For the Love of POM!

In my younger days I always knew winter was coming when my dad would come home with a bag full of Pomegranates and we would sit around the table deseeding the delicious red fruit native to Iran. The pomegranate was a symbol of fertility and love in ancient Persian culture and even today there is a Pomegranate festival in October in Tehran as the fruit is a large part of culture, food and even used to dye beautiful Persian rugs. Since it is winter in the US, and summer in Mediterranean states, Pomegranates are “in season”. Below are some of my favorite tips and recipes using the beloved POM.

First, Pomegranates can be a absolute pain to deseed- watch my video above on how to deseed pomegranates in a quick and easy way!

Check out http://magblog.audubon.org/what-do-pomegranates-few-simple-ideas for more great pom recipes and for more health benefits of pomegranates check out http://www.drfuhrman.com/library/article19.aspx

 

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Eggplant with Pomegranate and Mint Dressing

Ingredients 

  • 2 large eggplants (slices)
  • Olive oil spray
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup pomegranates

Ingredients for Pomegranate & Mint Dressing

  • 2 tsp dried mint
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp pomegranate juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash of pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

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Directions

Line a baking sheet with foil and spray the oilve oil. Place the eggplant on sheet and coat them with oil. Bake eggplants in 400 degree over for 30 minutes or until they are cooked all the way through. You can also grill the slices.

Now, for the dressing warm the oil and add the mint to warm oil. One you add the mint and it begins to sizzle add the garlic. Remove from heat and let it come to room temperature. In a separate bowl mix together lemon and pomegranate juice. Season it with salt and pepper and add the oil mixture. Drizzle the sauce over the pomegranates and drape the rest of the whole pomegranates onto the eggplants. Delicious!

Sheesh Kabob- Ready in 35 minutes!

Persian’s love kabob! Who wouldn’t though? Marinated pieces of meat are slowly cooked to come out juicy and full of flavor! The word Sheesh means six referring to the number of meat on the skewers.  Traditionally, most middle eastern countries uses lamb to make kabobs however, in Iranian culture there are three different types of kabob made with ground beef, called kabob koobideh, beef tenderloin, called  kabob e barg, or with chicken, called jujeh kabob.

All of the different types of kabob are filled with flavor and are easy to make, personally my favorite is the kabob e barg and Jujeh kabob. They are filled with flavor and are a healthy option. The ground beef kabob or the kabob koobideh is made with high fat beef because as it grills, if low fat beef is used it loses flavor and dry s out. However, I have learned a way to make beef kabob in a healthier way! Below, check out two of my favorite recipes for quick and easy kabob!

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Kabob e Baarg- 

Ingredients 

  • 2 pounds beef tenderloin
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tablespoon LoSalt
  • 1 pinch black pepper
  • 1/8 cup fresh squeeze lemon or lime juice
  • 1/8 cup baking soda
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

First, cut up beef tenderloin into into long thin strips, then grate the onion over the meat, add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and finally the baking soda and mix all the ingredients together. Leave it in the fridge to marinade for 3-4 hours. Personally, I like to do this the night before so it is juicy for the next day when ready to cook! Next, Place the meat on skewers and grill occasionally brushing the marinade onto the meat as it cooks. If you would like to grill some tomatoes to go with this you can do this at the same time! Enjoy!

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Persian Turkey Koobideh Kabob

Ingredients 

  • 2 pounds of 93% lean ground turkey
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt and pepper
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric

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Directions

In a large bowl combine the ground turkey, onion, **garlic, **parsley, salt, pepper, coriander, turmeric, and paprika and mix together with your hands until evenly blended. Next, divide into 1/4 cup portions and roll over wooden or metal skewers into oval shaped pieces. Place on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.  I like to soak my wooden skewers for 30 minutes in water as well so that they slide off easier when removing. Next, grill these delicious bites us for 10-15 minutes and serve with cucumber yogurt dip and pita! Enjoy!

