In my continued effort to clean up my eating habits, breakfast eludes me. I always wake up with just enough time to make it to work 5-10 minutes late. I buy things like frozen acai berry paste and flax seeds, promising myself I will at least make delicious and nutritious smoothies for myself before work, but it never happens. I just end up grabbing a granola bar and running out the door, instead. One day, though, I will be the kind of person that wakes up early and does a whole series of things before my workday begins. Maybe I'll read the paper. Maybe I'll do a load of laundry. Maybe I'll go through that pile of mail on my credenza (yeah, I said credenza). And maybe just maybe...I'll make myself a real breakfast.
Until then, that's what the weekends are for, right? Because that's when I actually have time to bust out my very favorite Persian breakfast (my fiance is at his desk somewhere wondering if he's been asleep during this alleged breakfast cooking, but don't mind him!) So for those of you that like to go the extra mile and create a spread on the weekend to make up for your lackluster weekday morning yogurt cups, here's an incredible, clean and super summery Persian breakfast that will be as fun to make as it is delicious to eat. This recipe (if you can call it that) works for lunch or dinner as well with just a couple of adjustments (or none at all!)
PS) This is the kind of spread that's meant for sharing. You could go solo for sure, but it's the kind of meal where you use your hands, and it brings everyone eating it closer together.
Persian Breakfast (one of many variations)
Persian or any crusty, warm middle eastern bread (Whole wheat pita works fine and is easy to find, but if you are adventurous and can find it--my favorites are: Barbari and Sangak. I usually find mine when I'm in the DC area since there are lots of Persians there and plenty of Persian stores (I buy a ton, cut and freeze), but I've heard that in Philly Bitar's, Makkah Market and Jerusalem Foods may carry these breads or something close that will be fun and different for your palate. If you get a hold of them, don't be daunted by their size. Grab a pair of (washed) scissors and cut them into rectangular, toast-ish-sized pieces for...well...toasting.)
1 brick of feta cheese (Avoid the pre-crumbled stuff. I prefer a French style sheep's milk feta for its creaminess and subtle tang. This is my favorite brand. If you want to scout your own brand, go for feta stored in a tin, where it is sitting in water to retain moisture and freshness or at an international foods store where you can buy it from a bulk bin behind the counter. This makes a world of difference! Once you have opened the tin, transfer the feta you aren't using with the water from the tin, into an airtight container and pop it into the fridge. It will last for a while. You'll be able to smell when it's turned...it is good for at least a couple of weeks.)
Butter (set out enough in a dish for smearing on your bread)
1-2 RIPE, RIPE juicy tomatoes, sliced in 1/2 inch think half-moons, lightly salt and peppered (Go local here! Jersey tomatoes anyone??)
1 bunch of fresh mint, rinsed and patted dry (a must have)
1 bunch of fresh basil, rinsed and patted dry (optional)
1 bunch of tarragon, rinsed and patted dry (optional)
3-4 Persian cucumbers (1/2 English or hothouse cucumber will work too and is easier to find), peeled and cut into spears (lightly salted)
A couple of handfuls of raw walnuts (soaked in slightly salted water overnight) (optional)
There's no cooking to this breakfast (lunch or dinner). Just arranging and assembling. (Make it pretty. It's more fun to eat that way.)
Arrange all the tomatoes in a dish you love.
Place all the fresh herbs and cucumbers in a basket (or plate) with a paper towel underneath to soak up any excess moisture left on them.
Place the feta in a pretty dish (drained of it's water).
Place the butter in its dish.
Leave the walnuts in their soaking juices in a small bowl.
Place, the warm toasted bread in its own basket with a linen napkin or clean kitchen towel and keep covered to retain the heat. (Toast the bread to where it's not doughy anymore (yuk!), but still able to fold with a little crunch (not snap in half). Having the warm bread is key to the deliciousness of this meal. This is why Persian families often get up and toast new rounds of bread intermittently throughout the meal, instead of toasting it all at once, so the slices are warm when you are ready to eat them.)
Now start building yourself little sandwiches!
First smear a bit of butter on your bread, then a smear a good chunk of feta on top of that. You can certainly leave out the butter, if you're counting calories, or like the taste of the feta on its own. Try both! I alternate!
Then mix and match any of the toppings! (But remember, the base bread should always have AT LEAST feta cheese smeared on it.)
Do a little cucumber and a handful of mint.
Do a little tomato, tarragon and walnut.
Do a little basil, tomato, cucumber.
Do all of it, all at once!
The combinations are endless. This is a meal that Persians call "khosh khorak." Khosh means good or happy and khorak is food. It's a happy food! And you just can't stop eating it. You find yourself getting more feta out of the fridge, and slicing more tomatoes and adding more cucumber! Sip with warm tea (we add cardomom pods to ours) and add whatever ingredients you want...hard boiled eggs (YUM), radishes, green onions, bell peppers. You can't go wrong with anything seasonal and fresh.
If you plan to do this for lunch or dinner, I high recommend eliminating the butter and adding:
Persian or Israeli pickles, sliced on a diagonal
Thinly sliced mortadella--an italian bologna with pistachios in it. (If you've never had mortadella, prepare to DIE. I don't even like bologna, but this stuff is heaven.) Add a heap of it to the table with the rest of the toppings.
Thinly sliced white onions (in half moons)
Some people like to replace the feta, in this variation, with a dab of mayo. I like either...and of course alternate. That's the point of having such a big spread. So many combinations that you don't have to choose just 1!
Hope you give this a shot. It's fun and fresh and clean and most importantly...de-licious! Stay tuned next week for another Persian breakfast I love which will also make use of your leftover feta.
Till then...see you in class!
Images via Sayeh and Dom