Persian Saffron Ice Cream (Bastani)

 
 
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Persian cuisine is one of the world’s great gastronomies, flourishing for centuries across an area that, at the height of the ancient Persian Empire (circa 550 to 330 B.C.), included modern-day Iran, along with parts of Iraq, Macedonia, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

The repertoire of dishes is fragrant, diverse and highly refined, based on complex culinary techniques. They are imbued with fresh flowers and herbs like rose petals, fenugreek and mint; spices like saffron, sumac and cardamom; fruits like pomegranate and barberry; all kinds of citrus; and nuts, including pistachios and almonds.

If this roster of ingredients sounds familiar, it’s because Persian cooking influenced Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Northern Indian and Turkish cuisines yet itself remains somewhat below the radar.

 

It should be noted that Persia (Iran) has made many lasting contributions to the world of frozen desserts.

The Arabs, who had already conquered the Persian Empire, took the age-old Persian summertime refreshment known as sharbat (sherbet) where a mix of fruit syrup, saffron,  and honey was incorporated with snow and chilled in a  yakhchal, an ancient type of ice house. Alexander the Great, who battled the Persians for ten years, was known to  enjoyed “fruit ices” sweetened with honey and chilled with snow.

 

And had the brilliant addition of  milk and sugar gave rise to the invention of ice cream around 500 B.C. in the Achaemenid Empire of Persia and more than likely gave rise to  Bastani.

Bastani sonnati, or simply bastani  is made from milk, eggs, sugar, rose water, saffron, vanilla, and pistachios.  Modern day bastani often contains flakes of frozen clotted cream. Sometimes, salep or salaab is included as an ingredient.  Salaab is an extract from a wild orchid that thickens like cornstarch. Salaab gives bastani it’s texture and gives the ice cream bend and pull, almost like gluten, and it has a faint floral taste. Persian ice cream gets an extra dose of richness and texture from frozen chunks of heavy cream that are swirled into the base.

In 400 B.C., the Persians also invented an ice cream-like dessert made with rose water and vermicelli called faloodeh. Persians introduced ice cream and faloodeh to Arabs after the Arab invasion of Iran and the fall of Persian Sasanian. 

By the time of the Arab Conquest took place in across Sicily and Southern Italy in the 8th Century,  there was the development of  granita and gelato, two frozen treats that are now synonymous with modern day Italian desserts. 

Comparatively, the Persian ice cream sandwich made with faloodeh or faludeh, which  is a far more modern treat that was invented around the 13th Century. And shortly there after, Bastani-e nooni was created where the yellow hue of the saffron ice cream and the aroma of rose water are married to make a cool,  smooth textured creamy treat countering the crispy wafers and crunchy sprinkling of pistachios. 

And did you know that a  Syrian immigrant named Ernest Hamwi is credited with crafting the cone on the fly at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, when he rolled his Middle Eastern zalabia pastries into cones to hold that year’s wildly popular confection, ice cream. And even in these modern times, on a warm evening, everyone from grandparents to young couples can be seen strolling and sitting in parks enjoying their cones and cups. Ice cream parlors abound, from the hole-in-the-wall take-out joint to the elegant café.

Over millennia, Iranians have made frozen treats into an art form, the upside of necessity in a country where summer brings extreme heat. In Bandar Abbas, the tropical Persian Gulf, where the temperature was in the nineties before it reached noon, the  still enjoy the ever refreshing faloodeh , the rice noodle and rosewater sorbet that Iranians like to brighten with a spritz of lemon juice. In the shomal, the wet, green, and fertile north that cradles the Caspian Sea, you will find the juicy, red popsicles made of whole fruits with their pits still inside.

And so, America’s favorite frozen treats had it origins in the  Middle East. But, it turns out, that ice cream came to Europe, and then America,  by way of the Arab invasion of Sicily , and thus, modern-day granita and gelato icy sharbat (sherbet) and velvety ice cream are still universally loved in Iran, in the U.S. and the rest of the world for that matter.

You can find Persian ice cream in the U.S, especially in Los Angeles, home to the world’s largest Iranian expat community. The two best known places are Mashti Malone’s, and at the Saffron and Rose

Mashti Malone’s is  an iconic ice cream parlor that makes the best Persian ice cream where you can get either faloodeh or bastani  served as an ice cream sandwich, pressed against two thin wafer cookies, and it is positively incredible. At the Saffron and Rose, you will find  delectable, handmade flavors range from orange blossom to white rose to pomegranate. 

Another Los Angeles Iranian establishment is the  Café Glacé, where you can slurp down a majoon, an ice cream shake blended with dates and bananas and topped with nuts. You’ll also find bastani-e nooni, the Persian ice cream sandwich: two thin, crisp wafers sandwiched around bastani. These can also be found in the freezer section of Iranian markets in different flavors, and if you’re lucky enough to go to an Iranian home for a meal, at dessert you may see a quart of ice cream and a box of wafers so you can make your own.

But if you’re feeling ambitious, you can make your own Persian ice cream from scratch. But rest assured, there’s an easy way to whip up Persian-style ice cream without using any gadgets or dirtying up the kitchen and ending up with a sink full of dishes. In taking a short cut to making bastani, it is recommended that you buy a  good quality vanilla ice cream, letting it get a little soft at room temperature, and then folding in pistachios and a teaspoon of ground saffron steeped in a tablespoon of hot water or cream. You can add a dash of rosewater and frozen chunks of cream if you want. Refreeze and voila, “authentic” Persian ice cream.

 

Makes About 1 quart

Ingredients:

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads (* See Cook’s Notes)
7 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon saffron, finely ground
1/4 cup Sadaf pure rosewater (** See Cook’s Notes)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Organic dried roses, for garnish

 

 

Directions:

To a small finger bowl, combine saffron threads and hot water and allow to seep until a vibrant orange red colour blooms.

