Archives for posts with tag: Saffron

I would like to wish everyone a very blessed Eid.  Eid is a time for family, friends, and celebrations and I hope all of you are fortunate enough to be close to your loved ones.  Usually, we eat meat that has been slaughtered in a ritual sacrifice.  We prepare dishes like yakhni pulao (meat stock based rice pilaf), kharay masalay ka gosht (meat cooked with whole garam masala pieces), karahi gosht (a tomato/chili based meat dish), and many more.  Unfortunately, this is not a vegetarian friendly holiday, I suppose it could be though.

However, meat is not the only focus.  Desserts are prepared in copious amounts.  Kheer (rice pudding), sewayyan (sweetened vermicelli), zarda sweetened rice) are part of the dessert spread.  Yes, we are very serious about food and prepare a feast even if it’s just for your immediate family.

One of my favorite Pakistani desserts is Shahi Tukray.  Let me tell you, it is literally heaven.  Fried bread slices soaked in a sugar syrup infused with saffron and cardamom and then dunked into a rich and creamy milk pudding, so good.  So, so good.  Usually, I don’t swoon like this for other Pakistani desserts, sure I like them, but for me, Shahi Tukray are on a completely other level.  It’s almost like you take a bite and you are so consumed in the utter deliciousness that you can’t think for a minute.  Or maybe I’m just an odd one and this is only the case for me.  Regardless, this dessert is befitting to its name, which means royal pieces or morsels.

I added a twist to the recipe here, being Autumn I thought pumpkin might work in this dish.  I added pumpkin purée to the rabri (reduced milk pudding) and the combination of pumpkin with cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves (the last two another nontraditional addition of mine) was divine.  Of course, if you want to stay true to the original leave the pumpkin out, but I really enjoyed this new combination.

Eid Mubarak and even if you don’t celebrate, find some Muslim friends and I’m sure they would be more than happy to include you in their celebrations and share the yummy food with you.

Shahi Tukray with Pumpkin

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

2 cups whole milk

1 cup half and half

1 cup canned pure pumpkin purée

2/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3-4 whole cloves

1 teaspoon cardamom powder

5 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

a nice pinch of saffron threads

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup canola oil or clarified butter, for frying (you might need slightly more oil/clarified butter, but I try to use as little as possible)

1 loaf (8-10 slices) day-old country-style white bread, crusts removed (optional) and cut into 2 pieces on the diagonal

edible silver leaf, for garnish (optional)

1/2 cup toasted and chopped mixed nuts-pistachios and almonds with skin, for garnish

fresh whipped cream, for garnish

cinnamon powder, for garnish

softened butter, for greasing the baking dish

Method

In a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat, bring the milk, half and half, cardamom powder, 2 cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cloves, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and pumpkin to a simmer. Mix the ingredients every minute or so.

Once the milk/cream mixture comes to a simmer turn the heat to low and let the mixture thicken to the consistency of a loose pudding/custard. Keep stirring every few minutes so that the cream does not burn. This should take 35-45 minutes. Once the milk/cream mixture is done, remove the cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom pods.

While the milk/cream mixture is simmering, make the sugar syrup by combining the remaining sugar, water, saffron threads, and 3 cardamom pods in a small saucepan on medium-low heat. The syrup will be done once the sugar and water have dissolved into a uniform liquid after about 10 minutes. Leave the sugar syrup on low heat until the milk/cream mixture is done.

At this point preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and butter an 8″x8″ inch baking dish.

Once the cream mixture and sugar syrup are done, start frying the bread triangles in a fry pan on medium heat with the oil or clarified butter until all the pieces are golden brown on both sides. Lay the bread on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Once all the bread pieces are fried, dip each bread piece into the sugar syrup then into the milk/cream mixture so that the bread is coated well and then arrange the bread into the baking dish. I like to arrange the bread on the diagonal. Repeat this until you have used up all the fried bread.

