Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SAFFRON - LIQUID GOLD


It's time to have a talk.  Yes, that talk. I know, we just started this thing.  We're just getting to know each other.  It's been fun.  But if this is going to go on any further I need to know that you're fully invested.  Ready to take a chance.  Ready to shake things up a little.  Ready to commit 

To saffron.  

I know, I know, I'm asking for a lot.  But we're worth it.  You're worth it.  Trust me.  You won't regret it. 

Saffron is the crown jewel of all spices - the most expensive spice in the world.  And for good reason.  It comes from the crocus flower.  And each flower has 3 stigmas attached to it.  These stigmas are then individually handpicked and dried, resulting in this precious spice we call saffron .  A lot of work.  But oh so worth it.

Persian cuisine and saffron are almost synonymous.  Iran is responsible for over 90% of the global production of the spice.  It is used in both savory and sweet dishes.  It is treasured for its distinct, rich sunset hue and its purported "joy inducing" fragrance.  It is also a natural dye, so beware of stains.

If it is true that we eat with our eyes first, then Persians eat with their eyes and noses first.  In our house, growing up, the color and aroma of even the most basic dishes were just as important as the taste.  Often my mom will talk of a spice or dish releasing its "perfume"Thus, the use of so many rich aromatics in Persian cuisine; saffron, rose water, cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom evoke poetic descriptionsPersians by nature are a very poetic people.  Young school children can be heard quoting Hafez, Saadi, Rumi, Ferdowsi, Khayyam.  Poets ancient and new are highly revered and respected.  So it's not surprising that romanticism and metaphor should spill over into our cooking as well.

Because of its high cost, rich hue and taste, a little saffron goes a long way.  The best way to maximize its use is to grind up the saffron threads.  This can be easily done with mortar and pestle.  It only takes a couple of minutes.  Or, you can use a spice grinder.  Once ground up, the saffron can be kept in a little spice jar with its lid on tight.  It is also best not to purchase already ground up saffron.  As it may be adulterated.  Sounds scandalous doesn't it?  What it means is that it might not be 100% saffron.  It might have other spices like turmeric or paprika mixed in.  In our house, I am very protective of the saffron jar.  Liquid gold we call it.  To get to the saffron, you have to go through me first. I even have a little wooden spoon that is specifically for saffron use only.  

In order to get the most saffron bang for your buck, a bit of the ground up spice is mixed in a small glass of hot - but not boiling - water.  This is much better than adding your saffron directly to your cooking food, as you will be using less but still getting the flavor you want, as well as releasing its wonderful medicinal qualities.  Specific amounts of saffron-to-water ratios will be given in recipes.  If you have saffron threads that you do not think you will be grinding up and using soon, you can store the threads in their case, in the freezer to retain freshness, although you might lose some of the perfume over time.



So what do you think?  Ready for the next step?  Still unsure, nervousThen lean a little closer.  What if I were to tell you saffron is also an aphrodisiac...what do you say...

 
 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A SEXY DATES AND WALNUT PIE - RANGINAK



























Yes.  I know.  How can dates and walnuts ever be described as sexy.   

Well, maybe it's just time to re-think sexy, and welcome some new players into this exclusive (and elusive?) club.  After all, it's not all about outward appearances.  Most of the time it's about how we are made to feel.  And this pie is here to help bring back the inner sexy.  Or so I hear.



Recipes are usually inherited.  And I inherited this one from an unexpected source - Luna's wonderful Farsi teacher.  One day she was kind enough to bring us fresh, plump dates from the Persian store. The girls love dates.  We got to talking about making different desserts using dates.  She asked if I had ever tried ranginak - a dessert made with dates and walnuts.  I had never heard of it.  She went on to describe how she makes it, and very casually mentioned that gentlemen in particular love it for how it makes them feel.  

It's an aphrodisiac.  It gives "energy" and increases the libido. 

Ahem - my curiosity piqued - of course

It turns out walnuts and dates have been used for centuries to increase the libidoI always refer to dates as natural energy bars.  Besides being delicious, they are packed with essential nutrients and vitamins and give you that extra boost of energy when you need it.  It is said Middle Eastern men have been relying on dates to increase their sexual stamina for centuries.  Walnuts, I discovered, are used as a natural Viagra.  (The omega-3 fatty oils help with "blood circulation" and like many other nuts they contain arginine - an amino acid which has been said to help with erectile dysfunction.)

