Celebrating Mehregan with a Persian Lentils Risotto

The recipe of Persian lentils risotto | la ricetta del risotto persiano con le lenticche | عدس پلو به شکل ریزتو ایتالیایی 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.The recipe of Persian lentils risotto | la ricetta del risotto persiano con le lenticche | عدس پلو به شکل ریزتو ایتالیایی

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.The recipe of Persian lentils risotto | la ricetta del risotto persiano con le lenticche | عدس پلو به شکل ریزتو ایتالیایی

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.

The recipe of Persian lentils risotto | la ricetta del risotto persiano con le lenticche | عدس پلو به شکل ریزتو ایتالیاییThis 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. Continue reading

An Afghan Cooking Workshop & Healthy Baked Samosa

Baked Samosa, Samosa al Forno, سمبوسه رژیمی

It is no secret that food and family traditions play a huge role in Italian culture. Big family meals for Sunday lunch and grandmas and moms cooking for the whole family. Wherever there’s a good ragù (the Italian famous meat sauce), it smells like home, yet no ragù is ever comparable with the one mom makes or the one that granny used to make. It usually looks like this; a big table with the whole family sitting around it, meals start at about noon and people leave the table at about 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Children and cousins play around the table, there’s a lot of noise, a lot of delicious smells and of course a lot of heavenly tasty food. Most of the times you can add the rays of sun light making their way through white window curtains to this poetic picture. And there’s of course wine, shining like pieces of ruby in each glass. This authentic picture (plus the dead delicious food) is indeed one of the reasons the Italian culinary culture has come to be celebrated all over the world. What is less known though, is that family meals and more specifically cooking for the family, has the same significant role in many other cultures too; of course things change regarding traditions of each place. but the taste of the traditional food cooked by a mom, has carved our souls in one way or another; some times it’s a picture of Tortellini in Brodo, some times it’s Fried Chicken, other times it’s Ghormeh-Sabzi or Kabuli Paowlo. But no matter the name or the shape, the smell and the taste of a traditional meal we’ve grown up with, can take us all back… home.

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In our multi-ethnical world there are more and more people like me who have left their homeland for one reason or another. Naturally it’s always a pleasure to have an opportunity to recreate the home sensation through cooking and sharing meals. It’s healthy and inevitable that the traditional food of one place cooked in another goes through some changes, of which the slightest would be the atmosphere or simply the weather in which that food is usually eaten. Other times some ingredients also need to be revisited, whether they’re difficult to find or not considered quite palatable in the new place. But all of this won’t matter if only one factor remains the same: sharing that meal with other people. Cooking and wanting to share your food with other people means one is capable of love, and what is more associated with home than love?

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Photo by Frontiere News

On 26th April, a very cloudy-turned-rainy Saturday, I had the pleasure to meet Shadam, 27, who is born in Afghanistan, lived for a while in Pakistan, then started his road trip to Europe in 2008, crossing many countries of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. It took him 2 years to arrive in Italy, where he decided to stay. Here in Rome with the help of intercultural associations such as Frontiere News and Binario15, Shadam organizes Afghan suppers for charity, Afghan cooking workshops and Afghan dance lessons. He also works in Italian restaurants and silk screen print publishing house. Our cooking workshop took place in a beautiful agritourism farm called La Volpe e l’Uva in the province of Latina, in the region of Lazio. We were about 12 people and we cooked together Afghan Samosas, Kabuli Pulao (Afghan Rice), lentils and Okra (ladies’ fingers). We were enchanted by the smell of turmeric, saffron and other spices. I imagine how exotic it all looked like for Italian friends present, to me naturally, coming from Iran and sharing borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, there weren’t many surprises in the smells and tastes. Rather I could’ve let myself go in nostalgia for home, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to lose the chance to hear Shadam’s story and watch him knead the dough for Samosa and add the spices to chicken pieces. We all watched him in wonder and listened to him carefully. He told us that in Afghanistan men rarely step in the kitchen and it’s women who always cook at home. But for events like weddings (where celebrations are held for several days) only men cook, and that’s where he has found his interest for cooking. We chopped, kneaded and diced while clouds got darker and denser, and when they finally broke down into a heavy spring shower, we sat at the table to eat our Afghan lunch; hearty, spicy and colorful. I looked at Shadam’s face and I could tell he was satisfied, not just with the good food, but also with the good company. People who were gathered by curiosity and –no doubt– the love for food, sat at a long table, and shared opinions, thoughts and food. The food from his homeland, the home that he had deserted. Who knows, maybe that day at that table, it did feel a little like home after all for Shadam.

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