Persian Delight, Easy Turkish Delight/Lokum as Christmas Edible Gifts from the East & a Yalda Celebration

Persian Delights - Rosy Candies for Christmas Edible Gifts | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-title-01

I. Christmas Flavors from the East

Would a Christmas with Middle Eastern flavors sound outrageous or alternative to you? What if I told you that your Christmas at times — tastes and smells like the feasts and celebrations of the East, and it has been so for centuries? Warm spices such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves that evoke the spirit of Christmas, form the flavor pallet of so many ancient and modern Middle Eastern recipes. Many roast or braised meats that we serve on Christmas are enriched with dried fruits such as raisins, plums, dates and apricots; a normality in many dishes from the East.

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Winter feasts, regardless of their location or origin, celebrate togetherness in order to survive the dark. There’s often dry fruits and nuts in the festive dishes, mainly because fresh fruit was not available in the cold season. In the medieval ages spices, figs, dates, nuts, turkish delights, and even sugar were luxury goods that were imported to Europe from the Middle and Far East. So naturally, they were consumed in banquets and feasts. The medieval Christmas has left a footprint of Middle Eastern flavors in the Christmas dishes of northern Europe, and consequently, North America and Oceania. As for Italy, apart from Sicily, Naples and other Southern parts where the dominations have permanently inserted some Middle Eastern flavors to many dishes, the rest of the country does Christmas with little or no warm spices.

If you’ve followed this blog for a long time, you might remember that in Iran we don’t celebrate Christmas, but we do celebrate Yalda, a celebration of the Winter Soltice. Although Yalda is a laic festival based on ancient seasonal traditions, it is similar in some ways to Christmas, which I talked about in details here. Eating nuts, dry fruits and Turkish Delights is one of these similarities. 

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One of the sweets that we always serve on the Yalda table along with nuts, pomegranates and —oddly enough— watermelon, is Baslogh. Also known as Lokum, Rahat Lokum (راحة الحلقوم) or more commonly, the Turkish Delights. The Turkish-ness of these sweet, gooey, soft and fragrant candies however can open a never ending debate. They are common in all the Balkan region and the Middle East, and we must admit that choosing the name Turkish Delight has been an incredibly clever marketing tactic, that has opened the way of these festive sweets into the western shops and even literature. 

Turkish Delights are featured in the Chronicles of Narnia, as a sweet temptation of an evil witch that uses them to get information from a boy who loves the candies. The amazing Diana Henry (food writer and author of many books) on a podcast on Channel 4 Food Programme digs deep into the Eastern flavors for Christmas celebrations and a very interesting part of the podcast is dedicated to Turkish Delights. 

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Persian Delights - Rosy Candies for Christmas Edible Gifts | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-17

II. Persian Delights: More Delicate, Easy Turkish Delights

No matter the name, these rose scented candies have been present all this Holiday season in my kitchen, beside my tea, all over my apron, in my travels and also in my cooking events! I knew I wanted to make a blog post about them as an edible Christmas Gift (my type of gift, remember this post?), as well as making them for the Christmas Pop up Kitchen we held on December 18th at Latteria Studio. Last weekend I went to Milan to make these Persian Delights with Alice aka A Gipsy in the Kitchen and we filmed it live on Facebook (in Italian). This post is my contribute to the virtual Yalda Celebration of the Persian Food Bloggers, so do check out other Iranian recipes for the festive season at the bottom of this post.

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There really is something fairy tale-ish about these sweets. They’re incredibly soft, yet they have a satisfying texture too. My version of this recipe is super delicate, as I have reduced the sugar amount. After many tries (including some embarrassing failures), I finally realized how to perfect the gummy effect by using a lot of gelatin sheets. The key is to use the double dose of gelatin for the amount of water in the indications, as we’re making a solid candy, not a jelly to be eaten by the spoon.  Continue reading

Regenerating & Reusing the Excess; White Chocolate Truffles with Roses & Cardamom

Reusing Christmas Chocolate to make Chocolate Truffles for La Befana, Italian Epiphany-23
Disclaimer: All the pretty printed gift tags, stickers and postcard (plus an unpictured apron I can’t wait to show you) have kindly been offered by Zazzle. If you need any sort of high quality printed accessory —from personal cards to stationary and design— make sure to check them out. They ship over Europe and the US. They have also printed a high quality calendar of my photos that I give away on my instagram.

Reusing Christmas Chocolate to make Chocolate Truffles for La Befana, Italian Epiphany-11

I. Letting go of the unhealthful and regeneration

The holidays are (almost) over. We’re in 2016 (Isn’t this number a little too large?!). I hope you have had some relax and resting time, maybe with some loved ones, maybe away from them, maybe on your own. I hope you have not been absorbed by the rush of shopping and the stress of having everything ready and everyone satisfied. Because let’s face it; despite the joy, the lights and the jingles, the holidays can be very stressing. So one can ironically be glad, that “we’ve made it through this year too”.

But this isn’t how it should feel. These holidays should be about enjoying ourselves, and our friends and family. Often it happens that we spend too much; we spend too much money, we buy too many gifts, we cook we too much food and we eat and drink way more than being full (to the point that we feel physically bad, and that could even make us feel worse about ourselves), too much chocolate, too many drinks.

