Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Nan-e Nokhochi - Persian Chick Pea Shortbread

I love a cookie that is great in it's own little right, and is also an expression of it's culture.
This one is also one of those bonus dishes that happens to show how eating the way you need to or want to is easy.  Simply change cultures to find one that matches your dietary needs.

These turn out to be grain free and vegan.  The fact that they have generations of tradition behind them  is part of what makes them a winner!  How much of a winner?
These are made for the Persian New Year (Nowruz), and the cause of many a child’s tummy-ache as they are blissfully overindulged in.  But, since we are older, wiser, and in communication with the very boring Spirit of Consequences (poor guy never gets out and lets loose), we are capable of tempering our desire for sweets with some realistic restraint.  Mostly.

These Persian delights are light, and melt-in-your mouth crumbly. A darn authentic treat from The Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij.

Nan-e Nokhochi
Besan Shortbread - studded with pistachio slivers
(besan is "chick pea flour")

Orange Flower Water

However her recipe calls for rose water.  The western palate tastes this as SOAP!  Blame the
Victorians?  Blame the great-grandmothers?  For whatever reason it rarely comes across as, "yummy".  So I decided to give these a half turn to the west.  Orange.  But not fully Western Orange.

I replaced the amount of rose flower water with 2/3 orange flower water 1/3 orange extract.  The original cardamom, I left in place.  The result?  Magic.

The one thing that makes these cookies delicious but difficult is the fact that chick pea flour is NOT gooey AT ALL.  It holds to itself just about as well as corn flour does (masa harina,  often known as the familiar brand "Maseca").  Crumbly.

These cookies are from Cafe Leilee
in the Bay Area

This means while the cookies are crispy, melt in your mouth wonders, they shatter if roughly handled and are tough to get out of the cookie cutter.  The traditional shape, a four leaf clover is easy to push out with your fingers.  I didn't have one of those cutters - so, I made due with some others.  However, the little butterfly was too small to push well, so I had to make a little butterfly cardboard cutout to successfully free the cookies from the cutter!

Used the end of this spatula to push the cookie out
(and there at the bottom pare the slivered pistachios)

With this little cardboard cutout

perfect cookie

This worked so well, I made one for all the shapes.

So at last… here's the recipe:

1 C canola oil, ghee or coconut oil (or your favorite oil)
1.5 C confectioners sugar
4 tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp orange flower water@ (optional – but excellent!)
1 tsp orange extract
3.5 – 4.5 C roasted chickpea flour (besan)* - finely ground

ground pistachios or pistachio slivers for garnishing

stand mixer or large mixing bowl and whisk
half sheet pan or cookie sheet (2)
plastic wrap
rolling pin
parchment paper or silicone baking mats or grease the cookie sheet(s)
sifter or a sieve
cookie cutter (clover leaf is traditional**)
(cardboard, scissors)†
cooling rack

Combine the oil, sugar, cardamom, salt, and orange flavorings in the mixing bowl.  Mix for 2 minutes – until it is white and creamy.
Add in 3C chickpea flour, mix for 1 minute.  (Use oiled hands for this if not using a mixer).   If the mixture is still sticky, continue to slowly add flour until the mixture is no longer sticky.

Line a baking sheet with a baking mat/parchment paper or lightly grease it.  Place the dough on it and knead it with oiled hands until it is soft and pliable.
Cover one baking sheet with plastic wrap, lay the dough down, cover with another piece of plastic wrap.  Pat to a rectangle about ¾” thick, using the rolling pin to even it out.  Place in the refrigerator for 1-24 hours.

 Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator.  Slide it off the baking sheet onto the counter.
Heat the oven to 300˚F.  Line the baking sheets with baking mats, parchment paper or lightly grease them.
Unwrap the dough, cut out the cookies.  Place on the cookie sheets.  They don’t really spread, so 1” apart is plenty.   Decorate with a slivered pistachio (If using ground pistachios, sprinkle those on as they come out of the oven.)

Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, or until the base of the cookies are a slightly darker golden color.  Leave the cookies on the pan, and place it on the cooling rack.  Let them firm up before moving.  They are crumbly and delicious because of it!  So handle a little more gently than normal cookies.

Extra Info!

@ In case you were wondering, the original flavoring was 1Tbs rose flower water.  Both flower waters are available at Middle Eastern and Indian markets, and occasionally baking supply stores.

*Chickpea flour or besan is easily found by the large bag-full in Middle Eastern and Indian markets, and sometimes in the Bulk section of grocery stores.   If you can’t find already roasted chickpea flour, you can do it yourself.  Spread all of it out on a half sheet pan, or do it in two batches in a 9”x13” pan.  Heat the oven to 350˚F.  Roast the flour for 20 minutes.  Stir and roast for 20 minute intervals – stirring each time.  As you start to smell “toast” reduce the intervals to 10 minutes.  When the flour is a mustard yellow and smells thoroughly toasty.  You are done. 

Alternately you can stir it over medium-low heat in a cast-iron skillet with a spatula or whisk until you get the same result.  One method is slower, but requires less hands-on.  This method is faster, but needs all of your attention.    

** Not owning a clover shaped cookie cutter I did circles, hexagons, diamonds and butterflies. 

†I was having a hard time getting them some of the cookies out of their cutters without cracking them.  So I cut a matching, but slightly smaller cardboard shape.  Pressing the cardboard spread out the pressure, and the whole cookie came out undamaged.  I think I might have made the dough to thin.  Keeping it thicker next time might help too.

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