**One thing I learned is how amazing Garlic is for you! Filled with anti cancer benefits and so much vitamin C it is one of the best foods we can eat! However, if you are like me and HATE the smell of garlic breath use it with parsley as it cancels out the taste! For more information on the benefits of garlic check out: http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/food-and-drink/news-stink-garlic

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Traditionally, Persian kabob is served with deliciously juicy fried tomatoes, saffron basmati rice, and of coarse mast e khiar or cucumber yogurt. Since we already know how bad basmati rice is I like to replace my rice with whole grain pita bread. Containing less than 130 calories- they are a much healthier alternative to basmati rice.

If you would like to see more alternatives for low calorie and low carb bread please check out: http://www.livestrong.com/article/444982-alternatives-for-low-calorie-and-low-carb-bread/

Dips and Dressing! Part 2- Yogurts.

This time around I would like to share some of my favorite Persian dips that are usually a staple with most meals. Let me begin by saying Persian’s love yogurt and it served as a side dish to all Persian meals.  It doesn’t matter if it is plain, mixed with different vegetables and spices to make a dip, or made into a traditional Persian drink called doogh. If it hasn’t become apparent yet, Persian’s love flavor and the same goes for their yogurt. Usually, the traditional Persian yogurt used is called Labne Kefir Cheese. It is made from whole milk and strained creating a thick, creamy texture that tastes like dessert! Unfortunately, as delicious as the yogurt may be it contains 60 calories for every two tablespoons and no one, I repeat NO ONE can ever have only 2 tablespoons! Not to mention it has 4 grams of Saturated Fat and 6 grams of total fat making it a unhealthy choice especially with every meal! Yogurt however is a great source of calcium and can have many health benefits if the right yogurt is selected! Growing up with a LOVE for yogurt that was instilled in me since I could eat I couldn’t give up my beloved dips and yogurt drinks!

Finding a solution to my problem I discovered FAGE TOTAL 0% Nonfat Yogurt which only had 90 calories for 12 tablespoons where Labne yogurt had 360 calories for the same serving size and far more fat! Of coarse, the taste of the nonfat yogurt was more bland than the Labne but with the right ingredients delicious yogurt dips could be created with 1/4 of the calories! Below are two of my FAVORITE yogurt recipes that could be used alone or on chicken, kabob’s, vegetables or as substitute for mayonnaise and sour creams.

For a full list of way’s to use yogurt to substitute fats check out this great  post: art://www.ehow.com/how_5778412_use-yogurt-recipes-fat-substitute.html

labne              FAGE

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Mast-O-Khiar Yogurt Dip

A quick and easy dip meaning yogurt with cucumber

Serving size: 1 Total Calories: 110

Ingredients 

  • 1 6 oz. cup of Fage 0% nonfat yogurt
  • 1 Persian cucumbers (mini cucumbers) peeled and diced
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped dry mint
  • 1 tbsp crushed dried rose petals- can be purchased at Persian or Mediterranean markets
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • LoSalt- if needed to taste
  • Pepper to taste

Directions: 

In a small bowl mix diced cucumber and yogurt. Next, add garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and crushed up mint leaves and stir the dip. The last step is to sprinkle the rose petals on top of the yogurt. Voila! Delicious low calorie yogurt cucumber dip!

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Persian Spinach and Yogurt dip (Borani)

Ingredients 

  • 1 package fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/3 cup  finely chopped sweet onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minched
  • 1/2 teaspoon Lo Salt
  • 1 cup plain fat-free greek yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon butter

Preparation 

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add fresh spinach, and cook for 1 minute. Drain well. Place spinach on several layers of paper towels and squeeze until barley moist. Next, melt butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, and remove from heat. Spin in chopped spinach and salt. Let cool to room temperature. Combine spinach, non-fat greek yogurt, and pepper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Dressings and Dips! Part 1

In my last post I discussed the importance of using fresh ingredients that are unprocessed and not preserved when cooking. One of my favorite things about Persian food is that most salad dressing and dips for veggies, fish, and meats are homemade and have no preservatives. Ever since I can remember, my family has never used dressings such as Ranch, Blue Cheese, or anything that came in a bottle.  Almost all of my favorite Persian salads use herbs and spices blended with either lemons, limes, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic vinegar as its dressing. Below are some of my favorite traditional Persian salads and some of my own recipes that I have created along the way.

