Cherry and Pistachio Brownies

We Iranians love our tea (chai).  As far back as I can remember my maman has always had a samovar in her kitchen. Samovars are traditionally used to make tea. Originating in Russia, the samovar has spread through Russian culture to other parts of Europe and the Middle-East, including Iran. 

Samovars were typically crafted out of plain iron, copper, polished brass, bronze, silver, gold, tin, or nickel. A samovar usually consists of a body, base and chimney, cover and steam vent, handles, tap and key, crown and ring, chimney extension and cap, drip-bowl, and teapot. The body shape is usually like a barrel and the water is boiled in this section.

Many samovars have a ring-shaped attachment around the chimney to hold and heat a teapot filled with tea concentrate (tea leaves with water). The tea pot is placed on the chimney and is steamed by the boiling water in the body of the samovar. The tea is then poured into a glass (so you can see the colour of the tea) and then hot water is poured in to dilute the tea to your liking i.e. the right colour. No milk is added to our tea, although at times my Iranian family can be partial to a good old ‘builders’. Modern samovars now look like giant kettles and are made using plastic. When my maman replaced her metal ornate samovar I was deeply disappointed but I appreciate the new models are safer and easier to clean!

Most Iranian households will have a special blend of tea leaves that they mix themselves from varieties such as Early Grey, Darjeeling and Assam. I remember my maman pouring all her chosen tea leaves into a large bowl and mixing them by hand with the aroma of the leaves filling the kitchen. That aroma is amplified into another level of joy while it steams in the little tea pot on the samovar, and then when the fragrance hits your nose before you take your first sip.

Part of tea drinking ritual is having sugar cubes or sweet nibbles served alongside our tea. The veteran tea drinker will place a sugar cube in their mouth and sip their tea, with the cube breaking down and sweetening each intake of the beverage. Some of us like our tea with the well-known Middle-Eastern sweet treat, Baklava. With a table full of Persian treats ranging from biscuits to nougat, we are often spoiled for choice. Despite the array of these Persian delights my heart always belongs to chocolate! Being born and brought up in the UK, chocolate was introduced to me at a young age and if it is on offer I always choose it first over other sweet treats. Whether it is the posh stuff that a Swiss-based relative has brought over as soghati (a gift from their travels) or the cheap stuff we gorged on as kids – I am not picky!

This brownie recipe is one I created to add to the selection of tea-accompanying sweet treats for the chocolate lovers in my family. I have adapted a standard brownie recipe and added Luxardo Cherries and fresh pistachios to add a little Persian touch to a familiar friend. For those of you who have not come across Luxardo Cherries, these are candied cherries soaked in Luxardo marasca cherry syrup. Often used by mixologists for their cocktails, replacing those bright red cocktail cherries, with a deep purple, slightly sour cherry. They are incredible in cocktails but also an amazing addition to baking recipes or just being poured  (with the syrup) over a vanilla ice cream. Using them in a brownie recipe adds to the gooey texture and balances the sweetness with a subtle sour note.

These brownies can be eaten as a dessert with cream or custard, should you fancy. I break mine down into little bites and enjoy them with a glass of hot Persian tea.


Cherry and Pistachio Brownies

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Dessert, Sweet Treats
Cuisine: Fusion
Servings: 12 portions
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 175 g unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
  • 200 g dark chocolate (good quality - 70%+ cocoa)
  • 325 g caster sugar
  • 130 g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 125 g Luxardo Cherries (chopped) (plus 2 tbsp of the syrup)
  • 2 tbsp ground fresh pistachios (the pistachios do not need to be finely ground as you want some texture in the brownie mix) (plus extra to decorate)
  • 1 tsp icing sugar (to decorate)

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas mark 4. 
  • Line a baking tray (33cm x 23cm x 5cm) with baking paper / grease-proof paper.
  • Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Leve the mixture to melt. Stir to ensure there are no lumps and the butter and chocolate are full incorporated.
  • Remove from the heat. Add the sugar and stir until incorporated.
  • Add the flour and salt and stir until well incorporated.
  • Stir in the eggs and mix until smooth. The mixture will have a thick consistency.
  • Add the chopped cherries, the cherry syrup, ground pistachios and mix in. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking tray.
  • Place the tray in the oven for about 30 to 35 mins. The brownies are done when they are flaky on top but still gooey in the middle. Be careful not to over-cook as the edges will become crunchy and hard.
  • Once baked, leave to cool before dusting with the icing sugar and sprinkling with ground pistachios.

