Cardamom Brownies – Spice Spoon in the New York Times

Cardamom Brownies NYT 3

Hello and a Happy New Year to all of you! I apologise for being away from Spice Spoon for so long, but I am still here and plan to blog lots of new recipes this year.

I am very active on Instagram, in case you want to chat with me there – I  would love that.

I was asked to be a Contributor for a piece on ‘How to Deal with Heartbreak’, in the New York Times – I hope you enjoy reading it. Here is the link (that is an edited version). Many of you asked me for the full text, because what was printed in the New York Times had to be edited down. Here is the full text:

How to Handle Heartbreak

It was a cold and wet day in the winter of 2002, when I first arrived in Rome. I remember sitting in my apartment on the Aventine hill on that first night, next to the window overlooking the Giardino degli Aranci, flipping through Vanity Fair in Italian, trying to eat slices of pizza ai funghi my landlady, Cristina, had bought for me from Passi, the local bakery down the hill. Feeling depressed and lonely, I didn’t have much of an appetite. I had made a decision to end a relationship and leave my family home in Washington, DC, for a new job at the United Nations in Rome – as a way of starting over again. I turned to my left and stared at the beautiful marble counter in the kitchen – Cristina was a chef, after all – and at the stone mortar and pestle sitting on that counter, brought back from Cristina’s travels to South America. I thought about all the special meals I had made for the man I had loved and shared so much of my life with – the braised Afghan-style lamb stew with burnt aubergine (his favourite), eaten alongside bowls of the Levantine-style of rice with broken vermicelli I had learnt to make from his mother. Heartbroken in Rome, I wondered how I could ever be happy again.

My second morning in Rome, Cristina invited me to host a dinner party with her, as a means of introducing me to her Roman friends. My last few weeks before leaving Washington, DC, my mother had been cooking for me, as I had lost all enthusiasm to go into the kitchen. The thought of cooking for strangers in a new city, who were not familiar with cuisine from my part of the world, excited me just a little bit, so I decided to make those very dishes which would remind me of the comfort of home and my mother – to help me forget the heartbreak, just a little. I decided to make koftay – spiced meatballs in a jammy tomato sauce; chana dahl – lentil soup; and tah-dig – saffron-crusted rice, as a nod to my paternal grandmother’s Persian heritage. And to round off the night, I would serve something with chocolate and fragrant notes of cardamom – the scent of home.

After a trip to Castroni, a specialty store, where I bought basmati rice and saffron and other whole spices like cumin, coriander and cardamom, Cristina and I began to cook together in my new kitchen. I crushed strands of saffron, staining my fingertips vermillion, while Cristina helped me sauté ginger and garlic in olive oil till it turned bronze. I mixed brownie batter, while Cristina transformed cardamom seeds into powder in her pestle and mortar before sprinkling it into the bowl. Our guests arrived later that night, holding hot bowls of chana dahl in their hands and ladling spicy tomato sauce over mounds of saffron-stained rice, washing it down with Pinot Nero. We ate squares of brownies with thimbles of espressi before the end of the night and just for those few hours, I laughed with others and realised that I was lucky to be living in such a fascinating city.

If it were not for that second day in Rome, when I had cooked with Cristina and hosted a dinner party, I may have still been sitting on my dining table, staring out the window onto the Giardino degli Aranci for weeks on end. It was that morning, whizzing through the streets of Rome with Cristina on her motorbike, and that ritual of cutting, mincing and stirring, which made me forget – for some moments of time – all the pain and heartache that had paralysed me in Washington, DC. Even though this was a meal which began with a spell of heartbreak, it reminded me of all the good things in life, which includes cooking for others and breaking bread together.

And as part of the piece, you will find the recipe for my cardamom brownies – they are quite moist and sticky – I hope you enjoy making, eating and sharing them.

