Tuesday, November 13, 2007

butternut pomegranate pistachio muffins (of Persian influence)

I've been thinking a lot lately, about the role of food in culture, but mainly how it is more important than religion. You can go ahead and argue the point, but the simple fact remains that you need to eat in order to worship. No food means no religion. Given this, and coupled with thinking of myself in the past at times as a zen buddhist with taoist inklings who was baptized as a catholic, I've been considering scrapping any sort of fondness or affiliation with organized philosophies and religions and just start declaring myself a worshipper of food. Who needs a deity when you have pomegranates? Of course, I realize that you can say, "hey, no deity no pomegranates dude," but the point I'm trying to make is that our love of food goes back to a time before our concepts of religion took any formal shape. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that we listened for the breath of God in our daily meal before we ever did in a church. With this in mind, I'll be listening for the divine in some Persian produce.

I've been pawing through a Persian cookbook that my SIL loaned me and I've been struck with how many of the produce items involved are ones that are currently available at market. Nearly every other recipe has pomegranates or pistachios in it somewhere. Butternuts rule the squashes involved in most of the dishes. Reading this and realizing I have this produce and a fair quantity of the spices needed in my cabinet I suddenly felt inspired. A butternut deity from the fridge whispered: "my roasted honey self, on the lower shelf would lend a great undertone to some muffins." A voice from the dried goods drawer rasped: "come to the salted pistachios." As I thought about the voices, another far off in the garage screamed: "HEY! Please pull it together and do something with us!" I guess a few pomegranates were getting some moldy edges, and afflicting others no doubt. It was time to worship.

Out came the Cuisinart. That's always worship. I blended up some pom arils and sieved the pulp. I removed the skins from my roasted butternut wedges that were slathered in honey from a few nights before. To get a nice consistency I blended the pom juice with the squash, then added pistachios at the end and pulsed it a few times to leave some chunky deity in there. I consulted my Persian spice fairy and came up with a blend of cinnamon, cardamon, coriander and black pepper. This was pulverized by my lovely assistant while she chanted "POUND THEM, SQUASH THEM, POUND THEM!" several times and then stopped to begin circumnambulating her brother while he flailed about in the Johnny jump up.

I used the blended mash as the fruit portion in a recipe for banana bread. I pitched in the warm spices we ground and while mixing the batter before pouring into the cups, made sure to include some variance in aril usage for learning purposes. I decided to put some on a couple, some in a couple and then leave the remaining as a control group. Fresh from the oven they looked and smelled very promising, but what would the insides and the final flavor be like? Would the voices be pleased with my treatment of their ingredients?

Although this crappy picture doesn't document it well, I'll tell you here that the texture was fluffy and moist, the spicing nice and the chunks of pistachio right on. The muffin pictured was one with pomegranate arils in it. I found that they worked well, but then again I don't mind eating them whole, without spitting out the seed as many folks do. Cooking them made the seed softer, but probably not enough for everyone. They were very pretty though, and would be even more striking if they were from darker pomegranates. The Persian produce deities smiled and concluded the worship a success.

I'm so glad I listen for the little voices in my produce. They can be inspiring.
What a great way to worship.

sssshhhhhh!................what was that? did you hear something?


based on the old standby Joy of Cooking Banana Bread recipe:

1&1/2 c all-purpose flour (I'm trying using a blend of whole wheat and oatmeal next time)
1 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
3/4 stick (6 T) room temperature butter
1/2 c granulated sugar (I'll try using about half brown next time)
2 large room temperature eggs
1/2 c cooked butternut squash
1/2 c pomegranate juice
1/2 c pomegranate arils (seeds)
1/4 c pistachios
1/4 t cardamon
1/4 t coriander
1/4 t black pepper
1 t ground cinnamon

