Roasted Butternut Squash and Beetroot with Pistachio Pesto, Feta and Pomegranate Seeds from Persiana

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It was love at first sight. The vibrant butternut squash (the beetroot is my own addition) with dollops of pistachio pesto infused with fresh dill, coriander and parsley, crumbled feta and bejewelled pomegranate seeds. Simple and yet so very right. I did not even need to try it to know that I would love it and include it in my culinary repertoire from that day forth.

 

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It was served to me by the very likeable Sabrina Ghayour earlier this year at her hugely popular supper club that takes place in her west London residence. Twelve or so hungry diners feasted on a number of mouth watering Persian dishes that were lovingly prepared by Sabrina herself.  Her recipes and ingredients sing to me and I can honestly say that I actually want to cook and eat a large number of them. Dried lime, lamb and split pea stew or saffron chicken, fennel and barberry stew or bamia – bring it on.

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The recipes will really come into their own in the autumn and winter time as there is even a section dedicated  to ‘soups, stews and tanginess’, perfect to serve up and nourish the soul on cold, blistery autumnal days. That said, there are also sections on ‘salads and vegetables’,  ‘roasts and grills’, ‘mezze and sharing plates’, ‘breads and grains’ and finally ‘desserts and sweet treats’ so something for everyone no matter what hemisphere you are living in. The recipes are easy to follow and beautifully photographed. I also particularly love the cover which is not only eye catching with it’s title that rolls off the tongue, but it also has a very tactile cover.  As you pass your hand over it gives the impression that spices and rose petals have really been imbedded into it’s very cover.  Such a clever and original idea.

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This recipe you can eat as is, or accompany it with another in her book. I thought the ‘tray-baked rose lamb chops with chilli and herbs’ (above) would be a particularly delicious combination. If you want to learn more about Persian food and feel comfortable cooking it for yourself then I cannot recommend the book more highly. Sabrina’s chatty, informative and unpretentious style will connect with it’s readers and guide them through the very exciting world of food from Persia.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Beetroot with Pistachio Pesto, Feta and Pomegranate Seeds

adapted slightly from Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour

Serves 4 

1 butternut squash, halved and then chopped into about 6 large pieces (skin left on)

4 beetroot, gently cleaned (be careful not to damage the skin) kept whole and stems left intact

4 tbsp olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

150g feta cheese

100g pomegranate seeds

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for the pesto

100g shelled pistachio nuts

70g parmesan chopped into rough chunks

olive oil

1 handful of fresh coriander

1 handful of fresh dill

1 handful of fresh parsley

2 tbsp chilli oil

juice of 1 lemon

sea salt

1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees if using fan oven or 200 degrees if not/gas mark 6.  Place the chopped butternut squash and intact beetroot on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and cover the vegetables in olive oil, pepper and salt. Place in the oven for 50 minutes so the edges of the butternut squash begin to char.

2. Meanwhile to prepare the pesto, place the pistachio, parmesan chunks and a glug of olive oil into a food processor and mix together. If it remains quite thick in texture add some more olive oil to soften it.

3. Add all the herbs, chilli oil and lemon juice and blitz together with a sprinkling of sea salt. Taste to make sure the flavour is well balanced. Leave in the refrigerator until ready to use.

4. To serve, place the roasted butternut squash and beetroot (now cut in two) on a serving platter. Place dollops of the pesto on each vegetable portion, crumble the feta on each portion and around the  platter. Finish by scattering the pomegranate on top.

Voila you have the most pleasing of meals to dive into.


Zereshk Polow – Iranian Chicken with Barberries and Rice

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Fairly recently I picked up a bag of dried barberries (also known as Zereshk or Pipperages) in one of my local Middle Eastern food stores. I do tend to like fruits in savoury dishes, this is customary in Middle Eastern cooking and so I had an inkling that I would probably love them. I posted a photo of my new purchase on twitter and one of my followers,  Sophia – who writes the blog ‘Real Simple Food’ – sweetly tweeted back saying how she enjoyed eating a savoury dish called ‘Zereshk Polow’ growing up, which used barberries.

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I did a bit of digging around on the internet and came up with a number of recipes for the dish. It immediately appealed to me as it incorporated chicken, rice, saffron, turmeric, yoghurt, milk, rice, onions – what’s not to like?

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Since my discovery of the dish I have cooked it a number of times, simplifying it from some of the more detailed ones on the web and those that are rich in butter and egg. The dish originates from Iran although I discovered that barberries are not as exotic as we are led to believe as they once grew in abundance all over Europe, US and Asia. Over time they were eradicated as they were responsible for creating a fungus that caused damage to wheat crops. There were a wide variety of barberries growing in sixteenth century Britain and one of the most loved was called ‘Nutmeg Barberry’, which would typically be served as a garnish for fish such as pike. English kitchens would also use the fruit to make jellies, jams and even ice cream – now there’s an idea!

The barberries themselves are bursting with a citric, tart flavour, not dissimilar to little lime explosions. Their crimson colour adds a jewel like quality to the dish, not unlike pomegranate seeds in their appearance, and this complements the turmeric and saffron in an explosion of colour. It looks inviting don’t you think? As they are dried, they store really easily. When cooking all you need to do is give them a thorough wash and then pop them in the frying pan for around 30 seconds, continuing to move them around the hot pan so that they puff up slightly.

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The final part of the cooking  requires some layering of ingredients before placing in the oven for 30 minutes. See photos below.

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Zereshk Polow (Iranian Chicken with Barberries and Rice

3 large handfuls of basmati rice

3 small red onions (totally 125g weighed), finely sliced

500g chicken breasts/thighs, cut into substantial pieces

4 tbsp butter

1 tsp turmeric

50g dried barberries

1 tsp sugar

4 tbsp milk

1 pinch of saffron

3 tbsp plain yoghurt

pinch of rock salt

1. Wash the rice thoroughly in cold water and place into a pan and pour in enough boiling water so that the water is roughly a thumb nail higher than the rice. (I tend to find this calculation works for me!) Cook on a low heat until the rice has absorbed the water and the rice has softened.  Remove from the pan and place in a bowl.

2. Soak the barberries in cold water for 10 minutes. In a pan melt a tablespoon of butter then add the strained barberries followed by the sugar. Move the barberries around the pan so that they begin to puff up. They burn really easily so keep them moving for max 30 seconds and then place to one side.

3. In a small bowl add the milk and saffron, stir and allow to rest. Once the liquid has taken on a yellow hue add the yoghurt and mix thoroughly into the milk and saffron.

4. In a large pan add two tablespoons of butter and gently fry the onions so that they bronze slightly. Gently place the onions into a bowl to rest.

5. Place the chicken in a bowl with the turmeric and mix in throughly. Add another spoonful of butter to the same pan that the onions were in and gently brown the chicken on both sides. Then add 150ml cold water to the pan and allow the chicken to gently simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.  Remove the chicken and place in a bowl to one side and place the liquid with all the extra bits from the bottom of the pan into another bowl.

6. Now for the layering:  In the same pan that you have cooked the onions and chicken – I find my Le Creuset casserole pot works superbly –  add the final tablespoonful of butter and make sure that it fully coats the bottom and the lower sides. Add a layer of rice so that it completely covers the bottom of the pot then place the chicken pieces on top. Next add another layer of rice mixed with the barberries. Then add the onions on the top followed by the yoghurt saffron milk and finally the juicy liquid that you have kept to one side.  Scatter a pinch or two of rock salt over the top.

7. Place in a preheated oven at 150 degrees centigrade  (300F) for 30 minutes with the lid on, allowing the flavours to blend together.

8. Serve straight from the pot when it is still deliciously hot.