If you are interested to see if your favorite salad dressings are “making you fat “check out: http://lowfatveganchef.com/is-your-salad-dressing-making-you-fat/

If lemon juice and vinegar just isn’t your thing visit http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/food-facts/5-homemade-and-healthy-salad-dressings2.htm to check out low calorie, fat-free dressings that you can make yourself at home.

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RECIPE FOR SALAD SHIRAZI

Serves 4- Quick! Easy! and Under 10 minutes!

Ingredients

  • 2 medium english cucumbers diced, or 5 Persian cucumbers
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon dry mint leaves
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste (or for an even better choice use **LoSalt which has 66% less sodium than regular salt)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh, parsley
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 lemon and 1 lime or 5 tablespoon apple-cider vinegar **(this is your own preference)

**Apple cider vinegar has been proven to have amazing health benefits and is thought of as a cure to everything. For more information on apple cider vinegar’s health and beauty benefits check out http://www.webmd.com/diet/apple-cider-vinega

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**Lo Salt is a great substitute for regular salt as it tastes identical and has 66% less sodium than regular salt.

Directions 

In a small bowl whisk together either the juice of the lemon and lime with olive oil, salt and pepper or the apple-cider vinegar with olive oil, salt and pepper. Add parsley and mint flaked then toss the diced tomatoes, onion, and cucumbers in the dressing. Either serve cold or at room temperature.

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Ozzie’s Lemon Lime Kale and Feta Salad

Serves 4-5!

This is by far my most favorite salad EVER! Ask anyone who knows me and they can tell you that I am a maniac when it comes to this salad and make it at least 3 times a week!With so much flavor and barely any calories it is easy to see why I LOVE this creation….not to mention I LOVE lemons!

Ingredients

  • 1 head of kale chopped
  • 1 head of Romaine Lettuce chopped
  • 1 small package basil (separate the leaves from the stem but leave the leaves whole)
  • 1/2 package Cherry tomatoes cut in half
  • 4 oz. French Sheep’s Milk Feta (wash feta for lower sodium)
  • 1 can black beans
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 lime
  • Pepper to taste (Personally I like a lot of pepper which also speeds up your metabolism)

Directions

In a large salad bowl mix together chopped kale, romaine, and basil. Add in the feta,black beans, and tomato’s. Juice the lemon’s and lime over the salad and add 2 tbsp. olive oil. Since the salad already has feta it will NOT need any additional salt. After mixing up the salad, add pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Persians Get Organic!

One of the most beneficial things about Persian food is its abundant use of fresh herbs, vegetables, fruits, and spices. Almost all Persian recipes call for fresh ingredients and hardly ever use preserved or processed products. Unlike America, food in Iran is mostly organic and is usually purchased from local farmers daily at bazaars and fairs for that evenings meal. Most people in Iran shop for food 5 times a week buying small portions so that the food doesn’t go bad since the use of preservatives is minimal. However, In the US most of our foods have preservatives and pesticides and many foods are mass produced and contain questionable ingredients.  

My mom always tells me stories about her first year in the states. When she moved here she gained over 20 pounds in a few months from the overly processed foods, and hormones that are injected into our meats. Now, my entire family only chooses to eat, shop and live organic. Even though the cost of food is slightly higher it is worth the peace of mind knowing what we are eating foods with higher concentrations of vitamins that are less likely to have pesticides.