*8-10 green cardamom pods
*120 g chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids)
*170 g unsalted butter
*200 g white sugar
*75 g brown sugar
*2 teaspoons espresso grounds
*3 eggs (medium)
*150 g flour
*2 tablespoons pistachios, unsalted
*Dried rose petals (optional; available in Middle Eastern grocery stores)
*Cocoa powder, to dust on top

*Preheat oven to 180C. Butter the sides of a 20cm x 20cm baking dish. Dust the sides with flour, and tap out excess. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
*Remove cardamom seeds from their pods. Discard pods. Crush seeds in a pestle and mortar. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, wrap the seeds in a newspaper and crush with a rolling pin (or the base of your frying pan). The seeds should not be crushed to a dust. The result should look like freshly cracked pepper. Set aside.
*Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, and gently stir. Take off the heat and add white and brown sugar, espresso and cardamom powder and stir to combine. Set aside and allow to completely cool.
*Add eggs to chocolate mixture and stir to combine. Add flour and mix until smooth.
*Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. While baking, crush pistachios in a pestle and mortar. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, wrap the pistachios in a newspaper and crush with a rolling pin (or the base of your frying pan).
*Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with moist crumbs. Cool in the pan on a rack, then use the parchment paper to lift out the brownies before slicing into squares.
*Adorn with pistachio dust, rose petals and a dusting of cocoa powder.

Saffron-Scented Aubergine Stew in the Persian Manner

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Mehregan Mubarik! Today, along with thirty other Persian food bloggers, we are celebrating Jashn-e-Mehregan – the ancient Persian festival to celebrate the Autumn Equinox. Historically, in ancient Persia, this festival was an occasion to honour the god of justice – Mehr – and to give thanks for the end of the harvest season.

The first thing I think about when the leaves turn ruby-red and my shawls come out of the hidden part of my closet, is a hearty tomato-spiced stew. Now that the days are shorter and we are beginning to spend more time indoors, the scent of saffron, mingling with tomatoes and cumin, bubbling away on the burner, seems to be the best way to spend a night in. Aubergine, with its glorious shades of violet is in season right now and one of my favourite ways of preparing it is to incorporate it into a khoresht; a stew. With its jammy tomato base, all you need to have with this Khoresht-e-Badejmaan is a tahdig – saffron-crusted basmati rice – and creamy strained yoghurt. It seems to be the best way to start a new season and to give thanks for all that we have.

Speaking of giving thanks – I recently became a Canadian citizen and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this country – a country which this Pakistani-Persian-Afghan nomad now calls home.

Khoresht-e-Bademjaan (7 of 1)


Khoresht-e-Bademjaan (5 of 1)


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Before you get to my recipe below, I hope you enjoy reading all the beautiful dishes my fellow Persian food bloggers have put together for Mehregan.

Ahu Eats: Badoom Sookhte Torsh | Sour Caramelized Almonds
All Kinds of Yum: Jeweled Carrot Salad
Bottom of the Pot: Broccoli Koo Koo (Frittata)
Cafe Leilee: Northern Iranian Pomegranate Garlic and Chicken Stew
Coco in the Kitchen: Zeytoon Parvardeh  | Marinated Olives with Pomegranate & Walnuts
Della Cucina Povera: Ghormeh Sabzi | Persian Lamb & Herb Stew
Fae’s Twist & Tango: Rice Meatballs | Kufteh Berenji
Family Spice: Khoreshteh Kadoo | Butternut Squash Stew
Fig & Quince: Festive Persian Noodle Rice & Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Yummies for Mehregan
Honest and Tasty: Loobia Polo | Beef and Green Bean Rice
Lab Noon: Adas Polo Risotto | Persian Lentils Risotto
Lucid Food: Sambuseh
My Caldron: Anaar-Daneh Mosamma | Pomegranate Stew
My Persian Kitchen: Keshmesh Polow | Persian Raisin Rice
Noghlemey: Parsi Dal Rice Pie
Parisa’s Kitchen: Morasa Polow | Jeweled Rice
Sabzi: Ash-e Mast (Yogurt soup with meatballs)
The Saffron Tales: Khorosht-e Gheimeh | Yellow Lentils Stew
Simi’s Kitchen: Lita Turshisi | Torshi-e Liteh | Tangy aubergine pickle
Spice Spoon: Khoresht-e-bademjaan | Saffron-Scented Aubergine Stew
Turmeric & Saffron: Ash-a Haft Daneh | Seven Bean Soup
The Unmanly Chef: Baghali Polow ba Mahicheh | Rice with Fave Beans and Lamb
ZoZoBaking: Masghati | Persian Scented Starch Fudge

