Persian Rice Salad with Grilled Vegetables

Middle Eastern (and Persian, in particular) food is all the rage now. So much so, in fact, that this vibrant and colourful cuisine has been identified as one of the hotspots for the 2016 food trends. And rightly so! As someone who knows very little about the culture and cuisine of this part of the world, I am completely spellbound by such bold and yet delicate flavours. Also, I love how perfumed and scented some of these dishes are, which turns a meal into a sensory experience, as it should be. Among many sources of inspiration, the cookbook Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour is probably one of those which I am mostly obsessed with at the moment.

The recipe below is my version of her red rice salad, which looks brilliant on paper and offers, to my mind, the right balance of sweetness, tangy citrus juice, crunch and saltiness. However, as it often happens, you need to make do with what you have in the kitchen (or can find in shops without embarking on the trip of a lifetime). Therefore, I had to amend a few details here and there, possibly making the dish a little bit less authentic – but still really delicious.

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Ingredients

  • 350g long grain brown rice
  • 100g green raisins (swap cranberries for a more sour note or normal raisins if preferred)
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 large courgette, sliced lengthways into 5mm strips
  • 1 large aubergine, cut into 1cm thick round slices
  • 300g roasted red peppers in oil, drained and roughly diced
  • 1 x 20g packet flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (leaves only)
  • 2 x 20g packet coriander, finely chopped (leaves only)
  • 100g toasted sliced almonds
  • good-quality olive oil
  • juice of 1 1/2 orange
  • 2 tbsp clear honey
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Cook the rice as per packet, bearing in mind instructions may vary. Once cooked, drain well and transfer to a large bowl to cool slightly.
  2. Add the diced onion, raisins, orange juice, honey, vinegar and a good glug of olive oil to the rice, then mix well to combine. Set aside to allow the rice to soak in all the flavours.
  3. In the meantime, preheat a griddle pan over a medium heat. Brush the slices of courgette with olive oil and grill them for 4-5 minutes or until black griddle marks appear on each side. Transfer to a chopping board and allow to cool.
  4. Repeat the process with the aubergine slices, cooking them for longer (8 minutes per side), before adding them to the courgettes. Roughly chop the vegetables and add, together with the chopped red peppers, sliced almonds, herbs, salt and pepper to the rice mixture, then give the salad a good stir before serving. Enjoy!

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Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies

Happy 2016, people! I really hope this turns out to be a very good one. Judging from the first few weeks, you wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to think so, but here’s hoping! A lot has happened over the last few weeks, most notably I went back home to Italy for the Christmas/New Year holidays. It was great to be back and to pretty much devote my entire time to stuffing my face with great food and doing very little else. I also took advantage of my traveller’s nature to visit a few new places (Turin, just to name one) and to try the local cuisine in Venice.

Next week I will be in London for work. Needless to say, I will take advantage of my convenient location to try out a few places, namely Honey & Co. and Jose Pizarro‘s tapas restaurant. I cannot emphasise enough how obsessed I am at the moment with Middle Eastern cuisine. After having tried a few recipes off Persiana, Sabrina Ghayour’s latest book, I finally landed on Honey & Co.’s baking book, a true revelation. Below you will find my twist on their recipe for gooey and soft chocolate and pistachio cookies, although I strongly suggest you give their other creations I go!

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Ingredients

  • 250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 55g unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 175g light brown soft sugar
  • 65g strong bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • about 150g pistachios, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl suspended over a pan of boiling water. Make sure the water in the pan is gently simmering or the chocolate may seize and become grainy. Once melted, remove from the double boiler and allow to cool slightly.
  2. In the meantime, whisk the eggs and the light brown soft sugar together in the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. You want the mixture to double in volume and to fall back on itself like a ribbon when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture and gently fold in with a rubber spatula.
  3. In a bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients, then gently fold in the mixture and combine until there are no flour streaks visible. Allow to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes or until you can easily handle the mixture. You could also refrigerate it, but you may need to bring it back to to room temperature if you cool it too much.
  4. Line two baking trays with baking parchment. Pour the roughly chopped pistachios in a shallow bowl. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  5. Divide the cookie dough into 12 and, using your hands, roll the pieces into balls, then drop them into the chopped pistachios and gently roll them around until they are completely covered. Arrange them on the prepared baking trays, allowing plenty of space in between for the cookies to expand while baking. Repeat until you have used all of the mixture.
  6. Bake the cookies for 8-9 minutes in the centre of the oven (you may need to do one tray at a time), so that they firm up on the edges but stay nice and chewy in the middle. Remove the trays from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before attempting to lift the cookies. Enjoy!

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