Eeeeek~! According to our weather forecast, Summer is coming… with guns blazing. Of course that little tidbit of info sent me into a pan-swinging frenzy last weekend, to give them one last good twirl before tucking them in for their annual R&R period.
With the heat rolling in from way down south, I couldn’t help but think along the spice-laden lines of the near and middle eastern cuisines and take our last – for now! – (heat) blast into the delicious realm of Persian dishes.
At this point, I kind of feel the need to bow and humbly apologize to all heroes, masters and connoisseurs of Persian cuisine for rudely twisting and tweaking a classic dish around like this – You see, this one started out as one of those “I’ve eaten something like this at a wonderful restaurant while on vacation, forgot to get in-depth info on it and recreated it from the chicken scratches on my restaurant napkin at home” kind of recipes. As far as I was able to retrace the name of the dish I had back then, its name – the originals’ name, that is – was “Khoresh Fesenjan”. Big juicy chunks of chicken, slowly stewed to perfection in a thick pomegranate and walnut sauce. During the repeats over the course of the following years and a number of tweaks later, as you will see, it has lost the “authentic” tag somewhere down the line along with the chicken and the rice… Anyways, my renegade version of this classic Persian stew has turned out to be one of those dishes that are a very welcome sight on our dinner table when our tastebuds demand to be sated by something vibrant, hearty and loosely related to the spices and dishes of its origins. Oh and by the way… despite perhaps sounding a bit heavy, it’s a wonderfully light and refreshing meal for a pre-blaze early Summer night~!
Here we go, dinner for 4:
The Creamy Pearl Barley and Spinach Salad
125g Pearl Barley
150g Baby Spinach Leaves, stems snipped off, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp Butter
2 Tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper to taste
2 Tbsp Crème Légère
1 Tbsp Horseradish – freshly grated is best, of course, but preserved Horseradish works just fine as well. Just make sure you’re not using the sweet’ish, cream-based stuff.
1 Unwaxed Lemon, Zest and Juice
3 Tbsp mild White Wine Vinegar or Rosé Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tsp Dark Forest Honey
1 Tbsp Pomegranate Syrup
½ Bunch of Parsley, roughly chopped
½ Bunch of Dill, roughly chopped
½ Bunch of Chives, finely chopped
Another one of those fancy sounding side dishes that are done in next to no time with next to no effort! Weeee~!
1) Cook the pearl barley according to its’ packet instructions.
2) Meanwhile, pick a large mixing bowl and add everything except for the spinach and
3) Give the lot a good whisk until all ingredients are well combined, then flake in the butter and set the bowl aside until the barley is done.
4) Place the spinach in the sieve or colander you’re going to use to drain off the barley and place it above your sink.
5) Once the barley is done, drain the water off through the spinach-lined sieve and give it a couple of good shakes (and maybe a little squeeze) to get rid of any excess water.
6) Allow it to cool down and drip/steam off some more moisture for about 5 mins, then transfer the lot to your mixing bowl.
7) Fold the two components into each other until they’re well combined – have an extra eye on the butter flakes once they’re gone, you’re golden~!
8) Place a lid or plate on top and allow the barley to soak up all the goodness while you finish off the duck.
Just on a side-note, this salad is best while it’s still a little warm – at least in my humble opinion. I’ve had barley turn either dry or gooey on me before after it had cooled down too far/long in some sort of sauce, and I did not enjoy either outcome. I highly suggest following the general Barley-/Risotto rule of thumb and eat it while it’s fresh and creamy~!
The Pomegranate & Walnut Duck
4 Small or 2 Large Duck Breasts
1 Tbsp Fine Sea Salt
2 Tsp Freshly cracked Black Pepper
2 Tsp Ground Cumin
2 Tsp Ground Turmeric
1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Tsp Ground Cayenne Pepper
½ Tsp Sumach
1 Generous Pinch of Saffron Threads
1 Tbsp Ghee or Clarified Butter
400g Pomegranate Seeds
100g Pomegranate Seeds on top of that
200ml Duck Stock
6 Tbsp Intense Forest Honey
100-125g Walnuts, lightly toasted – I always give them a light sprinkle of brown sugar and salt just when they’re about ready to cool off. 1-2 flips of the pan and you’ve got the lightest hint of seasoning on them just enough to boost their toasty, nutty flavor up the wazoo.
1) As usual, prepare the (room temperature) duck breast by criss-cross-scoring the skin right down but not into the meat with a very sharp knife.
2) Dust the skin with a bit of salt and gently rub it into the cuts. You could also boost the flavor by adding an extra pinch of each of the spices listed for the sauce to that fragrant massage~
3) Pour the stock into a jug and stir in all of the spices and another generous pinch of salt.
4) Place a wide, heavy-based pan on high heat and gently lay down the duck inside, skinside down.
5) Pop on the lid and find something else to do for roundabout 7 mins. Since 7 mins is the time my pan/stove team takes to get up to the magic point, keep an eye on the duck inside your pan or rather, keep an ear open for the tell-tale sizzle of duck skin crisping up in it’s own fat.
6) Once that mouthwatering sizzling noise reaches you, and a quick peak inside reveals a corona of rendered fat oozing out from under the meat, remove the lid.
7) Keep the party going until the skin has sufficiently crisped up – about 3-4 mins usually do it for me.
8) Flip the duck over onto the meat-side and deglaze the pan with the spiced-up stock.
9) Add the ghee, pomegranate seeds and honey, give everything a good stir and bring the lot up to a rapid boil.
10) Once the sauce is merrily bubbling away, remove the duck and tuck it in beneath a tinfoil blanket to keep it warm for the time being.
11) Turn the heat down to medium and allow the sauce to reduce down into syrupy goodness for about 15 mins.
12) Have a taste and decide if a) the seasoning needs adjusting and b) whether to strain out the pomegranate seeds or not. Adjust everything to your liking (keep the barley in mind while adjusting the seasoning, it does mellow the bite a bit).
Assembling the Dish
1) Once you’re satisfied with everything, divvy up the salad onto 4 plates, bowls or deep dishes.
2) Thinly slice the duck, place them on top of your salad beds and dot the servings with the extra pomegranate seeds and the toasted walnuts.
3) Top off everything with the sauce and…