An autumn dinner party with friends or a casual birthday celebration in Belgium

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There are two things a guest notices upon arriving at Yves and Sifat’s home. The first is the enticing aroma. Persian food, Sifat’s native cuisine is on the menu, and I am sure pots have been simmering on the stove for hours. Even before the front door opens, the distinctive, spicy perfume of cardamom, cumin, and saffron wafts out in greeting. When you enter also striking is the relative quiet. Although world music plays softly, street noise from outside the Brussels apartment is conspicuously absent. The young couple’s loft is located in St Gilles, in the posh neighborhood of Louiza avenue. However cars and trams come and go and yet brick walls insulate the cozy interior, so the vehicles cannot be heard.

For Yves, a chocolate maker and Sifat a lawyer to be, settling into this Bruxelles apartment offered the chance to create a personalized living space. Like most urbanites, they longed for ample square footage and high ceilings. They also had the imagination and skill to realize the potential of spare, unpolished setting. Though they come from different backgrounds and have divergent tastes at times, Sifat and Yves share a love of design, Sifat was born and raised in Iran and came to Belgium to study international law. Yves was trained as a professional chocolate maker in Brugge. They met two years ago when Sifat ordered special chocolate cakes for a party, and their relationship had blossomed and they married last winter. Since that time Sifat and Yves have worked at blending not only their lives but their aesthetic sensibilities, too. The loft which is painted in calming shell colour, also features splashes of brilliant reds, reflecting that union. In Belgium, Yves is accustomed to restrained, neutral colour palettes-but Sifat brought red colour in his life. The apartment is still a work in progress:hardly a month passes without the introduction of a new colour scheme or furniture arrangement. The couple have learned to combine elements of their ethnic backgrounds regarding not only to their loft but also the food: dinner menus often feature clever, if unexpected, minglings of their cuisines. Happily, they have plenty of friends from all over the world.

Last week on a chilly October evening, we were invited to a party to their home. At this time Yves’s birthday was the cause of the celebration. The atmosphere was as always casual and fun: an assortment of Belgian beer awaited arriving visitors, along with a buffet of Belgian and Persian hors d’oeuvres the kuku. For dinner Sifat served a festive melange of flavours, including Belgian endive soup, (by Yves), baked saffron rice (a basmati rice dish infused with the spice and cooked until crunchy, nutty-tasting crust forms on the bottom)-along with fresh herb salad (sabzi) feta cheese, and blanced almonds, lamb stew and choco hazelnut cake! All the food was delicious, but the success of the party for Yves and Sifat comes from something less tangible, the creation of safa, in Persian, or gezelligheid in Flemish: a good conversation, beautiful surroundings and warmth among friends.

The climax of the evening was of course the birthday celebration. When the chorus was singing the Happy birthday to you, Sifat appeared with the luscious, chocolate hazelnut cake, coated with ganache (made from choco and cream). The cake was topped with mountain of bittersweet chocolate curls and was surrounded with hazelnut in tempered chocolate and rolled in cocoa powder. When we saw the cake our appetites somehow revived. In spite of the glorious cake Yves couldn’t resist to make some chocolate mousse with banana purée and grated coconut. And at the salon table among the handmade Belgian chocolates were displayed Sifat’s Persian chickpea cookies. Of course Persian tea was accompanied by the cake with dried mulberries and cardamom infused rock candy. For the alcoholic drink lovers champagne was served.

I got some of the recipes from Sifat and she allowed me to share:

every recipe was meant to 10 persons

Fresh herb kuku-Quishlike cake with yogurt

10 large eggs, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom 1 teaspoon cumin, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 ½ tea freshly ground pepper, 2 tbs flour, 4 gloves garlic, 2 cups chopped chives or scallions, 2 cups parsley, 2 cups cilantro, 2 cups fresh dill, 1 tbs fenugreek, 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, yogurt for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350 combine eggs baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, salt pepper and flour in a medium bowl. Whisk until combined. Add garlic, chives, parsley, cilantro, dill, fenugreek, and 2 tbs olive oil. Mix thoroughly.

2. Brush 2 tbs olive oil onto bottom and slides of a 9 inch square nonstick metal baking pan. Place into the oven for 5 minutes to heat oil. Pour egg mixture into pan, bake for 30 minutes. 3. Remove pan from oven, and pour remaining 2 tbs of oil over the top. Return to oven, and bake until golden on top, about 10 minutes more. 4. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool slightly before unmolding. Invert onto serving platter, and cut into pieces. Serve hot or at room temperature with yogurt.