Next, take any remaining milk/cream mixture and pour it over the bread slices in the pan and use a rubber spatula to make the top smooth.

Bake the bread slices in the oven for 15 minutes or until the top just starts to slightly turn golden.

Remove from the oven and garnish with the chopped nuts and silver leaf, if you are using it.

Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon, if you like. I like to eat it right from the oven but it can also be eaten at room temperature or even chilled.

*This can be made a day in advance and baked the day of serving.

I also posted this recipe on food52 here.

Marrakech personified

My husband and I recently returned from a vacation to Morocco.  We spent most of our time in Marrakech.  Morocco is somewhere I’ve wanted to go for ages and when the opportunity arose I was set on traveling there.  Marrakech, in some ways reminded me of Pakistan–the haggling shopkeepers, the crowds, the homes, and the hospitality.  We were lucky enough to do a great deal of exploring despite the rainy weather boooooo!  The few days when the sun was out were amazing!  But, more than anything we ate and ate and then ate some more.  I have fallen off the healthy eating boat and am going to get back on it now that I’m back *fingers crossed.*

Moroccan Salads at Le Tanjia

Chicken Tagine with Citrons Confits

The Djemaa el Fna or the central square in the old city of Marrakech is bustling with food stalls serving up traditional Moroccan fare such as cous cous, sujok, tagines, and pastilla.  If you enter one of the many alleys you are led to different quarters; one for spices, meats, vegetables, fruits, seafood.  It is like manipulating a maze.  My husband and I had no idea where we were going exactly but without fail stumbled upon a multitude of food “destinations.”

Djemaa el Fna

I loved the spices available there.  Sacks full of spices topped off in a pyramid shape were at every corner perfuming the air.  The fragrant aromas of cumin, saffron, ginger, and ras el hanout permeated the city.  Vibrant colors always catch my eyes and Marrakech was definitely bliss for my senses.

Bright, vibrant colored lemons and oranges were a daily staple for me.  I have never loved eating oranges on their own but being served fresh tree picked clementines and oranges daily can change a person’s perspectives.  The citrons confits or preserved salted lemons also utterly transformed my food journey.  The flavors exploded in my mouth– mellow yet tangy, bright and pungent.  Oh and the olives!  How can I forget the olives.  I have never consumed so many olives on a daily basis in my life.  Let me tell you, the olives in Morocco taste so much better than any other olive I have ever tasted.  My husband who *detests* olives was chowing them down like they were bon bons.  They were mild and not as vinegar laden as many other olives you find in North America.  Often times, they were marinated in lemon, thyme, garlic and other spices I could not quite discern.

Mint tea was another thing I consumed in enormous quantities.  Making mint tea is a real art.  Holding the teapot then raising your arm in an acrobatic motion and pouring just so the right amount of froth can cover the tea and then discarding the first glass so that all the impurities are taken out of the tea is almost scientific.  Huge bunches of mint were used in this tea creating such a pronounced yet delicate flavor.  Another thing that tasted like a completely different thing was honey.  Mind you, I only buy local and organic honey but this honey in Morocco beats any other honey I have ever tasted.  The bread was also another highlight of the trip.  Carb counters beware!  This bread is thick, dense, and chewy.  There is also a little honey added to it, creating a phenomenal taste.  Absolute heaven!

One thing I must say is that my perception of Moroccan food was a little off.  My husband and I took a cooking class with Lala Nazha, a famous cooking instructor in Marrakech.  I was speaking with her about how I would prepare cous cous.  First of all it would probably be instant whereas in Morocco they use a couscoussiere and is about a three hour process of steaming, and fluffing with olive oil and water.  Also, stewed meat is served on top and nothing is mixed in with the cous cous itself.  When I make cous cous I stir in nuts, dried fruits, herbs, vegetables and so on.  I told Lala Nazha this and she labeled my version “false cous cous.”  (Truth be told, I think I prefer my version of cous cous better, this could be because I felt the cous cous needed more flavor and texture.)  But, other than that the food in Morocco was truly memorable and I most certainly wish to return at some point because I only dipped my toe into the ocean that is Morocco and Moroccan cuisine.