According to Nutrition Noteworthy, the study Organic Fruits and Vegetables: Potential Health Benefits and Risks concluded after obtaining data from 41 studies that compared organic with conventional crops that “there is statistical significance in higher levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus, and lower levels of nitrates among organic crops. Another trend that was observed was a lower amount of protein in organic crops, but of higher quality.” The study also showed that “organic samples, when compared to conventional samples, are less likely to contain detectable pesticide residues, are less likely to contain multiple pesticide residues, and have lower concentration of pesticides approximately two thirds of the times.” http://escholarship.org/uc/item/0c6386bt#page-1

 

I urge you no matter how you cook and live your life read the facts, know the differences between organic food and maybe even do as I did and take the 100 Days of Real Food Challenge which can be found at http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/real-food-defined-a-k-a-the-rules/ 

After doing 10 Days of the challange I personally felt more energized, had better looking skin, hair and nails, and overall felt cleaner in my daily life. Now, I continue to eat this way as a lifestyle change for my own health and well being. 

 

Naan-O-Panir-O-Sabzi

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They say that smell is the strongest way to remembrance. The smell of Barbari bread, a traditional fluffly Persian bread topped with sesame seeds still takes me back to the memory of waking up every morning to my mother screaming “Bolansho bacheh! Madreseh Dari! Sayate Hashdeh!” Meaning, Wake up! You have school! It’s already 8 o’clock! I would look over at the clock every morning to see that it was still 7 am and I still had plenty of time to sleep. However, I knew better than to roll back over because the minute I did my mother would barge back in my  room, yank the blankets off of me, and start beshgahn zadan or snapping her fingers and singing a persian song that made absolutely no sense to me. Every morning consisted of breakfast with my family; my father would always sit at the end of the table reading his newspaper while spastically yelling out math problems for my sister and I to solve while my mother would continue to worry and ask us if we had done all of our homework, remembered our books, and brushed our teeth.

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Growing up, I had to deal with this ruckus every morning but what kept me sane was the delicious traditional persian breakfast of naan (bread), panir (cheese), sabzi ( mixed herbs), and sometimes morabaye albaloo (sour cherry preserve), with a cup of hot earl grey tea. The mixture of salty feta cheese with the savory basil, parsley and spring onion made a delicious combination folded between the barbari bread. Another delicious combination was the warm barbari bread coated with butter and feta, drizzled with sweet morabaye albaloo. Unfortunately, as you can probably guess the bread, butter, cheese, and sour cherry preserves were not the healthiest options especially for breakfast. However, the use of basil is not just nutritionally beneficially but also holds amazing health benefits such as powerful antioxidant properties which can help premature aging and even stop some cancers. Basil also holds strong antibacterial capabilities, as well as anti-inflammitory properties. So who’s to say that the delicious combination can’t still be enjoyed for lunch, dinner, or an afternoon snack with some slight variations.

If you are interested in seeing more benefits of eating Basil please check out :http://www.motherearthliving.com/natural-health/amazing-health-benefits-of-basil.aspx and for more benefits with results from research performed please check out: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85 

First, lets talk about naan Barbari- Every 3 inch slice consists of 150 calories and is fat free making it a decent option if using the herbs, however, if  you are also adding feta(80 calories for 1 oz.),  and butter (102 calories for 1 tbsp.) you are looking at about 330-400 calories for a very small snack.  If we choose to use the sour cherry preserve (50 calories per tbsp.) with butter on barbari we are looking at about 300-350 calories making this a unhealthy and unsatisfying snack for the amount you get. Since I still really enjoy naan-o-panir-o-sabzi I have come up with a low calorie alternative below

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Ozzie’s Low-Cal Naan-O-Panir-O-Sabzi

Ingredients

  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Tomato
  • Cucumber
  • 1- 2 oz. French sheep’s milk feta cheese in brine
  • Wasa whole grain cracker

Directions

First, take the feta and place it in a bowl of cold water for 1 minute, afterwards rinse the feta and set aside. This will help reduce some of the unnecessary sodium which may cause water retention. Next, spread the feta onto the Wasa cracker and top it off with basil, parsley, sliced tomato and cucumber to make a delicious low carb, low calorie snack of 140- 220 calories which is more filling than the original recipe since Wasa is filled with fiber and grains. You may also do this using the sour cherry preserve and feta on a Wasa cracker cutting it down to a 148 calorie snack. Enjoy!

