Saturday, September 01, 2007

Weekend Herb Blogging #98

Weekend Herb Blogging is hosted this week by its founder Kalyn and each week it gets more exciting as we approach the 2 year celebration. If you have any ideas on how we should mark this milestone do let Kalyn know.

This week my focus is on Barberries

Pariya Barberries

Barberries (also known as Zereshk) are the fruit of the Barberry Bush which originally grew in Europe, North Africa and Asia. When dried, they produce these deep red and tangy (almost lemony) berries. They are very similar in size and appearance to currants.

Barberries or Zereshk

Unfortunately the plants presence in Europe is almost non-existent as it harbours a rust that devastates wheat crops. The Spanish famines of the 10th Century have been blamed on the barberry bush. These days its use is mainly confined to Middle Eastern cuisine.

Barberries are high in pectin so they make excellent jams and jellies - old English recipes refer to them as pipperages. They also contain more Vitamin C than oranges.

I'll be using one other unusual ingredient, Amaranth Grain.

Amaranth Grain

Although it is called Amaranth Grain it is a pseudo-grain (much like Quinoa) as neither are true cereal grains. What must be welcome news for Celiacs, Amaranth Grain is Gluten Free.

Amaranth grain

The grains are quite tiny, similar in size to poppy seeds and when cooked have a slight nutty taste. They are a good source of fibre and protein and contain Vitamins B1 and C as well as Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Niacin, Phosphorus and Riboflavin.

This dish I've made certainly ended up in a place I had not imagined and it's a lesson that you should never really have preconceived ideas of how food should be used and that you should always be open to different possibilities.

My idea started with the barberries and the Persian dish of Jewelled Rice and as I had just purchased amaranth I thought it might be interesting to substitute it for the rice.

From what I can gather, Jewelled rice is a mix of Basmati rice, various dried fruits and nuts (barberries are always present) and saffron and it is usually served alongside meat dishes.

So what I had imagined would be something suited to savoury dishes ended up in the course of cooking, into something totally different.

Jewelled Amaranth

Jewelled Amaranth

amaranth grain
dried apricots, cut into small dice
slivered almonds
slivered pistachios
fresh dates, cut into small dice
pomegranate molasses

You must cook the amaranth before you can eat it and it's best to follow the directions on the packet. For this particular amaranth use 2½ parts water to 1 part amaranth.

Place the water and amaranth into a pot and bring to the boil - it needs to cook for a good 15-20 minutes until the water has absorbed and the grain has softened.

In relation to the dried fruit and nuts I tended to keep in the spirit of the original dish. It's important that the larger fruit is cut into a small dice, similar in size to the barberries. I haven't given exact measures as I feel this is something you need to add to taste.

Once the amaranth is cooked remove it from the pot - put the pot back on the heat and add a small knob of butter. When the butter has melted add back the amaranth and the prepared fruit and nuts and toss through. Cook over a gentle heat just long enough to allow the fruit and nuts to warm through - this will also allow the barberries to plump up from any remaining moisture in the dish.

Stir through a little Pomegranate Molasses and cook for a minute more before removing it from the heat. Once again I used Pomegranate Molasses as I feel its taste is very much in keeping with the nature of the dish.

barberry and amaranth

This is a close up of the finished dish - the amaranth grains look almost caviar-like and the barberries positively glow crimson against them.

It's only on tasting that I discovered that this wasn't a savoury dish - Paalo described it as "like Bircher Muesli".

When warm the grain has a creamy feel in the mouth and so with that in mind I created a little breakfast or brunch idea...

Jewelled Amaranth with Yoghurt

On a base of jewelled amaranth I've added a good dollop of yoghurt and a extra drizzle of Pomegranate molasses which is then topped with just a spoonful of the jewelled amaranth.

As I said, the finished product is somewhere I never expected it to be and I must say, I'm delighted to have reached this most unusual destination.

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  1. This is one of the most outstanding blog posts I've seen in ages. What a wonderful creation and simply beautiful. It's great to end up with something so unexpected yet fabulous. I imagine it would make a fantastic breakfast. I'd love to see something like this on more cafe menus.