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I think this is the problem. The excess. The unnecessary. Please don’t think that I am against the spirit of the generosity and abundance of the holidays. But I do believe that more than often, these holidays leave us exhausted and dried out rather than refreshed, because we don’t drive our spending resources (money, energy, love, time) in the healthy direction. We need to let the energy flow, recycle and regenerate itself. We need to connect, first to ourselves, and then to others. And let go, of things, food, and interactions that are neither satisfying nor healthy for us.

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Reusing Christmas Chocolate to make Chocolate Truffles for La Befana, Italian Epiphany-18

I think this is my resolution for the new year (it just occurred to me!); letting go of the unhealthy and unnecessary and letting it all flow. 2016 is already a year of great changes for me that I await with enthusiasm and some fear to be honest. Some of these changes have already begun. I am moving; moving out, to be precise. And I hope I can let go and be let go of soon, for everybody’s health’s sake.

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II. Reusing Christmas Candy and Chocolate

In Italy, the holidays have an epic end: La Befana or the Epiphany. The holiday of January 6th is celebrated slightly differently here than other Christian countries. La Befana, is basically a good witch who rides a broom stick, Continue reading

Ho Ho Ho! Home-Made Edible Christmas Gifts

Home Made Edible Christmas Gifts | Regali Commestibili di Natale | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas

It’s that time of the year again. The time of red heavy coats outside and the overdose of cinnamon, candied fruit and chocolate (and a little booze) inside. As you might know by now, being raised in Iran, I haven’t grown up with Christmas. Traditionally it’s not celebrated by the majority of Iranians. During the eighties when we were children, we knew it was Christmas time because there would be Mickey’s Christmas Carol on TV and that alone was a legit reason to wait for Christmas every year.The first couple of years of living in Rome taught me a lot about Christmas, specially how it’s celebrated in Italy. It’s remains inside the family, the sacred family, your own family (first & second cousins included) and your in-laws family (first & second cousins included).

Years passed, and it grew on me like good habits you try to insert to your daily life do. Like waking up early and having breakfast can make their ways to your morning routines and stay, I have inserted Christmas to my yearly ritual, and it’s here to stay.

Home Made Edible Christmas Gifts | Regali Commestibili di Natale | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas

I don’t have childhood memories of Christmas; I have never wondered if Santa really exists or not. I have never waited by the fireplace hoping to find a long, colorful stocking full of presents. But I have learned how to cherish Christmas. I love that collective image of the wintery-snowy woods, with little animals (often chewing on nuts), tiny lights and tiny snow flakes motives, that deep emerald green and that velvet ruby red. I love smelling the burning wood and hearing its crackling sound and think it feels like Christmas.

I love cracking walnuts and almonds open. The warm smell of oranges, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and anise star sets my soul free and mulled wine filled with these essences is a drink from heaven to me.Home Made Edible Christmas Gifts | Regali Commestibili di Natale | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas

The one thing about Christmas that I really don’t like is that crazy & avid rush towards the shopping malls, long lines, misusing a huge amount of money on Christmas Gift shopping. Most of the times they turn into soul-less, did-my-duty sort of gifts. The gift giver remains with stress and a headache from all that SHOP-SHOP mayhem and probably much less money, the receiver might be content but wouldn’t really feel warm at heart, and the only ones really happy would be the big people of the big companies who have made bigs sales in the holiday seasons.

Home Made Edible Christmas Gifts | Regali Commestibili di Natale | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas
Home Made Edible Christmas Gifts | Regali Commestibili di Natale | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas

In the years of learning to love Christmas, something that has really touched me is making your gifts with your own hands. Bless the ones who first thought of this. And since it’s the season to eat and drink and being merry, what would be a more delightfully generous gift than sharing, sparing and creating something to eat or drink? From scratch, with care, obsession and attention. Perfecting it time after time. This warms up my heart in the chill of this season and makes me smile from deep down my soul. It would be a mindful Christmas, in every level. Get your hands busy in crushing, stirring, brewing and whisking the tokens for your loved ones. Create your own edible Christmas gifts and meditate while you do so. Let this season bring you inner joy. Not just headache and stress from never-ending work to do. Sign your gift “Home-made with love” and rest assured it’ll be more than cherished.

Home Made Edible Christmas Gifts | Regali Commestibili di Natale | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas
Home Made Edible Christmas Gifts | Regali Commestibili di Natale | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas
Home Made Edible Christmas Gifts | Regali Commestibili di Natale | Lab Noon #LabNoonXmas

This year I have (so far) created these three gifts. I have kinda thought about a menu; A cocktail to start with (pomegranate gin), a seasoning for the main dish (various types of flavored sea-salt) and a condiment for dessert (clementine curd). Cookies are also all-time favorites and you can pile them in pretty tin boxes. Last year I did a LOT of chocolate cookies/ornaments. You can make candies, chocolate truffles, and toffies. I have particularly liked these awesome quince paste bites by Juls’ Kitchen. This years I’m all about jars and bottles that I have collected during times. So my gifts are bottled.

And by this, I give you my early Christmas greetings. Have a great one everybody! Continue reading