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Spice Up Your Holiday Dinner With These Festive Iranian Recipes

These warming Iranian recipes are perfect for your Winter Solstice party, holiday dinner, or even a weekday supper.

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The Winter Solstice was at 5:00am this morning (Eastern time) and Iranians around the world spent the night celebrating.

Yalda is an Iranian festival celebrated on the longest and darkest night of the year, to celebrate winter’s arrival and the triumph of light over darkness. It’s mostly an occasion to gather with loved ones, enjoy classic Iranian poetry (Rumi, Hafez, and Sa’adi to name a few), eat delectable dishes, and snack on pomegranate seeds all night. Pro tip: sprinkle angelica powder (available online and at Middle Eastern grocery stores) over pomegranate seeds for a sweet, sour, and bitter flavor explosion.

There’s no better way to celebrate Yalda or any winter holiday than with some home cooking, and Yasmin Khan’s debut cookbook “The Saffron Tales” is chock full of Iranian recipes fit for a warming feast on a chilly night. Khan traveled across Iran with a notebook and an empty stomach in search of the country’s most prized and most delicious recipes.

The Saffron Tales takes readers on a culinary journey of Iran, from the buzzing coffee shops of Tehran to the rice paddies of Rasht. The book is more than a set of recipes – it’s a unique view into the kitchens and lives of Iranians across the country. It highlights Iran’s vast regional differences in culture, climate, and cuisine with dazzling images and personal stories. Khan declares Saffron Tales “a celebration of a side of Iran that never makes the headlines but that is central to its story – its amazing food.”

The Saffron Tales is a beautiful juxtaposition of old and new – reflective of Iran itself – with traditional recipes paired alongside with modern, plant-based dishes. The recipes are accessible, whether it’s a traditional Iranian omelet, the legendary crispy rice (tahdig), or a pomegranate and sour cherry sponge cake. This is an excellent place to start for anyone interested in Iranian food, or lovers of pomegranates, sweet and sour flavors, and of course, saffron.

Ahead, find three recipes from The Saffron Tales perfect for your holiday dinners, winter parties, or even a weekday supper.

Olives marinated with walnuts and pomegranates (Zaytoon parvardeh)

Serves 6-8, as part of a mezze.

1/4 cup walnuts

2 cups oil-cured green olives, drained and pitted

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1/4 tsp dried mint

3 basil leaves, finely chopped

1/2 garlic clove, minced

A generous pinch of golpar (optional)

Sea salt and black pepper

A handful of pomegranate seeds, to garnish

Grind the walnuts to a find powder with a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Place them in a medium-sized bowl with the olives, olive oil, pomegranate molasses, mint, basil, garlic, and golpar (if you are using it). Season with a generous pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Mix well, then taste and adjust the seasoning. If you think you'd like the dish sharper, add a touch more pomegranate molasses.

Leave to marinate for at least an hour and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds just before serving. These olives keep well for several days in the fridge.

Pistachio Soup (Soup-e Pisteh)

The Saffron Tales (Bloomsbury)

Serves 4

1 3/4 cups shelled, unsalted pistachios

2 tbsp butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 medium leek, trimmed and finely chopped

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp cornflour, mixed into a paste with 2 tbsp cold water

4 cups good-quality chicken stock

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

Juice of 1 orange

1 1/2 tbsp fresh lime juice

For the toppings:

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

1 tbsp pistachios, roughly chopped and toasted

Sumac

Blanch the pistachios in a pan of boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and then rub the nuts with your fingers, discarding the purple skins. Rinse in a bowl of hot water to remove any remaining bits of skin.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the onion, garlic, and leek. Fry for 10 minutes until soft.

Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan for a few minutes and then grind with a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Add to the pan along with the cornflour paste, stock, salt, and pepper. Leave to simmer for 15 minutes.

Pour the soup and the pistachios into a food processor and blend for at least 3 minutes, until you have a smooth consistency.

Return the soup to the pan and add the orange and lime juice. Heat through, then taste and adjust the seasoning to your preference.

Serve with a swirl of yogurt, a few slivers of toasted pistachios, and a pinch of sumac.

Chicken with walnuts and pomegranates (Fesenjoon)

Serves 4

2 ½ cups walnuts (the fresher the better)

5 cups cold water

6 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp tomato purée

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

2 tbsp sugar

2 tsp sea salt

1 tsp black pepper

¼ tsp golpar (optional)

1 ¾ chicken thighs, bone-in, skinless

A handful of pomegranate seeds, to garnish

In a food processor, grind the walnuts until they are extremely fine and have the consistency of a smooth paste. Place the ground nuts in a large casserole pot with 4 cups of water and mix well. Bring to the boil and cook on a high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat. Simmer for 1 hour, partially covered, stirring occasionally to stop the walnuts sticking.

Add the remaining cup of water, give the sauce a good stir, then stick the lid back on and leave to simmer for another hour. If the sauce starts looking dry, add some more cold water. You are aiming for a thick, porridge-like consistency.

The sauce should now have thickened and darkened in color. Add the pomegranate molasses, tomato purée, cinnamon, sugar, salt and pepper and golpar (if you have some) and stir well. Add the chicken pieces, place the lid on the pot and continue to cook over a low heat for 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and the sauce is a glossy, dark chocolate color.

Taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust to your preference: to make it a bit sweeter add more sugar, or pomegranate molasses to make it sourer. Cook for a final 10 minutes with the lid off so the sauce thickens around the meat. Sprinkle with a handful of pomegranate seeds before serving.

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