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Walnuts and barberries

"Barberries are small, red, dried berries. As they are very sharp and sour, Iranians sauté them with a little sugar and butter before adding them to dishes, where they glisten like little rubies adorning your meal."

Yasmin Khan

We are in Persian territory here. Persian because I have been utterly clueless about what to write about and so turned to my lucky dip book The Saffron Tales by Yasmin Khan. It's a beautiful book that I really do not use enough, so I have vowed that my new recipe for the week will be Aloo esfinaj - Chicken stew with spinach and prunes. which comes a few pages earlier than the lucky dip recipe Kofte berenji - Lamb meatballs stuffed with barberries and walnuts. Alas the recipe is not online - well not this one. It used to be on the Cooked website, but no more. I do recommend you look out for this book though - maybe your local library has it - and then you could give it a go.

It does look delicious so if you really want the recipe let me know and I can scan it for you.

I tried to find other versions of the same thing, but the 'authentic' ones from various websites specialising in Persian food seemed to be a bit heavier in that they often included lentils in the mix, and not all of them had the rice. The meatballs also ranged in size from one huge one - the size of a cricket ball - maybe larger - to much smaller than those shown here. The closest I came to it was - of course - from Ottolenghi - Lamb meatballs with barberries, yoghurt and herbs the recipe for which you can find on the Tiffin website. His had the barberries but not the walnuts, and it also had dried figs. It's from the Jerusalem cookbook.

After yesterday's diatribe against him because he's not Arabic and was making an Arabic dish, one wonders if the Persians/Iranians get hot under the collar about him making a sort of Persian dish. You would hope it just draws attention to how good Persian food is and therefore encourages you to either find a Persian restaurant - Rumi springs to mind - or buy a Persian cookbook. Or, of course, if you are of the digital generation look one up online.

Barberries are the problem though with this recipe. You can't get them in your supermarket. Of course you can get them online, and you could make a trip to Sydney Road or thereabouts to find a Middle-Eastern food store. Or:

"if you can’t find them, the same quantity of currants, soaked in a tablespoon of lemon juice, will do" Yotam Ottolenghi

Which is rather different from the usual recommendation to substitute unsweetened dried cranberries. Maybe you could soak them in lemon juice too. Because sour is what you are after here:

"They make you squint your eyes if you pop one in your mouth but you can’t help going back for another. " Fiona / Tiffin

I did have the feeling though, that barberries were often paired with walnuts and so I went looking and was rewarded with some fairly spectacular looking dishes - two of them from Ottolenghi again. He is ubiquitous. Is this because he is the only chef doing interesting things with Middle-Eastern food, or is just good PR, like the Arab journalist implied? I couldn't find anything from Claudia Roden, although I'm sure she has something tucked away somewhere. Her recipes don't seem to be very common on the net, although Ottolenghi is everywhere.

I did find a couple from Greg Malouf though - Baby snapper with walnut–raisin stuffing and barberry butter which, alas has no picture either in the original book or online, but it sounds absolutely delicious. I might try it sometime and publish the results. The second is Roast chicken with pine nut and barberry rice stuffing - no walnuts but you could substitute them for the pine nuts I guess.

Ottolenghi had two offerings that I could find. There are probably more. Roast winter vegetable platter with walnut and barberry salsa and

Iranian herb fritters, both of which, of course, look absolutely beautiful and are just a tiny bit different from what you would normally cook - and therefore worth attempting. The first one was suggested as an alternative Christmas dish for vegetarians.

Then I also found three other, also rather spectacular looking dishes: Baked salmon with walnuts and barberries from Shadi Hasanzadenemati/Food 52; Herbed omelette with walnuts and barberries (Kuku Sabzi) - Paola Hazan and Walnut stuffed fish with barberries ( Mahi-e fivijj) / Mahin Gilanpour Motamed/ Food and wine

And all of them look delicious. Well Persian/Iranian food is considered by many to be the absolute jewel in the crown of Middle-Eastern food I think and a cuisine that has influenced every country around it - including India, which was, of course, ruled for centuries by the Moghuls who came from Persia. It's a most ancient civilisation and therefore has had plenty of time to develop techniques and flavour pairings and combinations. Barberries and walnuts seem to be one of the most common. I wonder who first discovered that they went so well together? Somebody who had both trees/bushes in their garden or in the surrounding countryside? We shall never know. In the meantime. Indulge yourself. These are the sorts of recipes that impress. There may be long lists of ingredients, but the actual techniques are often not that hard. Give it a go.

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