget you can follow us on Twitter, and our shop also has a Facebook page. See? It’s a big place, Vegg-E-stan.

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Photo of the Week: Veggiestan, Pickled

‘Tis the time of year to be pickling and preserving stuff. So I bring you this array of posh and piquant Persian pickled veg by way of inspiration. Found this cracking shot in Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Global Photo Archive’s photostream on Flickr. Do send us your Middle Eastern veggie shots if you’re happy to share them.

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Veggiestani Stuffed Mushrooms

Mushrooms aren’t indigenous to Veggiestan, but as relative newcomers to the culinary scene they have made themselves really rather popular. This dish comprises plenty of ‘authentic’ ingredients but is, however, entirely our own creation. They were a hit at one of our recent pop-up events*, so we thought we’d share the recipe with you.
Bazaar list (to feed 4 as a starter):

  • 8 portobello mushrooms
  • 180g halloumi
  • 1 small bunch spinach, washed and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons ajvar (or use any sweet, mild pickle)
  • 2 teaspoons harissa spice
  • salt and pepper
  • sprinkle of oregano
  • drizzle of tomato juice or passata

Wipe the mushrooms and arrange them (gill side up of course) in an oiled oven tray. Roughly chop 2/3 of the halloumi and pop it in the goblet of your blender with spinach, breadcrumbs, ajvar, harissa spice and a little seasoning. Give it all a quick whizz, and then distribute the mixture between the mushrooms, pushing it down carefully so that is sits comfortably in the ‘cup’ of each one. Grate the rest of the halloumi and sprinkle it over the mushrooms, and top with a bit of oregano. Pour a little tomato juice into the dish around the shrooms, cover the dish and bake at gas mark 5 (190C) for around 25 minutes or until the mushrooms are cooked. Eat with warm flat bread.
*you can sign up to the Persepolis newsletter over here to receive details of forthcoming events

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