Early Breakfast at the End of Winter & a Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni)

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Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon
The alarm rings at 5.30 am. I turn it off immediately so that it wouldn’t wake him. I look at the phone and I run my thumb up and down on the screen to make my half-open eyes get used to the light. I sit in bed, It’s still as dark as it was when I went to sleep barely 5 hours ago. Then slowly, I reach for my woolly poncho and I prepare my heavy body to drag itself to the bathroom. By the time I get the courage to splash some lukewarm water in my face, some 20 minutes have passed. I know I’m gradually coming back to life when I turn on the big computer and open Spotify. I search for my super early morning playlist, “Sounds of Nature” and I make sure a forest sound plays. I pray the ads wouldn’t start right away. 

Mission: Breakfast. 

I turn on the espresso machine and I think about what to make for breakfast. My usual routine alternates between oat porridge and something with one organic egg. Mostly it’s a simple and healthy french toast that I prepare with my home-made sourdough bread, which I always bake with wholegrain flours such as rye or spelt. When I’m out of bread, I make a small oat pancake-thing (I love oats for breakfast). Then I’m distracted by the jiggles of my phone. It’s my to-do-list app saying I must prepare the files for MAXXI museum’s speciale event for Norouz. “Yeah, I know, I know” I mumble, and I open the whole list, which is synced to another calendar app, which is synced to the notes app and iCal. 

It’s a little overwhelming to say the least. It’s a loooong list of projects I need to finish, tasks that ought to be done, researches, meetings etc. Most of them are related to my final thesis project, which is due by the end of March. I am officially finishing my long university studies (two bachelors and one master) at Rome’s Fine Art Academy in Graphic Design & Photography. The project is very close to my heart as I told you, because I get to combine my passion for food & photography with my love for graphic & editorial design. Now I can finally reveal you what I’m working on. I’m creating a cookbook! A single, unique copy with my own recipes and photos (which have either already shown up on this blog or will soon). I think it would be a dream for a designer foodie to make their own cookbooks all from scratch. It also tickles that not-so-secret desire of getting published that lurks at the back of the brain of any food-blogger. So you get the picture. It’s a period of hard work and barely any rest.

Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon

That’s when I decide I want something more than my oaty breakfast routine. Something special, cozy and sweet. After all, my early breakfast is the only moment during the day that I can dedicate completely to myself. Enjoying the quiet, taking my time, listening to the cheep cheep that comes from the speakers, sipping my coffee and getting mentally ready for the long, busy day. I opt for a homey comfort food. Firni (or Fereny) is a porridge that my mom used to make me either on Friday mornings (weekend in Iran), or when I had a soar throat. It’s the closest thing that comes to Kheer, the famous Indian rice porridge. Actually similar porridges are common in many countries in the region, specially in central Asia. I even discovered it’s called by the same name in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Firni: aromatic, silky warmness in bowl

Now that mind is made up, with a lively sprint I search in the pantry and reach for the rice flour. Some cardamom pods, and the most significant ingredient, rose water. This combination of aromas would pour the essence of childhood into my bowl of porridge. Rose water is the smell of middle east captured in a bottle. You need to take it in little doses, like a powerful potion, or you’d kill the dish with too much aroma. Just the way too much potion would ruin the magic. A teaspoon is more than enough for two portions. 

Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon
Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon

I dissolve the rice flour in some water, heat up the milk with the cardamom pods and then mix them. I keep stirring, while looking outside the window, watching the first rays of sunshine rising from behind the buildings. I almost lose track of time, it’s like meditation. I know it’s ready when I feel the liquid has thickened. Then I sit against my hot Firni, white as marble, soft and smooth as silk, smelling like a garden of roses in Spring. I hold the bowl with both hands to warm them up. Each spoonful wraps my mouth in a gentle and warm velvet and I feel it’s milky path all the way from my throat to my belly.

The light is still grey and blue but now I’m fully awake, warmed up and fresh as the roses. Despite the chilly dark morning, I know Winter is over. The new season is at the gates. I smile and I think to myself… Buon giorno! Continue reading

A Guide to Winter Salads & Spinach, Marinated Beets and Chickpea Salad

Warm Winter Salad | Insalata Invernale Tiepida | by Lab Noon (8 of 8)Doesn’t January feel link kind of a limbo? When all of the holidays end, I am usually left with contrasting emotions; On one side I am just fed up with everything about holidays, from the food to the laziness of the vacations. I feel bloated and full, no matter how much I tried to remain sane in my eating. On the other hand I feel nostalgic and kinda sad that the holidays are gone. 

The first thing however that gets me quickly back on the track is switching to a healthy and light diet. The next couple of months are going to be super busy and I should absolutely not waste time. There are many projects I’m involved with (the most important one: my master’s thesis! Yes, I’m still studying but I swear I’ll quit after this one!) and some are directly or indirectly connected to this blog. All of them in one way or another are about food. The thesis in particular is all about Lab Noon, but we’ll get to that later. Truth be told, there’s a lot of new stuff to try and experiment and I’m filled with that excitement of creating something new and being scared shitless of not being able to meet deadlines and other insecurities. My first step; I (desperately) need to get organized.