Recipe notes:
• I like this stew with a thick, reduced sauce, if you prefer your stew to be more fluid, with abundant sauce, simply add more water when you add the aubergine in the end.
• Always adjust for salt, because it really depends on your taste as well as the type of salt you are using.
• I prefer chicken with bone because it makes the sauce more flavourful. You can use boneless chicken thighs, too, just remember to decrease the weight to about 700g.
• Feel free to adjust for black and cayenne pepper, as per your preference.
• If you don’t want to broil the aubergine, feel free to gently sauté the flesh side of it in oil, till it is bronzed. I do often use this method, but you have to be quick, because aubergine sucks up a lot of oil when it is sautéed or fried.

*2-3 tbsp olive oil
*125g finely chopped onions (approximately ½ a large onion)
*1 kg chicken thighs (weight with bone)
*2 garlic cloves, minced
*½ tsp turmeric powder
*¼ tsp black pepper
*Pinch cayenne pepper
*¼ tsp cumin powder
*½ + ½ tsp salt
*1 tsp saffron threads, crushed into powder in a pestle and mortar, dissolved with two tablespoons of water
*300g chopped tomatoes, including juices (blanched and skin removed)
*2 tbsp water
*Neutral oil for frying
*350-400g baby aubergine quartered (the slices should be approximately 8-10cm long and 2cm thick)**
*juice of one lime
*1 tsp rose water (optional)***
*8-12 cherry tomatoes

*Place a wide  heavy-bottomed pan, which has a lid, (the one I use is 30cm in diameter)on the stove on medium heat and add oil. Add onions and sauté for ten minutes, till they become slightly golden, but not brown.

*Turn heat to medium-high and add garlic, chicken, turmeric, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin, ½ teaspoon salt, saffron water and sauté for five minutes, till the spices are fragrant and the chicken has lost its raw pink colour.

*Add tomatoes, sprinkle with two tablespoons of water, lower the heat to medium and cover the pan for twenty minutes. (If you feel the tomatoes are sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a few more tablespoons of water and lower the heat a bit more.)

*In the meantime, brush the flesh side only of your aubergine with a neutral oil (don’t use olive oil, as it has a low smoking point) and transfer to a baking sheet. Place directly under your broiler (skin side down) and allow the flesh to turn bronze. This will take between five-ten minutes. Keep a vigilant eye on them, they can burn easily.

*Transfer aubergine to the pan at the 20-minute mark, (once the chicken has tenderised), skin side down, and sprinkle with the remaining salt, rosewater and lime juice. If the tomato sauce looks like it has reduced significantly, add more of water. Cover with lid and allow to cook for 25-35 minutes, or till the aubergine is fork tender but still holds its shape.

*When the stew is still hot, before serving, dot the stew with cherry tomatoes, cover with lid and wait till the skin of the tomatoes wilts a bit (five minutes). It adds an extra pop to the dish.

*Serve with your favourite fresh herbs strewn on top, tahdig (saffron-crusted rice) and strained yoghurt.

**You can use any aubergine of your choice, just remember to keep the chopped dimensions in mind.

***Rosewater can be found in Middle Eastern or Pakistani/Indian grocery stores.

Spice Spoon in Hello! Magazine

Hello, lovelies – As you know, I was featured in Hello! Magazine this summer, and I finally have the feature online, to share with all of you. I hope you enjoy reading it. Click on this link here.





Kofta Curry in the Pakistani Manner

Pakistani Kofta Curry

I was commissioned to write a piece for Edible Toronto – I chose to write about a recipe I grew up eating, my Nani Ami’s spiced meatball curry, also known as Kofta Curry. This is a comforting Pakistani dish made in almost every home. My article is about how my parents entertained throughout my childhood: elegantly, with seemingly effortless perfection. And today, in my home, I wonder if I can do the same.

I hope you enjoy reading the piece I wrote here.