Persian Cold Soup with Cucumber & Herbs from Puglia, in Southern Italy

Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-8NOTE: The floral bowls and platter in this post are the courtesy of Dishesonly; a website where you can purchase various types of designer and craft dish-ware. Check them out! There have many pretty plates!

Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-13-2
Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-19-2

Fiammetta is the type of woman I’d like to become “when I get old”; brilliant, independent, strong and unstoppable. She just turned 73, she can tell you a hundred stories about her travels around the globe since she was young, the stories of South of Italy, where her both parents were from. One from Apulia and the other from Naples. The stories of when she worked as the manager of classical musicians and arranged concerts in Italy for the Russian artists when the Soviet Union didn’t let anybody out. She speaks many languages and her recent infatuation with Iran has brought us together. Fiammetta has travelled to Iran in November 2014 and she’s been in love with my country ever since. So much so that she’s now learning Persian. My mother tongue made our paths meet; and the passion for food and culture bonded us in a not-so-ordinary friendship.  I had a pleasure to stay in her country house in the provence of Apulia in Southern Italy for the first 10 days of August. Emerged in the beautiful and unique nature of Puglia (the Italian word for Apulia), and surrounded by so much culture and history, Fiammetta and I talked a lot; I talked about Iran and she talked to me about Puglia, Naples and the stories from her parents and her childhood. We went out a lot; around the country side and the nearby small towns, and to the beach, where the Pugliese sea was Esmeralda clear blue and put the the Caribbean seas to shame. But most importantly we cooked. We talked about countless recipes, both Italian and Persian, and we were often surprised by the similarity of some of these dishes, especially the southern ones to the Iranian ones.

Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-7-2
Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-5-2
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Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-5

Thankfully, Fiammetta and I shared the same same taste regarding Summer food; simple, seasonal, quick and mostly vegetarian. There was an abundant harvest of tomatoes, eggplants and thin, long peppers. Plus a certain kind of cucumber that I have seen only in southern in Italy and has different names in different dialects. It’s round and green, smaller than a melon, and it tastes like both cucumber and melon! It’s one of my favorite summer vegetables that sadly I can’t find in Rome.  The tiny vegetable garden provided us with much more than we needed, therefore a lot of time was required to preserve all the veggies and prevent them from rotting. We spent two days making “conserva”, the tomato sauce the Neapolitan way. (Here you can find a classic Italian tomato sauce recipe.) Caught by the weariness and after squeezing and canning many kilos of tomatoes, Fiammetta said “L’orto fa l’uomo morto”, a saying which means the vegetable garden kills a man (for the amount of work that there is).

Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-21-2
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The rest of the big garden around “Casina Luciana” (the house is named after Fiammetta’s late mother) is filled with many, many spectacular olive trees. There are four or five figs trees too, from which each day I picked up fresh figs. Each sweet bite on the ripe figs right under tree was an immense joy.

It’s amazing how the Apulia soil, which looks avid and dry at the first sight, can provide so much great produce. Some of the best grapes and vineyards of Italy are in Puglia which make Primitivo wine, with a dry and strong flavor. Everywhere you look, the red soil shines with the silver leaves of olive trees. The Apulian extra virgin olive oil is just as good as its wine, if not even better. The fantastic Mediterranean climate in Puglia, like Calabria and Sicily, allows almond and pistachio trees to grow and fruit beautifully. Almonds are among Puglia’s best and most characteristic produce. Their almond granita tastes divine and almond milk served on espresso ice cube is a traditional post-meal drink, both much appreciated in hot summer days.

Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-8
Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-24

Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-25
Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-17

Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-18
Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-17-2

Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-23

Speaking of hot Summer days, specially when we came back from the beach, we ate various ready-made food based on vegetables. After days of Italian/Pugliese meals, one evening that we had Fiammetta’s cousin over for dinner, I took over the kitchen and cooked Persian, only with seasonal and local ingredients, without really giving the authentic Persian recipe a make over.

Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-2
Memoirs of Puglia | Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-9
Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-4
Ab Doogh Khiar | Persian Cold Soup with Yoghurt and Herbs | Zuppa Fredda di Yoghurt alla Persiana | Lab Noon-5

One of the dishes was a classic Persian cold soup call “Ab-doogh-khiar”, literally translating to water-(sour)yogurt-cucumber. Other than cucumber, the soup is filled with a LOT of aromatic herbs which help the soup thicken. In the classic version black (purple) basil, mint and tarragon are used. But you can change that based on what you have on hand. Such as thyme, origano, marjoram, as long as you use mint as the base, even dry mint works. Mint, cucumber and yoghurt match so well and it’s the key element in the freshness of the dish. 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