combine the first four dry ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly. melt the butter and cream in the sugar. by hand if you like torturing yourself/enjoy the workout, or in a mixer for a few minutes until it fluffs up some. oh yeah, use about two medium white pomegranates (the ones that are lighter in flavor and color) for this recipe. you can use the darker more common variety but remember they both taste and stain stronger. take them apart underwater as to separate the membrane from the arils and to keep them from doing the inevitable and squirting all over that light colored shirt that you are no doubt wearing right now. juice most of the seeds (~2/3rds) and use for blending with the squash, keeping the rest intact for topping or adding into the batter. add the pistachios at the end of blending the squash to keep some in larger pieces, or chop by hand and add later. measure the spices into a mortar and pestle and pulverize as finely as your arms allow. if not using freshly ground spices, you might want to add a pinch more. toss the spices into the dry ingredient mixture and add to the creamed butter fluff. mix this until it is all crumbly and sugary looking. crack and mix your eggs into this. when thoroughly combined, fold, that's right I said fold the butternut/pom/pistach blend into it. if you really really like pomegranate seeds and enjoy eating them whole then add the rest of seeds to the batter. line cupcake pans with paper cups and spoon some batter in. bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until golden brown and done.


K & S said...

what a cool post! :) your muffins look and sound wonderful, the Persian deity is definitely smiling.

Mimi said...

Nice butternut squash evolution. The muffins sound absolutely delish!
I love your muffin tins. Very pretty.

Rev. Biggles said...

All ya'lls need to dig a hole in the back yard and totally bake your muffins in a hole in the ground.

I have spoken.


Callipygia said...

Damn good host,or is that post? The pomegranates have been speaking to me too, what'll it be next persimmons?

Monkey Wrangler said...

Kat: Thanks! You gotta keep them deities smiling. ;)

Mimi: The tins (ceramic actually) came with the wife, so I claim no responsisbility for purchasing them, although I love them so, and uh and her so, uh-oh foot in mouf.

Biggles: And the Irreverend spoke, and the people doth brandish thine spades to turn the earth........something like that huh?

Calli: Tasty host indeed. Persimmons have the power to bring anyone closer to the divine. Even me! Next time them other fruits is ripe enough (currently turning to goo on the table then being popped into the freezer till later) I'm making sorbet with 'em.

Busy all the time. said...

oh yum that all sounds so good. and interesting! i would never have thought to put all those flavors together even though everything's up at the markets right now.

Monkey Wrangler said...

Yo Batt!

It was looking through the Persian cookbook that was the inspiration for the combo. The fact that it all worked together made me want to post about it so I'd remember. Especially for future times when as you pointed out, it's all at the market at the same time.

Later Cake!

BGreen said...

Well I have to say it sounds like a pretty tasty recipe. I'll have to have my wife try and see if she likes it.

Thanks for the recipe.

leena! said...

Damn, those look good. They fit in perfectly with my current obsession, I mean, WORSHIP, of all things pistachio.

Stacie said...

i think the food religion might respect my place in the Church Of Sleep In Late On Sunday... and then eat pancakes! I hear the wisper...

Freya and Paul said...

Great article...I prefer to leave religion at the door when it comes to cooking and embrace whatever food comes from wherever. Probably excluding cannibalism but that's not a religion. Well, not here in Essex anyway.
Whilst it sounds like an exotic actress, Persian Muffins look delicious!

Monkey Wrangler said...

Hey bgreen: Are you advertizing here? Your link looks a bit suspicious.....

Leena: Worship dearie. Worship.

Stacie: Sssssshhhhh! Do you smell something?

Freya, Paul: Is that y'all? Really? And who are you kidding. You are like, such cannibals in that neck of the woods. Shit, I'd been told never to stroll around after midnight for such reasons.

Dame S said...

I had to replace the pomegranate arils with raisins but this was fab (also made mini-muffins rather than full size).

Hmm - I'm commenting from Essex in the UK - is Essex in the US so very different?

Monkey Wrangler said...

dame s: Nice to hear your results and thank you so much for writing back and sharing.

As for the Essex thing.......Never been to either, but chances are they're nearly identical.