Warm Winter Salad | Insalata Invernale Tiepida | by Lab Noon (2 of 8)I started getting organized first in my eating habits. Started with some detox smoothies and went back to one sure type of dish I know I make very well, tasty, filling and nutritious; Salads. There’s no secret about it, I combine everything. Keeping in mind to insert enough proteins, carbs and fiber and to keep the dressing balanced with acidity and fat. My secret ingredients for more energy and substance are nuts and seeds. About 90% of times my salads are vegetarian but sometimes I might add some smoked salmon, tuna or chicken breast too. The problem with salads however is that they’re, er…, cold! Specially on chilly winter days. I suffer a lot from the cold. I often have chilled fingers and toes no matter how many layers of clothes I’m wearing and how boiling the heater is. So sometimes it becomes quite a task to get the veggies from the cold fridge and cut them, let alone eating them cold. That’s when, er, –this might sound a little crazy– I cook my salads! And not only typical warm salads with lentils or other legumes. Sometimes I even cook the poor lettuce, for just a minute or two. 

Basic Tips  for a Delicious & Nutritious Salad

Stick to seasonal produce. Do you really want a tasty salad in the middle of winter? Don’t put tomatoes in it!  Don’t use fresh tomatoes in any dish in the winter. Think different types of cabbage, spinach and baby spinach, all types of chicories, Brussels sprout, kale, cauliflower, beets and fennels. You can/should cook slightly most of these veggies but not necessarily. Just remember to take off the stalk off the kale leaves and shred the leaves thinly. Try boiled/roasted potatoes with broccoli, peas, sun-dried tomatoes, beans and onion.

Got nuts. Different types of nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecan, pine nuts etc not only add a good sum of energy, vitamins and minerals that are necessary for you health (specially if you consume little or no animal protein), but they also bring a wonderful, crunchy texture to your salad. They’re best if you toast them for a minute or two so that they can bring out their fragrance and essential oils. Don’t forget about seeds either, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, sesame, poppy seeds, you name it. Try radicchio, blue cheese, celery, walnuts and lentils with balsamic vinegar. 

Fruit is your friend. I absolutely love the acidic, sweet flavor of a fruit in a savory dish, specially a fresh salad. It brings out the flavor of salty or bitter ingredients. They match beautifully with cheese or bitter winter roots such as radishes. Go beyond ordinary, think of pears and blue cheese, orange and black olives, mandarine, persimmon with salmon, apples with radishes, pomegranate with kale. The combinations are infinite. Try arugula salad, roasted turnips, chopped chestnuts and pieces of Japanese persimmon with shavings of parmesan cheese. 

Warm Winter Salad | Insalata Invernale Tiepida | by Lab Noon (3 of 8)
Warm Winter Salad | Insalata Invernale Tiepida | by Lab Noon (1 of 8)

Satisfy your sweet tooth. As I said, I love the sweetness in a savory dish. Even sweeter than fruit are the dried fruit. The one I love? raisins! As the classic coleslaw, raisins are beautiful in almost in kinda of salad, maybe except for the ones containing fish. Dried apricots are also great for a sweet touch in a salad. I use dry mulled berries and dry pine apple too. Try, shredded red cabbage, oranges, raisins, almonds and hard cheese dressed only with olive oil. 

Break Bread. Oh the good company that bread is to a salad! You can make croutons, you can break flat bread upon a salad to give it crunchy texture or you can simply eat your salad with slices of a good (whole grain and dark?) bread, even using it like a cutlery to help your fork. It’s something I’ve learned in Italy, when you have good extra virgin olive oil in your salad, you must it with bread. Try cutting your old bread, splash a little bit of water on it, then cook it in an oiled pan with garlic powder and sea salt and add to your salad.

Dress it up. Most salads are uneatable without their dressings. Use good cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. Do not exaggerate with your acid. Remember this Jamie Oliver’s rule of thumb of 3 parts fat, 1 part acid. Try different vinegars ( balsamic, red wine, white wine, sherry, apple cider etc), lemon juice and the juice of other citrus fruits. If you already have an acidic element in your salad such as fruit, skip the acidic part in the dressing. One of my personal favorite dressings specially when there’s cheese in the salad is the balsamic cream which comes in different flavors and turns almost any dish to a luxurious marvel. From cheese to meat, from strawberries to even ice cream. A Dijon mustard also makes a lot of difference. I am not a fan of mayonnaise though. I prefer using plain white yoghurt, lemon juice and seasonings for a similar effect. It’s great with potatoes salads and other ones with meaty proteins. 