  2. This is just beautiful! I've actually never tried amaranth or barberries, so I think I'll make this so I can try both new-to-me ingredients at once. (Efficient, huh?)

  3. Thank you Truffle that is very kind of you.

    Thanks Danielle - sounds perfectly efficient!

  4. This is exactly what we should all be doing, Haalo. Breaking down the boundaries between savoury and sweet dishes. It's great that you arrived somewhere you didn't expect to, it shows that cooking is one of the greatest forms of exploration. I've never heard of barberries before, but I'd be willing to bet that now I've heard about them I'll inevitably pass some on a shelf at Waitrose and think ah, maybe I'll give these a try.

    I do find it weird that the unintentionally ignorant people who claim they "don't like sweet stuff in my main course" are the same people who will have a dollop of cranberry sauce on their turkey at Xmas and chunks of apple in their braised cabbage.

  5. What a fantastic post! Both of these are ingredients I haven't cooked with, although I have a new whole grain cookbook that looks wonderful and it has some recipes for Amaranth that I've had my eye on. Great photos as always, and I did love hearing how the recipe evolved.

  6. wonderful. I love barberries, and I use them in one of my favourite polous (Iranian rice pilafs). You're right, jeweled rice is much as you describe it, and even though it's a bit sweet, it is served along with meat- I think it's so interesting how Persian cuisine mixes sweet and savory.

    I haven't worked with amaranth before, but it looks wonderful. (also, similar to a kind of semolina pudding that they serve on ashura) Lovely post.

  7. This is really outstanding, Haalo. They really look like jewels. The final idea of adapting it into a breakfast dish is brilliant - what a wonderful final destination.

  8. Thanks Trig - you forgot the ones that have no problems with sweet and sour pork or ham and pineapple pizza but think basil ice-cream is something only tossers would enjoy.

    Thanks Kalyn - amaranth is certainly quite an interesting grain. I'd be interested in seeing how amaranth flour works.

    Thanks Mercedes - I think the more you look into different cusines you find that they have those sweet/savoury combinations. I know in italian food you have mostarda (mustard fruits) that is served with meat and the whole "agrodolce" component to many savoury dishes.

    Thanks Nora - they did glisten so well in the light, it made it visually pleasant to eat as well. I'm looking forward to adding the barberries to apple pies and crumbles, should be a lovely flavour combination.

  9. I've been wanting to try Amaranth for a while and also have seen barberries around and wondered what they were like and what dished you use them in. I must say your dish looks sooooooo good I have to make it. Thanks Haalo what a fab creation.

  10. Thanks Lauren, do enjoy experimenting with both these ingredients, I think there's alot of potential for them.

  11. Hi Haalo,

    I have never ever tried amaranth or barberries, but your picture looks so amazing. If I ever find these in the store here, in Sweden, I ll make it for sure. Wonderful entry, indeed :)

    Would raisins with couple of lime drops would do the trick instead of barberries? I am not sure I va ever seen them, actually.

  12. I've just discovered that baberries are, in fact Berberis Thunbergii and are grown all over England to feed the birds and keep butglars away from windows (the thorns are hellish!). I had never know that the berries were edible by humans.

  13. Hi Zlamushka - I would probably use currants that have been soaked in a little lemon juice - it's a subtle flavour you are after.

    Hi Toffeeapple - that is most interesting and shows how far it fell from the public psyche because of its affect on grain crops.

  14. great intro to two new ingredients for me too, but because it looks a lot like halva, I am now suffering most terrible halva cravings... must satisfy halva urge... :)

  15. Thanks Zoe, you'll just have to give in ;)

  16. Haalo this looks really stunning! It actually works out as a really balanced breakfast too - I've bookmarked this one to give it a go

  17. Thanks Sophie - it certainly is full of all the good things to help start the day.

  18. Very Interesting reading to all. I am a naturalist and love turning to mother nature for her delisious foods that are so nurturing at the same time. Unfornutatly the Barberry bush is illegal to grow here in the state of MN because of its effects on wheat. Maybe someday I will be able to travel abroad to try these fantastic cuisines! Brightest Blessings and keep on enjoying lifes little explorations!


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