In the thick of winter, you will need to get warm and cozy and partake of winter food that is delicious, nourishing and comforting. Today’s terrific Persian-style Winter Squash & Pumpkin Dolmeh recipe delivers just that and it comes to you courtesy of Lyla, a friend of mine who is an artist, a trained chef, and an overall lovely person.
I also interviewed Lyla for this post and it is a fun read. Trigger Warning: it will make you hungry!
Don’t miss Lyla’s story, and definitely do not miss the recipe to find out how to turn your country pumpkins into princely meals and trick the winter doldrums away! Persian style!
Interview with the Lovely Lyla!
Hi Lyla! Tell the readers a little bit about yourself.
I was the last of my family to come to the states in the early 80s. Finished high school in Iran, continued education here in San Francisco (art, print- making in particular), found my passion in anything relating to creativity with food being one of them so decided to follow it professionally in C.C.A & then I ended up in Italy going to Italian cooking school too. After working a while in the industry I decided to be a private chef & now I cook only for my pleasure to share with friends & family. So life passed with all its glory like a رعد و برق (thunder & lightening) & one day I realized 30 some odd years of my life were spent so far away from my roots & culture. Since then, oftentimes through Persian blogs, I find myself immersed in layers after layers of everything that I’d been away from — and I try to absorb it & make it a part of my life again.
You are trained and worked as a chef. What was your favorite thing about being a chef? What would you consider your best dish? Something that everyone raves about?
Being able to cook a dish that satisfies the palette while it’s a feast to the eye. Simply making delicious food is a joy for me. There are so many foods I enjoy cooking but I think my salmon cake with crispy cilantro is the one & everyone likes.
What is your favorite Persian food and why?
My favorite Persian dish … ummmmm … so many of them or all of them. But anything with eggplant like kashk e bademjoon (Persian eggplant dip) with LOTS of fried garlic & na’naa daagh (dried mint fried in BUTTER). Yummy. 🙂 That is what I won’t get tired of.
Is there a food from Iran you crave that can’t be found in California?
Remember the Kangar/ cardoon conversation we once had? Lately khoresht-e Kangar has been on my mind a lot, & if I can name a few things that I REALY miss would be raw green filberts/fandogh (hazlenuts) from Damavand, Azgeel, & Kermanshahi oil (which I don’t believe is really the same as ghee) in here.
When you were growing up in Iran, what were your favorite snacks and sweet and food to eat? Did you buy lavashak and gojeh sabz?
ICE CREAM , icecream, & more icecream (especially the real Persian ones with GOLAB (rosewater) & all those chunks of delicious cream in it was and is & will be my favorite sweet among ALL the other goodies we have.
Going home from school, stopping at the baghaali (neighborhood delis) down the street & buying آرد و نخچى با شكر (fried chickpeas) was my fun favorite snack. Do you know what I’m talking about? I think it was called فوتينا (footina), but I’m not sure. And we would beg the باباى مدرسه (school janitor) to let us out when the guy with his tray of gojeh sabz, chaghaleh, fresh gerdoo & etc. would show up at زنگ تفريح (school break). Oh, let’s not forget the zoghal akhteh too. OMG. I miss that life so much. BUT the thing (not so sure if I can call it food) I would love to eat A LOT as a kid for breakfast, lunch, & even dinner was fresh taftoon bread, butter, honey or jam & tea. I still sometimes do that!
Is there any food that you are obsessed with right now? My obsession with food changes from time to time. But I think for now it is not one type of food or one particular dish as it is more of an ingredient. For instance, it’s been a while that I am obsessed with cardamom & I use it in everything, I really mean in everything!!!
Why is the best thing about Persian cooking/food in your opinion? I think if we could imagine Persian food being a person, it is easy going & forgiving, mingles well with many cultures/ethnicities. It can handle a lot. It is not fussy. And after all, it is joyful, satisfying, & hospitable.خيلى ضرفيت داره . That’s what I love about making/ eating Persian food.
What is your motto when it comes to cooking? My motto, that’s a good one. Ok Let’s see. I think sophistication & simplicity go hand in hand.
What is your motto when it comes to eating? Cooking a delicious food should come from the heart, respecting the integrity of ingredients, & not being too complicated. These are what I like to have on my plate.
Why did you choose to make squash dolmeh for your guest post recipe? I chose this recipe since we’re @ the heights of its season & everywhere you turn your head a beautiful pumpkin/ squash is gazing at you begging to take it home & make it a part of your life even if it is for a short time.
Absolutely right, Lyla joon! Thank you for sharing your story and your recipe! Dear readers, here is Lyla’s recipe.
Winter Squash & Pumpkin Dolmeh Recipe
Note: this recipe can easily be vegetarian by omitting the chicken & the broth. Substitute chopped sautéed chestnuts for chicken & nestle it on salad greens instead of broth.
- 6-8 small winter squash/ pumpkin washed, cut open horizontally 1/3 so the upper part of it could be used as its top. Using a melon baller take the seeds out, hollow it a bit leaving enough meat in. Rub inside of each with some butter or e.v.o.o & season with salt & pepper. Set aside.
- 1 small peanut squash ( or any other small kind) peeled & cut in 1/4″ cubes ( for stuffing).
- 2 small size leek or 1 big one white part only, washed, dried, & chopped into small pieces
- 3-4 cloves of garlic minced
- 5 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 1/2 chicken breast washed, dried, & cubed in to 1/4″ pieces
- 1 Tsp. Brown sugar
- A dash of cinnamon
- A small pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1/4c. walnuts chopped
- 1/4c. pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 c. rice of any kind. I like to use carnaroli or any risotto rice (only because it is creamier rice) when cooked.
- 1/8 c. lentil preferably french or black ones because they don’t disintegrate in cooking (Less starch content) cooked
- 3 Tbsp. dried barberry washed & drained
- 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme washed or 1/2 Tsp. dried one
- 5-6 sprigs of parsley washed, dried, & chopped finely
- S & P to season
- 6-8 pitted dried prunes each cut in half
- A generous pinch of zaferon/saffron pulverized
- 2c. chicken broth
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Salt & pepper
- 3 Tbsp. Butter or ghee
- 2 Tbsp. sugar or honey if you like (optional) as for CHASHNI
- Pre heat the oven to 400°F
- Pack each squash with the stuffing & insert 1/2 – 1 pitted prune in the center of each. Cover them with their tops.
- Place the stuffed squashes in a baking dish, pour the chicken broth over, cover the dish with foil & bake in the center of preheated oven for 1-1 1/2hr. basting them a few times during the cooking time.