Warm Winter Salad | Insalata Invernale Tiepida | by Lab Noon (1 of 1)

Some winter salads from around the internet that have inspired me:

– This colorful crunchy salad with red cabbage and apples with a special dressing by Noghl-e Mey‘s Mahroo, my good friend. 
– This intriguing vegan Cesar salad with roasted chickpeas and almonds by Edible Perspective
– This so-my-type-of-dish Autumn salad with figs, prosciutto and blue cheese by From the Kitchen
– This shiny and bright Fennel-Roasted Carrot + Shallot Salad with Shaved Apples by Dolly and Oatmeal.
– And last but not least, the long list of beautiful winter salads on Food52 among which I have particularly enjoyed this Roasted Grape and Butternut Squash Salad with Kale and Parmesan.

My Warm Winter Salad or It is too dry to be a soup! 

My warm winter salad at a certain point could happily become a soup. After all, I make a classic sauté with onions, carrot and celery for the chick peas. (I used canned ones, but you could totally cook your soaked-over-night dry chickpeas together with this sauté.) I even added a little bit of white wine for extra tanginess. I like that bold rich flavors in salad. I am so lucky I had received hand-picked dried mushrooms from Finland that once soaked in hot water for half an hour, bring an earthy flavor to any dish, be it a salad or a soup. And when the chickpeas are flavored I place the spinach on top, covering with the lid and letting it soften by the steam. Maybe the only proper salad ingredient is the lemon juice marinated beets. But I like it that way. I need to get organized in many fronts of my life, but I’d like to stay messy in my recipes. Recipes where you’re free to experiment, to add or to omit and to make tasty food that’s good for you, without having to fit it in a name, a category or a nationality.  Continue reading

The “World Vegan Month”, A Movie (again) and a Vegan Bean Stew

Vegan Rice and Beans Stew | Rico e Stufato Vegano di Fagioli | Lab Noon

 I have made many discoveries thanks to this blog, most of which are about the world of food. I’ve had the chance to cook many new recipes and I’ve got to know better some alternative diets. one of these discoveries is that the November of each year is called “The World Vegan Month” to celebrate a vegan diet. I am (almost) happily omnivore but recently I have tried to eat less and less meat and use more and more seasonal vegetables, legumes and grains in my cooking. That’s why my instant reaction to a vegan month was “Challenge Accepted!”. I’ve prepared many simple vegan dishes and I’ve posted most of them on Instagram. I have also made a collection of them on Steller

I admit it was difficult to omit all animal products. For example I found out that my Achilles’ heel is cheese and sometimes even eggs. But the nice thing is that as soon as you try to approach a new world almost immediately you find new ways and methods to use new ingredient to make whole plant-based dishes that are both tasty and nutritious. 

Vegan Rice and Beans Stew | Rico e Stufato Vegano di Fagioli | Lab Noon Then in the middle of November (which felt much more like September/October here in Rome), came along once more ChckenBroccoli, the cool Italian blog about cinema, and asked me to watch the preview of a movie and come up with a recipe about it. Naturally I accepted with a big grin on my face. 

It’s called Trash, based on a young adults’ best-seller by the same name. The story evolves in Rio de Janeiro, where the three main characters work in a huge garbage dump. It’s a story about the good and the evil. (Speaking of the good and the evil, make sure you check out these fantastic illustrated magazines by ChickenBroccoli, even if they’re in Italian they’re still worth the look.) Surrounded by massive filth and trash, unmerciful poverty and immense corruption, these kids decide to do “the right thing” and that makes them a voice for hope. 

“Trash”, Coming to Italian theaters on November 27th.

It’s a nice little film, especially young adults can be inspired by the courage of these kids. There’s that right amount of Adrenaline without an excess of violence. And one can’t help but being reminded of The Slumdog Millionaire, where other poor and filthy kids tried to survive the injustice and beat the evil guys. Of course they’re not quite comparable when it comes to the soundtrack, the script and the editing as The Slumdog Millionaire was many steps forward. (And that’s how I replaced checkBroccoli as a movie critic!) 

Vegan Rice and Beans Stew | Rico e Stufato Vegano di Fagioli | Lab Noon
Vegan Rice and Beans Stew | Rico e Stufato Vegano di Fagioli | Lab Noon

During the movie I was constantly looking for the slightest trace of food, or a dish that would inspire me to come up with a recipe. The sad thing was that, not by chance, (and on the contrary of the other movie) there’s no sign of food at all. Actually, the thing that is most noted is the absence of food. As a matter of fact the only scene in which someone wants to get some food is when one a boy looks for something to eat in a trash can and finds a half-bitten apple and some other dirty garbage. The parents of these kids are never shown, neither are any other parental figures who would take care of them (except from the American missionaries). It made me think about how important it would be for a kid like Rafael to find a nice, warm and nutritious dish when comes back home. A meal that would give him the energy and the necessary substances to grow up well and in health. Maybe a nice simple dish of rice and beans, with simple and cheap ingredients, that also contains the right amount of proteins, fibers and minerals. Continue reading