Oh yes!  Before I forget, if anyone is traveling to Marrakech you must stay at Riad Dar One.   It was an absolute delight.  The owner, Jean Peres, and his staff are so friendly and helpful.  I have never had such a pleasant stay at a hotel.  The Riad itself is gorgeous and the rooms are modern yet have a distinct Moroccan flair.  I have nothing but praise for this establishment!

Here are  more pictures of the trip.  Enjoy!

Delicious honey, butter, and marmalade

Tagines

Eggplant and Tomato Dip

Cafe Arabe


Saffron growing in Ourika

Fresh Salt harvested outside Ourika by a Berber family

IMG_8111When I moved to Montreal for my Master’s degree I was introduced to Persian and Afghani restaurants.  The flavors were familiar yet different.  They were not spicy like traditional Pakistani fare but indeed quite flavorful and had many layers of subtle spice.

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Coming back to my Persian Chicken Kebab story, I needed to make some to go alongside it and I was reminded of the Afghani rice I used to eat quite often in Montreal.  Recalling its flavors I pondered on how to go about making it.  A challenge if you will.  I could have easily gone on to Google typed “Afghani Pulao” and instantly a recipe would appear.  But, I wanted to use my palette, my sense of taste to decipher the ingredients of this dish.

We often take our sense of taste for granted.  What would we be without it?  It’s like being blind or deaf, it is the lack of a vital sense.  Loving all things food related, I could not even begin to imagine what it would be like not to taste.  This brings me to to Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea in Chicago.  He was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer yet persevered through this “death sentence.”  He survived but lost his sense of taste, to him dying might have been a better option.  Nevertheless, his fearless spirit brought him back into the kitchen and he used his non-existent palette to continue his culinary pursuits and now slowly his sense of taste is returning to him.  But imagine, food brings us joy, unites us all and without this vital sense human bonding would not be the same.

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Okay, had enough deep conversation yet?  *Snicker*   Where was I?  Oh yes, my self-inflicted challenge!  I know how to make a traditional Yakhni Pulao, so I used this as my starting point.  From my the remaining bones that I had butchered off of my chicken breasts I made a stock.  A simple stock comprised of onion, garlic, carrots, parsley, black peppercorns, cloves, salt, basically whatever you feel like adding to it.  The base was going to be simple, onions and garlic but what else could I add for the aroma and flavor present in Afghani pulao?  Another pantry raid!  Cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, saffron, cloves, nutmeg, peppercorns, dried red chilies, dried cranberries, pine nuts, almonds–all at my disposal!  Overflowing with excitement, I was ready to tackle this dish.

Afghani Pulao

Serves 3

Ingredients

1 cup basmati rice, soaked and washed

2 1/2 cups chicken stock (low sodium, free-range, homemade is best, but a good quality boxed one is fine)

1 medium red onion, sliced

3 garlic cloves, minced

3-4 tablespoons oil (I used a combination of Canola and Olive Oil)

1 cinnamon stickIMG_8104

1 bay leaf

2-3 cardamom pods

4 cloves

5-6 black peppercorns

pinch of nutmeg, ground

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies

1/2 teapsoon saffron threads

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon orange zest

2-3 carrots, grated

1 tablespoon each, blanched slivered almonds and pine nuts (add extra for garnish, if desired)

1/4 cup dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, golden raisins, apricots, currants–I had dried cranberries on hand)

cilantro leaves, for garnish, optional

1-2 tablespoons butter, optional

Method:

Add the oil to a pot.  Let it warm on medium heat add the onions allow to sweat.  When the onions are almost golden, add the garlic.  Next add all the whole spices including the crushed red chilies, salt, and nutmeg but not the saffron.  Toss in the dried fruit and nuts.  Let the nuts toast and the dried fried reconstitute.  After a minute or so add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  When the stock is boiling add the saffron.  Let the saffron steep for 30 seconds.  Next, pour in the rice.  Allow to cook in the stock for about 15 minutes or until just undercooked.  At this point add the carrots and orange rind on top.  Turn the heat to low.  Use a kitchen towel and cover it over the pot tightly.  Then put the lid top and let the carrots sweat and the orange rind lets its oils perfume the rice.  Let it sit on very low heat for 10 minutes.  Uncover and fluff with a fork.  You may add butter for some extra richness at this point.  Place in serving dish garnish with extra nuts and cilantro leaves.

*I always serve Kachumbar or chopped salad with Pakistani rice dishes.  It is simply chopped onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, green chilies, cilantro leaves,  a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, salt, a pinch of red chili powder, and a pinch of cumin.

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My husband goes on and off his P90-X kick.  If you all are not aware, P90-x is my arch-nemesis.  It is a workout and diet regime that simply put, I loathe.  Well more than the the workouts I detest the diet.  My husband is all or nothing, he’s a glutton one week or a poster child for anorexic eating habits another week.  So, when he’s on p90-X, he’s REALLY ON P90-X. This diet regimen consists of eating 8 egg-white omelets with fat-free cheese for breakfast, just the thought makes me shudder.  For lunch, you are allowed half a pound of sodium/fat-free chicken or turkey breast on top of a romaine salad.  Dinner is comprised of a flavorless half pound piece of protein and some steamed vegetables and only if you are lucky, a side of vegetable soup.  Yeah, it’s a low-carb, zero taste program and when my husbands belly starts reappearing his need to go back to Phase 1 of this diet resurfaces to my utter dismay.

My outlook is workout daily if you can and eat a balanced and healthy diet and indulge once in a while.  If I was on this p90-X diet, I would become an absolute beast.  I would be in a bad mood all the time, because when I’m hungry I AM irritable!  Back to his diet, as you have become aware you need to eat a lot of protein on this regimen.  So, of course my husband bought 30 bone-in chicken breasts for his diet.  They took up half my freezer and as you can guess he stuck on the diet for about 4 days!

Therefore, I am left with chicken breasts galore.  Today, I decided to utilize them for something.  What something?  I had no idea.  Only can that chick (no pun intended) from that Food network show I dislike can find a recipe for chicken breast 5 days a week.  The idea of lemon popped into my head…lemon chicken.  IMG_8074Okay, I had a starting point but how could I make the chicken exciting and yummy?  I opened my spice cabinet for inspiration and saw cardamom pods, cloves, and saffron.  Then it struck me!  I should go Persian on my chicken.  Thus, I came up with today’s dinner Chicken Kabab with Afghani rice (or my take on those dishes atleast).  I ground the spices together the aroma filled my kitchen and can you believe it, I felt thankful to p90-X in some strange sort of way.

Persian Chicken Kebab

Serves 3

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts, in chunks (I cut the chicken up into pieces after I had marinated it, but I should have done it first)

3 cloves of garlic, minced

juice of 1/2 a lemon

1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot waterIMG_8100

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1-2 cardamom pod, 2-3 cloves, 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon all ground together in a spice mill

1 teaspoon kosher salt

black pepper to taste

lemon wedges, for garnish

cilantro leaves, for garnish

Combine all of the above ingredients in a bowl and allow to marinate for 4 hours.  Then, grill on outdoor grill or grill pan (I used a grill pan because it was far to cold for me to use our building’s roof top grill ;) ).  Cook on one side for about 5-7 minutes and then flip for 5-7 more.  Check to make sure it is fully cooked.  Garnish with lemon wedges and cilantro leaves.  Serve with Afghani Rice* and Kachumbar (Chopped vegetable) salad,* or Naan.

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*Note:  Recipes to follow :).

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