Ditch The Rice

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With Persian food, comes Basmati rice, a signature dish served with almost every meal.  Being one of the oldest and most popular of the rice varieties throughout the world it is no wonder as to why it is used when cooking traditional Persian meals. As many people already know, rice is not particularly a healthy choice for a side and unfortunately many Persian’s tend to eat it with at least one meal every day. Who would blame them though? The fragrant white rice melts in your mouth, as it is laced with butter, oil, and salt. As all Persian dishes take a while to cook,  it should come as no surprise that Basmati rice takes almost 2 hours from start to finish to make. First, the rice is washed 3-4 times then soaked in a salt water mixture for 30 minutes. Next, the rice is drained and returned back to a pot of boiling water, salt, and 2 tbsp. of butter. After the rice has fully cooked it is drained and set aside until a layer of oil, potatoes, or tortilla bread is placed at the bottom of the pan to create a crunchy, golden layer of rice called Tadig after the rice has steamed for 30 minutes.

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I was curious to know exactly how many calories were in this delicious rice and added all the ingredients to myfitnesspal.com , a food calculating website which breaks down the foods you eat into nutritional facts and tracks how many calories you consume throughout the day. I came to find that 1 cup of this delightful persian rice is close to 475 calories if you eat a small piece of tadig too! Putting that into perspective 1 cup of rice with a small piece of tadig would be the same as eating a pillsbury cinnamon roll with butter cream icing(170 calories), a McDonald’s ice cream cone (160 calories) , and a slice of Tiramisu cake (140).

If you are like me and enjoy having rice with meals or just enjoy the texture try my recipe for Cauliflower Rice. Yes, it is not as buttery or delicious as Persian basmati rice but if you are dieting like me, it is a good replacement until you can have a cheat day.

Cauliflower Rice Recipe

Fortunately, making this rice substitute is quick and easy and takes less than 10 minutes.

Ingredients

  • Cauliflower
  • Water

Directions

First, wash a head of cauliflower and grab yourself a cheese grater.

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Next, grate the cauliflower into a bowl and add 2 tablespoons of water and microwave it for 2-3 minutes. The cauliflower has the same consistency as rice but only has  50 calories per cup! It is a quick and easy way to replace rice but still have the consistency and texture that many enjoy!

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Hello World!

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Growing up an American Iranian I quickly learned that many of my experiences would be based around food and the kitchen as Persians love to eat and entertain! Every day my mother would spend hours preparing delicious Persian cuisine using different herbs and spices, vegetables, meats, and of coarse basmati rice. Many Persian dishes tend to take hours of labor and preparation.  As I grew up, I realized being Persian not only meant being exotic but also meant being curvy. I became extremely conscientious of my weight and what I put into my body. Many Persian dishes are filled with nutrients and vitamins and are extremely healthy. However, some dishes tend to be starchy and high in calories which was something I wanted to stay away from.  Having such a love for Persian food and culture I wanted to continue to eat certain foods and find ways to make others healthier.  I began coming up with simple, healthy, and delicious recipes that had Persian flavor but took almost no time to make. Being a college student I don’t always have all the time in the world to cook in a traditional Persian way, however, I still enjoy making meals that take me back to certain memories and incorporate the unique Persian flavors that I grew up with.  This blog is a guide to cooking Persian inspired meals in an Americanized, quick and healthy way!

If you are interested in finding more traditional Persian recipes I would check out: http://turmericsaffron.blogspot.com/p/about.html