Persian Delights

Rose water & pistachio cupcakes

I first made these cupcakes over 10 years ago for a friend’s wedding and they have been a firm favourite ever since.

Cupcakes enjoyed a lot of attention and glamour following the episode in Sex and the City featuring Magnolia Cupcakes. The UK saw Violet’s Cakes, Hummingbird Bakery and Lola’s Cupcakes as the UK’s representation in the delicious world of luxury cupcakes. For about 5 minutes, I considered the possibility of starting my own cupcake business until I did a few weddings and charity events for friends and realised I needed a holiday to recover from all the baking and decorating.

I experimented with many flavours but these were the favourite among my family. Not surprising really as they are flavoured with Rose Water and pistachio. Had I found a use for saffron in the recipe, then I would have had the holy trinity of Persian desserts! But I felt the pink and ivory tones were perfect for the cupcakes’ presentation and that the yellow effect of incorporating saffron would not have been as aesthetically pleasing.

For the decoration, I used crushed fresh pistachio slivers and edible rose petals, which are both available from Iranian and Middle-Eastern food stores. If you cannot get your hands on rose petals then crushed fresh pistachios are equally lovely for decorating the cupcakes.

If you are using the traditional fairy cake tin for your cupcakes, then the recipe below will yield 24 cupcakes.  If you are using the deeper cupcake tins (like I do), which are also used for muffins, then the recipe below will result in 12 cupcakes.


Persian Delights

Rose water and pistachio cupcakes
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Dessert, Sweet Treats
Cuisine: British, Fusion, Persian
Keyword: cupcakes
Servings: 12 large cupcakes
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Cake Batter / Sponge

  • 225 g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 225 g caster sugar
  • 4 medium free range eggs (room temperature)
  • 225 g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tbsp rose water (depending on how floral you want it)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp ground fresh pistachios

Buttercream Icing and Decoration

  • 250 g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 450 g icing sugar
  • Pink food colouring (if you want your cupcakes to have a pink tint - I do a mix of ivory and light pink cupcakes)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tbsp rose water
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • Ground pistachios and edible rose petals (for decoration)

Instructions

For the Cupcake Sponge

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas mark 4. Line a 12-hole cupcake tin with cases (deep fill cupcake tin).
  • In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light in colour and fluffy.
  • Crack the eggs one by one and beat each one in before adding the next.
  • Add the vanilla extract and rose water. Then sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and gently fold into the mixture.
  • Add your ground pistachios and again gently fold into the mixture.
  • Divide the mixture equally into your cupcake cases and place in the oven for 20 to 25 mins. To check if  the cupcakes are done, use a thin skewer to check one by gently poking to the bottom. It should come out clean of cake batter. Leave the cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the Buttercream Icing and Decoration

  • Make the buttercream by beating the butter until light in colour and then sift the icing sugar gradually and beat until fully mixed.
  • Then add the vanilla extract, rose water and milk and mix. I halve my icing mixture and add pink food colouring to one batch and leave the other half an ivory colour. 
  • Make sure your cupcakes have cooled and then pipe or spread your icing onto the cupcakes.

Shab-e Yaldā Chicken Wraps

Sticky pomegranate chicken wraps

In light of the use of pomegranate molasses in this recipe, I have decided that this dish will feature in my family’s Shab-e Yaldā celebrations. Shab-e Yaldā (Yaldā Night) is an Iranian festival which takes place on the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, usually falling on either 20 or 21 December. From its Zoroastrian routes, Shab-e Yaldā celebrates the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness – the winter solstice marking the lengthening of days, shortening of nights and the advancement towards Spring. Pomegranates are traditionally eaten at this festival as they symbolise the cycle of life. This recipe can be eaten anytime of the year (not just on Shab-e Yaldā) and you can even cook the chicken on a BBQ in the Spring and Summer seasons.

This is an easy recipe and will be familiar territory for you if you have, as most people have these days, cooked and/or eaten some kind of wrap. If not, it is still an easy recipe to follow and worth getting your hands on the two ingredients you may not have to hand – pomegranate molasses and moosir (Persian shallots).

Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup with a dark grape colour made from reducing pomegranate juice. The juice is obtained from a tart variety of pomegranate. You can pick up pomegranate molasses (rob-e-anar) from most Middle-Eastern food shops, online or even at some local supermarkets. It is deliciously tart but the addition of honey and freshly squeezed orange juice balances the favours perfectly for this marinade and complements the chicken. As with all marinades, the longer you leave it the better. So if you have time to marinate your chicken  overnight (thighs with skin on and bone in preferably) this will allow the chicken to absorb all the delicious flavours. 

Moosir is a Persian shallot and has a flavour profile similar to garlic but slightly sweeter and softer in its spiciness. They grow wild in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, and have to be found and dug out of the earth – a similar process to truffles. Commonly used in a yoghurt dip called Maast-o-Moosir, this ingredient adds an amazingly distinctive flavour to dishes. You can buy moosir from most Middle-Eastern food shops or online. 

I have added the moosir to the mayonnaise for the chicken wrap. Moosir is bought in its dried form and will need to be re-hydrated if you are going to use it. Soak the moosir in water for 3 to 24 hours in the fridge. Drain, rinse in cold water and pat dry. Check the moosir and cut out any stems that remain hard after soaking. Chop the moosir finely and mix with your mayonnaise. I tend to soak my moosir for 3 hrs before mincing and adding to my mayonnaise and leave it in the fridge, covered, overnight before I use it. If you cannot get your hands on moosir, then you can use garlic. I would recommend steeping the garlic cloves in boiled water before mincing and adding to the mayonnaise to temper the harshness of the raw garlic. 

As a final addition to complement the flavours, I use my own homemade Torshi Soorati (an easy and quick pickle made from red onion, red cabbage, white wine vinegar and coriander seeds – ready in 5 days). You can of course omit the pickle or use another pickle of your choice. Serve these wraps with wedges – sweet potatoes are a great accompaniment.  


 Shab-e Yaldā Chicken Wraps

Sticky pomegranate chicken wraps
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time55 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Fusion, Iranian, Persian
Keyword: chicken wrap, easy recipe
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the chicken

  • 8 free-range chicken thighs (skin-on, bone-in)
  • 1 large red onion (finely sliced)
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tbsp sriracha chilli sauce
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • Juice of half an orange
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

For the Moosir Mayo

  • 5 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 5 to 7 discs of dried moosir (rehydrate, mince and add to mayo as per note above). Alternatively 2 garlic cloves (pour boiling water over them and leave for 5 minutes before mincing and adding to mayo)

To Serve

  • 8 large tortilla wraps
  • Crunchy lettuce (Romaine or iceberg - shredded)
  • Torshi Soorati or other pickle of your choice
  • Fresh coriander, mint and parsley (chopped) and pomegranate seeds (for garnish and sprinkling in the wraps)

Instructions

  • Put the chicken, onion, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, pomegranate molasses, tomato purée, sriracha, maple syrup, orange juice, seasoning and olive oil in a mixing bowl and mix to coat evenly. Cover, place in the fridge and let it marinate for a minimum of 4 hours (preferably overnight). About 1 hour before cooking, remove the chicken from the fridge and set aside to rise to room temperature.
  • Place the mayonnaise in a bowl and add your minced moosir or garlic (see notes above) and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Transfer the chicken and its marinade to a shallow roasting tin, then roast for 40-45 minutes, until the chicken and onions have caramelised and are sticky. Remove the chicken from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
  • About 5 minutes before removing your chicken from the oven, take your tortillas, wrap them in foil and place them in the oven to heat for about 15 mins. Then remove them from the oven and turn off the heat.
  • Scatter the chicken with the fresh mint and pomegranate seeds.
  • Build a wrap by spreading the moosir mayo on it, adding shredded lettuce, layering with sliced chicken (removed from the bone) and caramelised onions, topping with Torshi Soorati or other pickle, the chopped fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds. Roll up the wrap and tuck in. 

The Alternative Roast

Slow roast chicken and vegetable stew with herb dumplings

It may not be a Persian dish but it is a firm favourite and will, in time, be a classic Sunday dish in our little family.

