Chahar Shambeh Souri: The Tuesday of Fire Before Norouz

Originally posted on Four Elements Nutrition:


Tomorrow marks the day when many Iranians around the world celebrate spring equinox, or Norouz (“New Day”). As much as I love Norouz and the symbolism, tradition and culinary delights that accompany it, I appreciate Chahar Shambeh Souri even more. This event takes place on the last Tuesday before Norouz and is marked by a tradition of fire jumping – sounds strange, but it is quite a lot of fun, and many a pant leg have been subject to some lapping flames on occasion! I remember when, as a child, I was finally allowed to stay up until it was dark and go out into our public courtyard where I could watch what seemed like hundreds of people jumping over dozens of small fires, drawn to its light and energy like a moth to a flame.

But why jump over fires on New Year’s Eve? Well, the belief is that by…

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A Norouz Feast Is A Feat

Originally posted on Four Elements Nutrition:

The Haf Seen or "7 S's", each of which carries symbolic meaning The Haf Seen or “7 S’s”, each of which carries symbolic meaning

Yesterday marked the first day of spring, which Persians celebrate as Norouz. So I donned my forgiving drawstring pants, fork in hand, ready for the all-I-can eat Persian delicacies prepared by my mother. It takes days to prepare the ingredients and many hours to let all the flavours come together and meld and although I love to cook, I was very glad to just be enjoying the meal, rather than toil over its details. Apparently, it took my mother several hours to clean and hand-chop the fresh herbs for a dish called kuku sabzi, a frittata often made with egg, cilantro, parsley, green onion, dill, and spices (if you want a short cut, you can buy the herbs pre-chopped, but more traditional Persians frown upon this practice).

Kuku Sabzi Kuku Sabzi

The same herbs also went into the…

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No Eggs, No Milk? Yes, to Pancakes (with a Persian twist)!


When I was a teenager, my Mother taught us to make pancakes, and I’ve been making them ever since, trying to experiment with variations on the standard recipe: blueberries, bananas, raisins, flax seeds, applesauce, and gluten-free flours (to name a few) have all had their turn as ingredients, with some substitutions producing more successful outcomes than others.

On one particular weekend, however, I found myself with a craving for pancakes but faced with a shortage of two key ingredients: eggs and milk. Perhaps some of you have been here before, having already mixed all the ‘dry’ ingredients for the batter, and then realized most of your recipe’s ‘wet’ ingredients are missing.

So, I had to improvise. Egg substitutes are generally chosen based on the intention of the egg in the recipe, so for pancakes, it would be to provide moisture. Instead of one egg, I decided to use a frozen banana that had been sitting dormant in my freezer for some time (when bananas start to get brown, I usually freeze them and use them in smoothies, and now, pancakes). A few seconds in the microwave thaws out the banana, which is then very easy to mash into a puree with a fork.

In place of the milk, which provides both protein and moisture, I substituted 3/4 cup full fat Greek yogurt (strained yogurt or  “Masteh Checkeedeh” in Farsi), which is very high in protein and 3/4 cup water.

Over the years’ pancake practice runs, I’ve discovered that the fastest way to cook a pancake is to use a small skillet, which has a smaller surface area and heats up more quickly and evenly than a larger frying pan. The pancakes are also a smaller in size for those of us who wish to control our portions, and for those of us who have young children who for various reasons, enjoy food in its miniature presentation.

Using the substitutions and the small skillet, members of my testing kitchen described the pancake as delicious, tender, and flavourful especially when topped with ground cinnamon and cardamom for hint of Persian flavour. Noosheh Jaan!


“Persian” Pancake Recipe:

1.5 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 banana, mashed

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

3/4 cup Greek yogurt

3/4 cup water

Pinch of ground cinnamon and cardamom for garnish

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Tass Kabab and Why I Love My Oven

IMG_0492Yes, I may have taken a significant break from this blog, but I’m not idle in my silence. We, my Mom and I, are still cooking up a storm and experimenting with old and new recipes, trying to keep some of the traditional Persian flavours in the dishes, but also modifying cooking techniques to save time and minimize the number of ingredients we use.

Since having twins in May 2014, I have garnered a whole new appreciation for time. This is why I love my oven. This fiery, yet magical place holds the key to food that is healthy, efficiently prepared, and packed with flavour. Such an example is Tass Kabab (not on a skewer, as might be expected), which is traditionally made on the stove top using a slow cooking technique to generate flavours and incorporating the exotic flavour of quince, a pear-like fruit that is difficult to come by at the best of times. The autumn being its growing season, you might find these golden beauties at Middle-Eastern and other eclectic grocery stores.

So, although we love traditional Tass Kabab, we don’t have the time to stand over the stove  and watch its every sizzling move, or shop for its obscure ingredients at a romantically leisurely pace.

That is how we came to the following modification: instead of the stove top and dutch oven, we used a run-of-the-mill oven-proof dish and layered it with sliced onions, Roma tomatoes cut down the middle, and patties of lean ground beef ( you could substitute ground bison, chicken, turkey, or tofu patties according to your preference) . Now you might think that forming burger patties would be time-consuming, and you would be right. To save time, we prepared them ahead of time and froze them so all that was needed was to thaw them out in advance for a few hours in the fridge. In order to retain moisture in the meat, we placed the patties on top of the sliced onions and topped them with the tomatoes and covered the dish with foil prior to placing it in the oven.

