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

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

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