Eggplant kuku

2 large eggplants, pinch of salt, 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 large onion, 6 gloves garlic, 5 large eggs, parsley, saffron dissolved in 1 tbs hot water and lime, 1 tbs baking powder, 2 tbs flour, pepper to taste

1. Peel eggplants, reserving 4 long strips of peel to garnish top of kuku, and cut eggplants lenghtwise into 1 inch thick slices. Place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels, and sprinkle with salt. Let them sit for 20 minutes. Rinse with cold water, and pat dry. 2. Heat boiler, place eggplants on a rimmed baking sheet, brush both sides with olive oil. Broil about 6 incches from heat until golden brown on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Transfer eggplant to a bowl, and mash with a fork, set aside. 3. Heat 2 tbs oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, cook stirring occasionally, until tender, 10-12 minutes. Add to bowl with mashed eggplants. 4. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Combine eggs, parsley. Saffron water, lime juice, baking powder, flour, salt, and pepper. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Add to eggplant mixture, and mix with a fork. 5. Brush 1 tablespoon oil into bottom and sides of a 9 inch springform pan. Place pan on  baking sheet and place in the oven for 5 minutes to heat oil. Pour eggplant mixture into pan and place reserved eggplant peels across the top. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan, and drizzle remaining tablespoon oil over the top. Return to oven, and bake until golden on top, about 20 minutes more. 6. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool slightly before unmolding. Cut in wedges, serve warm or room temperature.

Braised lamb stew-herb khoresh

6 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 4 pounds boneless leg of lamb, 4 medium onions, 4 cloves garlic, salt, 2 tbs pepper, 2 tbs turmeric, 1 teaspoon saffron, dissolved in hot water and lime, 6 persian limes, 1 cup kidney beans, 4 cups water, 6 cups parsley, 2 cups garlic and chives, 2 cups fresh coriander, 4 tbs persian dried lime powder, squeezed lime juice

1. Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a medium stockpot over medium heat. Add lamb, onions, garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is no longer pink and onions are softened, about 20 minutes. Add salt, pepper, turmeric, saffron water, whole dried Persian limes and kidney beans, cook a few minutes more. Add the water, bring to boil, cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. 2. Meanwhile, heat large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add choppedparsley, chives, coriander and fenugreek. Cook, stirring frequently, until they are wilted, about 10 minutes. Add remaning 2 tbs oil, and cook, until herbs are very fragrant, about 10 minutes more. 3. Add sautéed herbs and lime powder to lamb. Cover, simmer until meat, beans are tender, about 2 and half hours. Uncover stew, and cook until beans are very tender, and stew has thickened slighly. Serve it hot.

Baked saffron rice

3 cups basmati rice, 5-6 cups of water, salt, 4 tbs extra vergin olive oil, ¼ ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbs hot water

1. Rince the rice well, drain in colander. Place in a deep nonstick pot or rice cooker with water and salt. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer. Cook until all liquid is absorbed, 15-20 minutes. 2. Drizzle oil over top of rice, stir gently with a wooden spoon. Gently press rice into an even layer. Reduce heat to medium-low. 3. Place a clean dish towel over top of pot, cover firmly, wrapping sides of towel around top of lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook over medium low heat for 50-60 minutes. 4. Gently pull rice away from side of pan with a spatula-there should be a nice golden crust. 5. Remove from heat, remove lid, drizzle saffron water over the rice. Cover immediately, and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Remove lid, invert carefully onto a serving plate. Serve warm cut in wedges.

Cream of Belgian endive soup

2 medium leeks, 8 heads of Belgian endives, plus more for garnish, 2 medium potatoes, 3 tbs butter, ½ cup dry white wine, 5 cups homemade canned chicken or vegetable stock, 1 cup heavy cream, salt, ¼ teaspoon ground pepper, pinch of nutmeg

1. Cut leeks in half lengthwise. Rinse well under cold runnung water to remove any grit. Thinly slice crosswise, set aside. 2. Cut endives in half lenghtwise, and cut out and discard bitter cores. Thinly slice crosswise, set aside. 3. Peel potatoes, and cut into half inch pieces. Set aside in a bowl of cold water. 4. Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, cook until they start to soften, about 3 minutes. Drain potatoes well add to pot along with sliced endive. Cook until vegetables begin to soften. 10 minutes. Do not let brown. 5. Add wine stock, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until vegetables are tender. 6. Transfer soup in batches to a blender or pass it through a food mill. Return to a clean saucepan, stir in cream. Bring to simmer, remove from heat. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Garnish with fresh endive.