The dish was topped with salt, pepper, and generous amounts of sumac, a spice with a lemony, fresh flavour to it that can be procured very economically at Middle Eastern Grocery Stores.

The cooking temperature (375 degrees) and time (approximately 1 hour) in the oven are all that is needed to enjoy this Persian comfort food with leftovers to boot.

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2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Vegan Sushi Rolls Shouldn’t Play Second Fiddle


A ‘sustainable’ Vegan Sushi Roll with only 4 ingredients, but a whole lot of taste.

I have received some great feedback since my last post, Sushi Ethics, particularly with respect to my comment that our fish supply is threatened as a result of the growth of the North American sushi market. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States is ranked the second highest consumer of seafood worldwide, with China leading the polls. In terms of the bluefin tuna specifically, Japan is the leading consumer of this type of fish. Nevertheless, the extinction of fish species is a clear and present concern for all global citizens and choosing sustainably is a task for which we are all accountable.

I was informed about a fantastic resource, called Ocean Wise, offered through the Vancouver Aquarium, which enables those interested to browse the sustainability indices of many fish species. Some of us Vancouverites may already be familiar with The Ocean Wise logo found on menus of some restaurants, but here you have the raison d’etre straight from the fish’s mouth.

Deciding to walk the walk and try an ocean-wise alternative of my own (i.e. I let the fish live this time), I took it upon myself to re-create a vegan sushi roll I had seen made previously at a sushi restaurant. This roll also happens to be gluten-and carb-free, so you might be asking yourself, “what is left?” At my first encounter with the preparation of this roll, I had seen the sushi chef use a fancy-dancy mandolin (does the second fiddle reference now make sense?), all I could find in our cupboards was the specimen shown below:


IMG_9324It’s about 30 years old, but it did the trick. Taking an English cucumber, washing and peeling it, then cutting it in half, I used this antique mandolin to slice the cucumber into strips lengthwise. I then shredded some carrots and cut a ripe avocado into small cubes. Using these ingredients as the filling, I rolled the cucumber strips similar to how one might roll a tortilla. I topped the rolls with a light drizzle of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, which is similar in taste to soy sauce but lower in sodium and gluten-free.

The best part was that the rolls took very little time to prepare and were delicious as well as filling if you ate enough of them (I think 20 or so should do the trick). I also think variations on this type of home-made sushi can be just as easy and delicious. For example, I might try using rice paper instead of cucumber and fill it with avocado, mangoes, sprouts and cream cheese. The world is literally your oyster.


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Sushi Ethics


Sushi-Ya, Sushi-here, Sushi-there, sushi every where. Over the past three decades, this refined Japanese culinary tradition, often taking years of diligent practice to perfect, has become as commonplace as McDonald’s. On every street corner in most North American cities, at airports and grocery stores, little morsels look up at us from plastic boxes, waiting to be devoured.

Because of  Canada’s Food Guide recommendations to include fish at least twice a week in the diet, many reach for a quick sushi option as a hassle-free contribution to eating healthier. In fact, sushi can be a healthy option. For example, brown rice sushi rolls or vegan rolls (wrapped in cucumber instead of rice) have allowed for those requiring lower glycemic index options to enjoy this culinary delicacy more often. Some restaurants also offer lower sodium soy sauce or accommodate dressings on the side or none at all (for example, asking for no mayonnaise on the california roll) to help reduce sodium and fat content of the dishes they serve.

But, as foodies, we are looking not only at the health benefits of the foods we eat, but also evaluating the impact of our choices on our surrounding environment – well, at least we try when we remember. To be honest, I order sushi once a week for my family and we usually opt for the mainstream fare of california rolls, assorted vegetable rolls, and a dynamite roll here or there. We rarely order raw fish, and when we do, it’s mostly wild salmon. Basically, when it comes to sushi, I would consider myself a ‘low’ on the risk-taking scale (i.e. boring), so you would not see me ordering sea urchin, eel, or abalone any time soon. So I have to say, it was a bit of a newsflash when I stumbled across this documentary, called Sushi: The Global Catch on iTunes the other night when I was haphazardly searching for a rom-com to watch.

The problem makes sense and it is this: we suddenly have a colossal demand for sushi as cultural culinary practices go global. As mentioned, the per capita presence of sushi restaurants is unparalleled in North America compared to any other country in the world, so it is natural that this would increase the demand for fish and other seafood worldwide. True to our roots, we have always been poor stewards of the sea and have overfished many species already (Sustainable Sushi). Add bluefin tuna, among others, to the mix (believe it or not, the eel I would not be seen eating is one of the most popular sushi items on the menu, and consequently, a species that is also in critical condition for being overfished). According to the film, it is likely that bluefin tuna and many other fish species are already in a state of extinction with no chance of replenishing stocks.

Like in other aspects of our endangered environment, we have to take a pause and re-evaluate our decisions when it comes to food, as well as educate ourselves about better food choices, recognizing the significant impact this decision makes at the point-of-purchase. As for me, I think I will stick to mostly veggie rolls, and maybe throw in a couple of salmon and california rolls. In this case, I am happy to remain boring.

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