My husband, being English, loves a roast and so do I. It wasn’t a dish that we ate when I was growing up but with pub lunches and Christmas becoming another excuse for a family gathering, my Iranian family were introduced to the concept of the British Roast dinner. Although I love a roast, I don’t always love the amount of work and washing up involved, so this is my alternative to the traditional Sunday Roast.

All the vegetables are cooked in one pot as a casserole and the addition of fluffy dumplings are a highly satisfactory substitute for roast potatoes. The chicken is slow roasted for three hours, so you can prepare the casserole straight after popping the chicken into the oven and then get on with Sunday chores, park adventures with the kids or zoning out in front of Netflix with a glass (or 4) of wine.


The Alternative Roast

Slow roast chicken and vegetable stew with herb dumplings
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time3 hrs 15 mins
Total Time3 hrs 45 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: British
Keyword: family recipes, roast dinner
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Roast Chicken

  • 1 large whole chicken (1.8kg - 2kg)
  • 1 lemon (halved)
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed - for rubbing on the chicken)
  • Fresh mixed herbs roasting herbs (sage, thyme and rosemary - usually sold as a packet of roasting herbs)
  • 2 tbsp butter (room tempertaure)
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Vegetable Casserole

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 400 g new potatoes (washed and halved)
  • 1/2 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 medium leeks (washed and chopped into 2 inch chunks)
  • 4 parsnips (washed, peeled and chopped into 3 inch chunks)
  • 300 g Chantenay carrots (washed and halved)
  • 250 g mushrooms (cleaned and quartered)
  • 8 stalks purple sprouting broccoli
  • 225 ml white wine
  • 1.5 litre chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt and pepper  (I sometime use crushed / ground pink peppercorns as an alternative which gives a lovely note to the stew)

Dumplings

  • 140 g chilled butter (chopped into small cubes)
  • 250 g self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp grated parmesan
  • 125 ml water

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 120°C  (fan) / 140°C (conventional) / gas mark 1.
  • Place the herbs in the chicken’s cavity and around the chicken in a roasting tray. Add the lemon halves and the garlic bulbs to the tray.
  • Crush the 2 garlic cloves and add to the butter. Rub the butter into the chicken and drizzle with the olive oil. Season and place in the oven for 3 hrs.
  • After the chicken has been in the oven for 90 mins, baste with the juices and return to the oven.
  • About 15 mins before the end of the cooking time for the roast chicken, increase the heat to 200°C (fan) / 220°C (conventional) / gas mark 7 to crisp the skin. Once the skin is crispy, to your liking, leave to rest out of the oven (don’t cover) for about 15 mins.
  • While the chicken is in the oven, heat the oil in a casserole dish approx 3 litres capacity on a medium heat.
  • Add the potatoes and cook for about 5 mins. Add the flour and mix, this will help to thicken the gravy for the vegetable casserole.
  • Then add the vegetables, with the slowest cooking veg going in first, with around 2 minute intervals between each addition (carrots, parsnips, leeks, mushrooms). Hold back on the broccoli for now.
  • Add the bay leaves, thyme leaves and garlic and mix. Add the wine, if using. Then add the stock and lower the heat and let simmer until the veg is soft.
  • Season to taste. You can put the lid on the casserole once simmering or if you have cooked the casserole early on and intend to reheat prior to adding the dumplings.
  • Then make the dumplings. Rub the butter into the flour until it looks like bread crumbs. Add chopped parsley and the Parmesan. Add water and form into a dough. Divide and make 8 balls.
  • While the casserole is simmering and about 5 mins before increasing the temperature of the oven to crisp the chicken skin, remove the lid of the casserole dish (you will have no further need for it during the remaining cooking steps) and add the broccoli and the dumplings and let the casserole simmer.
  • Place the casserole dish in the oven with the chicken on 200°C (fan) 15 minutes before the roast chicken has finished cooking. Check in on your dumplings half-way through the cooking time i.e. when you take the chicken out to rest.
  • Leave the casserole in the oven as the chicken is resting for a further 15 mins (overall about 30 mins in the oven) for the dumplings to turn golden.
  • Serve the vegetable casserole with the roast chicken and a side of cranberry sauce.