Welcome to Spring and Happy Nowrooz.
Today isn’t just the Spring Equinox it’s Persian New Year too. Iranians the world over will be celebrating, whilst back here the Japonica up the street, on Jen the Potter‘s wall, is looking spectacular – a sign that winter’s been and gone. I decided to mark the occasion by cooking a recipe from my very latest acquisition, Sally Butcher’s Snackistan, using some of the huge haul of rhubarb I received from a friend with a glut. Hoorah for gluts.
I have to admit that I hadn’t even heard of Nowrooz until last week when I visited Persepolis, Sally’s amazing shop, which she describes as a little bit of “Persia in Peckham”. I walked through the door to find her amidst a new delivery from Iran, bowls of lush wheat grass and a washing tub of goldfish. The shop was hotting up for New Year (music and all ), which just happens to be Jamshid, Sally’s Iranian husband’s birthday too. Both the wheatgrass and the fish are meant to represent the new life and prosperity that everyone hopes for in the months ahead.
I sipped fragrant cardamom tea from the samovar, and managed to devour an entire plate of traditional pastries too, before setting off around the shop. The place is packed with all those fabulous Middle Eastern treats such as sumac, dried barberries and plums, lurid-green nibbed pistachios, Turkish delight and pomegranates. The shopping experience is further enhanced by Mrs Shopkeeper’s labels around the shelves, along with her advice and incredible insight into the life and food of Persia.
My Peckham pilgrimage was a wonderful one (just a 20 minute bus ride from Victoria on the 436 or 36) and I left with a great stash of goodies to cook with. Better still, when I dive into my copy of Snackistan (or the equally inspiring Veggiestan) I can now picture Sally writing in her chaotic office at the back of the shop and celebrate the idea that at least one person in this world ( and a fabulously creative one at that) has a messier desk than I do.
Spinach with Rhubarb, Chickpeas and Pomegranate
Esfanj va Rivas
“Snack lunch for 1 hungry shopkeeper” – it fed 2 of us at suppertime with some rice.
This recipe is taken from Snackistan- Sally gives you plenty of extra info’ in her inimitable, witty style but you’ll need to buy the book for that (you won’t regret it). Her inspiration for this was a dish that contains chicken too, so do feel free to experiment. I’d love this alongside lamb or in a very non-PC (when it comes to Persian New Year) way with some juicy belly pork.
2-3 spring onions
Sunflower oil for frying
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 garlic clove, chopped
A big handful of both mint and parsley, chopped
1 glass of water
1/2 of a 400g can of chickpeas, drained
2-3 sticks of rhubarb
1 tsp sugar
1/2 a bunch (I used 2 large handfuls) spinach, washed and roughly shredded
Juice 1/2 a lemon
1 tbsp Pomegranate molasses
Salt, black pepper (and sugar too, if necessary)
Fresh pomegranate to garnish
Fry the onions in a splash of oil and then, once soft, you can add the turmeric and garlic, followed by the herbs. After 5 minutes, stirring well, add the water and bring up to the boil.
Throw in the chickpeas, rhubarb and sugar and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the spinach, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses and cook until the spinach has just wilted.
Season well and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.
I do have a bit of a rhubarb fixation as you may well have noticed on my blog. If you are up for some more rhubarb trivia you could go to my post on the Borough Market Blog or consult either/both of these fabulous little books The Great Book of Rhubarb by Elaine Lemm or Rhubarbaria by Mary Prior.