So Autumn has arrived, at least the calendar says so. Though it’s still quite warm here, its flavors have already surrounded us: Crunchy green big apples that are slightly sour. these are absolutely my favorite type of apples. Pears and pumpkins and mandarines have already shown up in the markets. The air smells like Autumn despite the heat. It smells like going back to school.
In Iran we go back to school exactly on the first day of Autumn, on the day of September equinox to be precise. We’re a very seasonal nation. Our whole calendar is based upon seasons. Our new year starts on March 21st with the beginning of Spring. That would be Norouz, the most important Persian holiday. So naturally, our childhood memories and nostalgia can easily be brought back when simply the nature goes through its normal changes. The flavors and smells we remember are the ones the nature provided us with at the times of our feasts.
Iranians have anciently celebrated the beginning and the end of seasons for thousands of years. Most of these feasts are tightly related to agriculture since its very existence depends on the changes of nature.
In the beginning of Autumn we (used to) celebrate Mehregan. to be honest, I must say that unfortunately I have never celebrated Mehregan in my family and I have never seen it being celebrated by other people. It’s just a name that I’ve heard. I know it was one of the most important Persian feasts, (some say as important as Norouz or even more) with mythological and religious roots that go back to thousands of years ago. If you are as interested as I am about ancient mythology, feasts and traditions I am sure you will find a lot of interesting facts about what this festivity was about and for example how it was related to Mithraism.
Once more, I am being honest with you, I would’ve never thought about Mehregan as an occasion to write a recipe. I would’ve thought about the old boring pumpkin here, pumpkin there. (I happen to be a fanatic about pumpkins, butternut squash, kabochas, you name it.) But luckily, –and to my pleasant surprise– I came to know about a beautiful community of Persian food bloggers. It’s been an immense joy to know these people and learn about their beautiful work.
They’ve had the wonderful idea of creating a round-up, kind of cyber celebration of Mehregan in which each of us writes an Autumn Persian-inspired recipe. You can check the whole list of other recipes at the bottom of this post.
I have chosen to share with you the recipe of a Persian lentils risotto inspired by a classic Persian dish called Adas-Polo; meaning rice with lentils. (I like all things fusion if you haven’t noticed!) It’s naturally gluten free and this version is not only vegetarian but can also became vegan with a tiny twist.
A good Persian rice is everything that a good risotto shouldn’t be and vice versa. A good Polò (Persian rice) is a basmati type rice (or similar kinds) with a wonderful perfume that is supposed to have long, beautiful grains, each neatly separated from one another. They shouldn’t be broken, and they should not be stickily. All after being delicately double cooked. That’s why we wash the rice a couple of times before cooking it. We don’t want any starch. If all this sounds too confusing you can watch a video I made last year –long before Lab Noon existed– in which I explain this process better.
You must imagine for people being grown with this rice what a shock it would be to confront a thick, creamy risotto made with champagne and cheese. It takes a while to get used to it, to understand and get to love it.
This Persian lentils risotto is quite simple. The aroma and the color might feel exotic but the tangy union of rice and lentils, brought together by the strong flavor of goat cheese, feels as homy as a cosy dining table at an evening in October. As sweet as the raisins you find every now and then in this hearty risotto for Autumn.
- 1, 1/4 cup/ 250 Whole grain or semi-whole grain risotto rice
- 1/2 cup/ 120 grams dry lentils*
- 2 medium red onions
- 1/3 cup/ 50 grams raisins
- 150 grams aged goat cheese**
- a handful/ 30-40 gram walnuts
- 2/3 tbsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp saffron
- 1/2 salt
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Some very thin slices of apples for garnish
- a sprinkle of cinnamon
- hot water for the risotto
- Check your lentils for any pebbles and wash them. Bring a pot of water to boil, add the lentils with some salt and turn down the heat and let it cook for at least 20 minutes. Remember lentils need a lot of water. Taste them and drain them when they’re cooked but not soft until the skin peels off.
- Soak the raisins in a small bowl of water. Infuse the saffron in small cup of hot water and cover.
- Chop the onions. I’d like mine long and thin. Heat most of the oil in a large pan and when it’s warm enough add the onions. Turn down the heat after a minute. When The onion starts to golden add the turmeric and stir. Add 1/4 cup of hot water. When it’s mostly absorbed and the onion is soft add the rice and turn up the heat and stir for a minute or two. Add hot water enough to cover the rice and turn down the heat.
- The secret of a good risotto is stirring and adding the liquid little by little. Don’t ever let it dry and stir often. It should take about 20 minutes. More or less, depends on the type of the rice. Whole grain rice is the one that takes the most time.
- Chop the walnuts coarsely and toast them in a small pan until they smell fabulous. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Chop your cheese into tiny cubes. (If you’re using creamier cheese divide into peaces, if your cheese very hard shred it.)
- Add some hot water to the rice for the last time and add the drained lentils and the infused saffron.
- Drain and strain the raisins and add to the rice mixture. Everything must be still quite wet at this point, So if needed add more hot water.
- Add the cheese cubes and stir slowly and let the cheese melt in the risotto. Taste and add some salt if necessary.
- Add the toasted walnuts. One last stir, then turn off the heat and let it a rest for a minute.
- Toast a really thin slice of core of and apple in drizzling small pan.
- Serve the risotto in a soup plate. Place the apple slice on top with some chopped walnuts and some cheese cubes. Sprinkle with a tiny dash of cinnamon and finish it off with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
- *The amount of lentils should be a little less than a half of the rice, weight wise.
- ** To make this risotto vegan, simply omit the cheese, or replace with a little bit of nutritional yeast.
Are you intrigued by this Persian Autumn holiday where there’s such abundance of good food? (It’s so typical of us.) Now it’s time you took a look at other fabulous bloggers who are taking part of cyber celebration. To find/share our content please use #Mehregan2014 hashtag. There’s more good food to come! Let the party begin!
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
Marjan Kamali: Persian Ice Cream with Rosewater and Saffron
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
The Saffron Tales: Khorosht-e Gheimeh | Yellow Lentils Stew
Sabzi: Yogurt Soup with Meatballs
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
Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.