Set a medium bowl in a large bowl of ice water. In another medium bowl, beat the egg yolks until pale, 1 to 2 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, whisk the cream with the milk, sugar, salt and saffron. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, whisking, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Very gradually whisk half of the hot cream mixture into the beaten egg yolks in a thin stream, then whisk this mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard is thick enough to lightly coat the back of the spoon, about 12 minutes; don’t let it boil.

Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl set in the ice water. Let the custard cool completely, stirring occasionally. Stir in the rosewater and vanilla extract. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the custard and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours.

Pour the custard base into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a chilled 9-by-4-inch metaloaf pan, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least hours.

Serve the ice cream in bowls, garnished with dried roses and pistaschio nuts, if desired.

 

 

Cook’s Notes:

Some people think that turmeric is a fine substitute for saffron, IT IS NOT. Definitely DO NOT use turmeric in ice cream because you will end up producing a very bitter tasting product.

*Saffron
Bastani is traditionally a custard like ice cream, rich in flavor mixed with saffron, rose saffron_jar_680water and pistachios. It is quite recognizable with it’s glorious golden yellow color and aromatic from both the saffron and rose water.

The other key ingredient is saffron. You want a high quality saffron, which gives your bastani its golden color and intoxicating aroma. Crush your saffron using a mortar and pestle and dissolve in a bit of warm water. This should steep for about 30 minutes, so do this while your ice cream is softening.

Once your saffron water is redish orange, add it to your softened ice cream with the rose water and pistachio bits. You can also add a teaspoon or two of crushed dried rose petals. It adds a bit of color as well as fragrance.

How to choose the best saffron
The amount of saffron you use is dependent on the quality of the saffron used. This affects the final color of your ice cream as well as the fragrance and flavor.
Always buy saffron threads and not powder. High grade saffron threads are dark red, not orange and no trace of yellow. When you open your container of saffron you should be able to recognize it’s beautiful scent.

Yes, saffron can be expensive, but don’t be duped and purchase cheap saffron. The color and aroma produced will not be the same. The best high quality saffron comes from Iran and can be purchased at FamilySpice.com.

 

**Rose waterdownload (13)
Using a high-quality, pure rose water is essential for this recipe. Look for Sadaf brand, which is available at kalustyans.com.

If you cannot find rose water in your specialty markets, you can find it locally at Asian Markets, like HMart or online at Amazon.com.

 

Storing the Ice Cream
The ice cream can be frozen for up to 1 week in an airtight plastic container.

 

 

 

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Persian Fried Chicken

persian chicken

This is an absolutely wonderful dish that is very easy to prepare and requires some advance planning. A yogurt marinade helps tenderize the boneless, skinless chicken thighs, infusing them with saffron and paprika, and a quick frying lends the meat a crispy, minty coating. The chicken must marinate for several hours, or overnight for the best results,  before it can be cooked and the marinade contains that costliest of spices, saffron but the wait and splurge are worth it.

Enjoy!

Serves 8

Ingredients:

½ teaspoon saffron or turmeric*
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
2 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon dried mint
1 Tablespoon salt, more for sprinkling
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup walnut clusters, for garnish
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Directions:

In a small bowl, combine saffron with 1 tablespoon water and let soak 10 minutes. Place in food processor with yogurt and garlic and purée until smooth and  pale yellow. Place chicken in ziploc plastic bag; pour yogurt mixture on top, seal the plastic bag and turn to coat; place the ziploc bag in a bowl and and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight, for the best results.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, paprika, garlic powder, mint, salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour mixture, dip the chicken in the yogurt batter once again and dredge in the flour a second time. Place the chicken on a wire rack and allow the breaded chicken to sit for  about 1o to 15 minutes before frying.

Heat a generous half-inch oil in a  deep cast iron skillet over medium heat. Drop in a bit of bread to test temperature; oil should bubble vigorously. Working in batches to avoid crowding, fry the chicken until it is golden brown on both sides, about 7 minutes per side. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Sprinkle with salt and top with walnuts and lemon wedges. Serve with basmati or jasmine rice, family style.

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*Cook’s Notes: 

Saffron, long among the world’s most costly spices by weight, is native to Greece or Southwest Asia and was first cultivated in Greece.saffron_thread.jpg
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”. Saffron crocus grows to 20–30 cm (8–12 in) and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas, which are the distal end of a carpel. The styles and stigmas, called threads, are collected and dried to be used mainly as a seasoning and coloring agent in food.
In terms of flavor, no substitute for saffron exists. It is completely unique.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger fturmeric.jpgamily, Zingiberaceae. It is native to southwest India.

When not used fresh, the rhizomes are boiled for about 30–45 minutes then dried in hot ovens, after which they are ground into a deep-orange-yellow powder commonly used as a spice in Bangladeshi cuisine, Indian cuisine, Pakistani cuisine and curries, for dyeing, and to impart color to mustard condiments. One active ingredient is curcumin, which has a distinctly earthy, slightly bitter, slightly hot peppery flavor and a mustardy smell.

Turmeric has a very strong, distinctive flavor, and could easily overpower or clash with other flavors in a recipe not written for it. You might be very unhappy with the results in a dish that’s supposed to have the subtlety of saffron. However, it would certainly work in certain dishes, albeit with an entirely different flavor profile.

If the primary interest is coloring, there is the suggestion of annatto, as it imparts a beautiful color with essentially no flavor.

Personally, rather than try to a substitute for the saffron, I would continue to use it in those recipes that call for it, especially if it’s key in the flavor profile. For example, saffron pilaf just won’t work without it.  If your  budget is  tight, just make those dishes less frequently and savor them all the more, when you use saffron.

TODAY.com Parenting Team FC Contributor