Monday, 30 November -0001

Hot dates and elephants' ears

Ariana Bundy's family cookbook is inspired by smells, tastes and romance of ancient Persia

Written by Carolyn Hart

For Westerners, Iran conjures up bombs, terrorism and a devastated civilisation. For Ariana Bundy, it means Persia: nightingales, roses, poetry and gardens – and her grandmother’s house, the inspiration for this rather wonderful book.

Ariana comes from an Iranian family but grew up in New York. Her knowledge of Persian history came largely from her mother, who would cook Persian meals for celebrations or anniversaries. ‘The smell of fried fish and dilled rice took me back to Norooz (Persian New Year) parties at my grandparents’ home,’ Ariana writes in her introduction. ‘Memories would come flooding in over a bowl of asheh reshteh (noodle soup) or mast o khiar (cold cucumber soup).’

Her book, Pomegranates And Roses, is thus a kind of distillation of Iranian history seen through the eyes of an Iranian family in exile and presented to the reader in terms of food. It’s fascinating, not only for the story and the pictures, which range from family photographs to interiors-style Iranian artefacts, but also for the recipes, which marry tastes and flavours not normally seen on a UK table.

Taachin, for instance, a yogurt and garlic marinated chicken in a saffron rice cake studded with barberries, would make a brilliant picnic dish as ‘it’s easy to transport,’ says Ariana. ‘Its name means “to arrange everything at the bottom”. Or goosheh feel (elephants’ ears), which are fried cookies made from filo pastry and drizzled with rose-flavoured syrup or dusted with icing sugar, and omeletteh khorma, a buttery sweet date omelette, which comes with a short essay on Iranian date growing. ‘Date palm cultivation goes back to the time of Mesopotamia in Iran. The best dates are Shahani from Jahrom and Mozafati from the historic city of Bam… Shahani are the most popular dates in Iran. Mozafati are the most expensive and rarely exported.’ So now you know.

The recipes below give the rain-bound British cook a gloriously exotic taste of the Middle East.

Jelleye anar

Food-May11-01-590

Fresh pomegranate jelly with pomegranate seeds

Ingredients

2 sachets or 3 leaves of gelatine

1.5 litres freshly squeezed pomegranate juice or shopbought unsweetened juice (such as Pom Wonderful)

1½ tbsp caster sugar (optional)

500g pomegranate seeds

gold leaf, to decorate (optional)

fresh rose petals, to decorate (optional)

Method

In a large bowl, dissolve the powered gelatine with 250ml of the pomegranate juice. If using gelatine leaves, place them one by one (not all at once or they will stick together) in a large bowl filled with cold water and leave for about 10 minutes. Once the leaves are soft, gently pick them up and squeeze out any water with your hands.

On a low heat, warm up the rest of the pomegranate juice in a saucepan, then add the gelatine mixture of gelatine leaves and stir constantly until thickened. Taste the mixture and if it’s too sour, add the caster sugar until you achieve the desired taste. Pour the jelly into a large glass bowl or small glasses, and then sprinkle in the pomegranate seeds, reserving a few to decorate.

Leave to cool before transferring to the fridge to set. Before serving the jelleye anar, decorate it with the rest of the pomegranate seeds; crumble over the gold leaf to decorate, and scatter with fresh rose petals, if using.

Yakh Dar Behesht

Food-May11-03-590

Ice in heaven

Ingredients

1 litre milk

75g rice flour

150g sugar, preferably unrefined

2 tbsp rose water u 5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

2 tbsp slivered pistachios

rose petals and edible gold leaf, to serve (optional)

Method

Place the milk, rice flour and unrefined sugar in a saucepan. Stir constantly with a wooded spoon, over a medium-low heat, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to thicken – about 10 minutes. Make sure the mixture doesn’t catch at the bottom by scraping the bottom and sides of the saucepan with your spoon.

Add the rose water and the cardamom pods and continue cooking and stirring until the custard is thick and glossy – about another 2 minutes.

Pick out the cardamom pods, and then pour the custard into ramekins, silicone moulds or a serving dish. Leave to cool in the fridge for a few hours, then sprinkle with slivered pistachios, rose petals and gold leaf, if using.

Gheymeh

Food-May11-02-590

Meat stew with tomatoes, omani limes and split peas, topped with fried potatoes

Ingredients

2 tbsp safflower or any tasteless oil, plus extra

1 large onion, cubed or chopped

500g (stewing beef or deboned leg of lamb, cubed

Juice of 1 lemon

1-2 bones, any sort

100g butter, plus extra, for cooking the tomatoes

2 garlic cloves, finely diced

½ tsp turmeric

175g yellow split peas

2 medium tomatoes, skinned and chopped roughly

500ml hot water

3-4 omani limes

½ tsp cinnamon

2 medium tomatoes, cut in half

1 tsp salt, plus pepper

½ tbsp tomato purée

½ tbsp saffron threads, pounded then dissolved in 2-3 tbsp hot water

For the fries:

4 large potatoes

oil, for frying

Method

In a cast-iron or non-stick pan, heat the oil over a medium-high heat and fry the onion for about 5 minutes, stirring, until it is translucent and lightly golden. Add the meat – don’t overcook it, you just want it to be seared but raw in the middle. Add the lemon juice and let it sizzle.

Add the bones, butter, garlic cloves and turmeric; sauté for a couple of minutes, then add the split peas and stir for 3-4 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes and let everything bubble away for 3-4 minutes. Add the hot water. Pierce the omani limes with the tip of a knife so that they don’t burst, then add them with the cinnamon. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 45 minutes.

Fry the halved tomatoes face down in a frying pan with a little butter and oil until lightly caramelised. Season and stir the stew, add the tomato purée, then place the tomatoes on top and cook for another 45 minutes. Add the saffron liquid 10 minutes before serving.

While the stew is cooking, make the fries. Cut the potatoes into cubes or matchsticks and fry them in oil until they are golden and very crisp. When the stew is ready, remove the bones, place the gheymeh in a serving dish, put the fries on top and serve with kateh (soft cooked rice).

Pomegranates And Roses by Ariana Bundy, with photography by Lisa Linder, is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £25.



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