Belgian chocolate cake

Toast and peel the nuts for the cake and garnish at the same time. You can bake the cake up to 3 days ahead, wrap well and keep at room temperature. The candied hazelnuts and chocolate curls can also be made three days ahead and store in airtight containers. (2 cups hazelnuts, 1 cup sugar, 2 tbs water, 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped, ¼ cup sweetened cocoa)

4 ounces hazelnuts, 13 and half tbs butter softened, 2/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder, 6 tbs granulated sugar, 1 2/3 cup all purpose flour, 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda, ¼ teaspoon salt, 2/3 cup boiling water, 1 ¾ cups dark brown sugar, 4 large eggs, 1 1/3 cup milk, 2 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract, ganache glaze, candied hazelnuts and chocolate curls

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place nuts on a baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and toasted, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel, rub to loosen skins. Butter a 9-by-3 inch springform pan well, coat with cocoa, tapping out any excess. 2. In a food processor, grind nuts with granulated sugar until fine but not pasty, transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the flour, baking soda, and salt. 3. In a heat-proof bowl, whisk together cocoa and boiling water until smooth. 4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar on high until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time until well blended. 5. Stir buttermilk and vanilla into cocoa mixture. Mixing on  low, add half of dry ingredients to creamed mixture. When blended, pour in the cocoa mixture, and add remaining dry mixture, mix until incorporated. Scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth top. Bake 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let it cool in pan for 10 minutes, remove from pan and cool completely. Place cooled cake on a 9 inch cardboard round. 6. Place half of the ganache in a bowl, place in a larger bowl of ice water, whip with a balloon whisk until lighter in colour and spreadable, removing bowl from ice bath and returning it as neessary. 7. Spread the whipped ganache smoothly on top and sides of cooled cake, and chill it. Gently stir remaining ganache every 5 minutes until thickened and cool. 8. Place cake on a wire rack over a sheet of waxed paper. Working with small ladle, pour ganache over top of cake, moving the ladle in a circular fashion while in contact with the cake, letting the ganache run down sides. Scrape up excess and reserve for another use. Let cake stand at room temperature until set. Garnish with nuts and chocolate curls.

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4 thoughts on “An autumn dinner party with friends or a casual birthday celebration in Belgium

    Naz Kovacs said:
    October 21, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    This post made me hungry and nostalgic! I miss my mums persian cooking! My mouth was watering reading your post 🙂

    Kuku = YUM oh everything in this post is YUM! How do you feel about the taste of persian food? I mean the spices? I find that a lot of non-Persian people can’t eat our food, or maybe that’s just the people I know.

    My husband for one is so used to Hungarian food it’s hard for him to try different things!

    spajzgirl responded:
    October 22, 2011 at 6:55 am

    Hi Naz,
    I like whatever Sifat cooks or bakes very much!!and I am sure if I had the opportunity to taste your dishes I will gona like them as well..(after reading your blogs)
    In Bruxelles there are lots of oriental restaurants among my fav was the 1001 nights Moroccan (I will send pics) and for me the lamb tajine is still the number one with goat cheese….what I ate there…
    My husband is very open to other nations’s cuisines if don’t contain chickpeas and curcuma….but he has no choice while I am the boss in the kitchen…haha..
    the Hungarian men are pretty much like your husband love the traditional heavy dishes such as stuffed cabbage, stuffed paprika, goulash soup, stew…all the fatty, starchy ones..I have to admit they taste good and delicious but not for every day….

    PS my hubby has just corrected me now “stew is not for every day it is for every breakfast, lunch and dinner!!! And he did when he was a child.!!!!..I was horrified when he told me, how could he eat it….
    heaps of happy faces

    Lilla

    spajzgirl responded:
    October 22, 2011 at 11:15 am

    I’d love to have some Persian recipes!! So please launch some….
    Thanks

    Naz Kovacs said:
    October 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Oh that’s so funny 🙂 I made my first proper Hungarian dish the other day (I will do a post about it soon) – Luckily it turned out good and got my husband’s approval hehe.

    I wish I had more knowledge of Persian recipes, I guess I should have learnt more from my mum, but I will try to create some 🙂 Next time I see my mum I will have to get her to teach me more!

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