It should be mentioned here that for as long as I have been thinking of starting this blog - not once did I think the words "Viagra" and "erectile dysfunction" would find their way in to a post of mine.  But here we are.

Technically, this is not a pie.  But I made it in a pie plate, so why not call it a pieTraditionally, the dates are stuffed with walnuts, and a hot batter made of butter and all-purpose flour is poured over the dates.  I decided to make my batter using coconut oil and whole-grain spelt flour.   The batter is stirred for about 15-20 minutes until it's color turns golden and a caramel-like consistency is reached.  
After about 20 minutes of stirring, my batter had thickened somewhat but was still much more runny than desired.  And because of the whole-grain spelt flour, it's color actually got darker - more like a rich brown.  All was lost I thought.  I should have stuck with the original butter/white flour mixture.  
But I forged ahead and poured the batter over the dates.  After the pie cooled I cut into a piece, releasing the toppings' fragrant mix of flavors: cinnamon, cardamom, pistachios, and a hint of coconut.  And then, the first bite: the crunch of walnuts, and the soft chewiness of dates.  The girls tried a piece, and burst into an impromptu dance.  Still, the dough topping was not holding shape as I would have liked it to.  Dismayed, I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge.  
When I took it out the next  morning - Hurrah! - the batter was no longer loose.  It had taken shape.  Accidental success!  I only should have cut it into squares the night before.  The pieces can crumble easily, so presentation-wise it is best to cut it before putting it in the fridge.   
Also, a note on cinnamon.  It is a spice I use quite often in both savory and sweet dishes.  Which is why I was so intrigued to find out from the lovely Shiva Rose about it's different varieties, and it's effects on our health.  

As for the this will cure you effects of a Date and Walnut Pie?  Even if all of the above mentioned ingredients don't produce the sought after results maybe sometimes all we need to bring back the sexy is a mere suggestion. A hint of a dessert with "magical" powers, or a giggle over the possibility.  All while sharing a bite or two of Date and Walnut Pie.

Happy Valentine's Day.




DATE AND WALNUT PIE  inspired by S. joon

Ingredients:

Serves 8

1 cup walnuts broken in half or coarsely chopped
30 dates approximately or enough to fill a pie plate
1 cup coconut oil (or 1 cup butter or ghee)*
2 cups whole grain spelt flour (or 1 1/2 cups all- purpose flour)*
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup ground or finely chopped unsalted pistachios
shredded unsweetened coconut (optional) for garnish

1- Arrange dates tightly next to each other  in a 9-inch pie plate or similar size serving dish.  Determine how many dates  you'll need.  Cut a small slit vertically in each date to take the pit out.

2- Toast the walnuts in a large pan over medium heat.  Roughly 5 minutes.  Allow the walnuts to cool.

3- In a small bowl combine the cinnamon and cardamom.

4- Fill each date with a walnut half.  And place in the pie plate.

5- Melt the coconut oil over medium heat. You can use the same pan used to toast the walnuts.  Add the flour, stirring constantly.  The batter will start to turn into a dark rich brown and thickenAbout 15-20 minutes.  Keep an eye and a nose on it.  You don't want the flour to start burning. 
* If using the butter/all-purpose flour batter look for it to change to a caramel like consistency and color.  About 15 minutes.  

6- Pour the hot batter over the dates.  Packing it down and making sure the surface is smooth with the back of your spoon.  No lumps on the top. 

7- Drizzle the maple syrup evenly over the hot batter.  

8Sprinkle the cinnamon/cardamom mix evenly over the hot batter.  It will soak right into the batter.

9- Sprinkle the pistachios over the top.  Sprinkle as much shredded coconut as you like on top of the pistachios.  Set aside and allow to cool.  About 1 hour. 

10- Once cool cut in small squares.  Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight.
* If using the butter/all-purpose flour batter you can serve once the pie has cooled.   

11- Once the batter has set in the fridge arrange squares on a serving dish or serve right out of the pie plate.

Will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.