sabzi khordan with baked feta

sabzi khordan with baked feta

When we were in grad school in the Garden State, we lived in an apartment in Central Jersey with a decently sized back yard and easy access to community gardens, but for some reason, I decided to wait until moving to Hong Kong to take up gardening on our two-by-six-foot little balcony. I’d love to have a grape vine someday, and maybe some tomatoes, but until then, I’m really happy with the big potted herb planters I’ve got going. Or, I should say, the potted herbs I was growing, until flying back to the US to visit family and leaving little scraggly mint/parsley/basil stubs behind. The week before leaving, I went a little crazy trying to use them up. I dried some mint, put fresh basil in everything, made lots of mint tea, and made an absurd amount of dolma. At the end of the week, I still had a lot of mint and basil, so I did the best thing I could think to do: sabzi khordan! I’ll take any excuse to eat herbs by the fistful.

sabzi khordan with baked feta
sabzi khordan with baked feta

Sabzi khordan, a Persian classic, is simply a big plate of herbs and crunchy, fresh ingredients, which you can serve with feta and flatbread. It’s easy, stunning, and delicious all at the same time, and I’ve recently been throwing it on top of a big sheet pan of baked feta for a fun change of pace.

I don’t super reliably share Persian recipes on here, because it wasn’t the primary food I grew up with at home, and my mind usually goes to Iraqi and Syrian food first. And since many Assyrians are from Iran, this year I’ve been trying to include more Persian recipes. I’ve been off to an okay start, with my favorite date frittata, and Persian love cake-inspired pop tarts. And now I’m so excited to be sharing this one, because it’s one of my family’s favorites. It actually reminds me of the way my grandmother describes the masgouf restaurants in Baghdad. They’d bring the fish out with lots of herbs, scallions, and radishes, and you’d pile as much as you want on top of the grilled fish, squeeze it with some lemon juice, and dig in. In either case, the lesson is the same: eat herbs in heaps and piles, not in sprinkles.

sabzi khordan with baked feta
sabzi khordan with baked feta

sabzi khordan with baked feta

serves about 10 as an appetizer
active time: 10 minutes
total time: 20 minutes
feta roasting technique inspired by
Amanda Hesser at Food52
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  • 12 oz piece of feta (340g)

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (300g)

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons apricot preserves or honey

  • 1 bunch bunch basil, leaves only

  • 1 bunch cilantro, leaves and small stems only

  • 1 bunch watercress

  • 1 small bunch whole chives

  • 1 small handful mint leaves

  • 3 or 4 radishes, sliced

  • flatbread for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).

  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Blot the feta dry, and place in the center of the sheet pan. Coat the feta with a little olive oil. Coat the tomato halves in a little more oil, and place them around the feta, cut-side-up.

  3. Bake the feta and tomatoes for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the feta softens and starts to melt slightly. Remove from the oven and set it to broil. Brush the feta with the honey or apricot preserves (warm the preserves in the microwave for a few seconds if they aren’t thin enough to brush), and place under the broiler for a couple more minutes to brown the top (keep a very close eye on it—it may only take 1-2 minutes, depending on your oven).

  4. Remove from the oven once it’s warmed through and brown on top. Let it sit at room temperature until the pan is no longer extremely hot, but while the feta is still warm (about 3 minutes). Top the pan with the basil, cilantro, watercress, chives, mint, and radishes. Lightly drizzle the herbs with olive oil. Serve immediately with flatbread, and encourage guests to eat a big heaping pile of herbs with every little bite of feta and tomato.

Note on cook time: I’ve made this with a few different broilers, and they all work very differently. If your broiler is weak and you leave it in longer to compensate, it will become crumbly, and if you broil it less, it will be gooey and spreadable. Either way is delicious, just different. If your broiler runs cold, you might need to bake it longer to get enough caramelization, or you can pull it out before it caramelizes if you don’t want it to get crumbly. Use your discretion, and don’t sweat it too much. But don’t broil it longer than 5 minutes, even if it’s not caramelizing, or it will dry out too much.

Note on herbs: Feel free to substitute your favorite leafy herbs, like dill, fennel fronds, fenugreek leaves, parsley, scallions, or tarragon.

sabzi khordan with baked feta

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storing baked goods

storing baked goods

My husband is a philosophy professor, and so it’s always extra funny when silly things blow his mind. Most recently, he was floored by the following fact: a stale piece of cake has the same calories as a fresh piece of cake. Like, even though one tastes way worse than the other, stale cake is just as sugary and buttery as fresh…… boom!

If you’ve got stale cake around, I guess it’s better than nothing, but there is a super easy trick to preventing this tragedy in the first place: you need to rethink your relationship to both your fridge and your freezer.

If you’re a fan of both superhero movies and romcoms, you’ll probably see it coming. That person you thought was your reliable friend, the one who was there for you from the beginning, turns out to be your arch nemesis. And that guy you always took for granted and never noticed (until he grows up, moves to Greenwich Village, and becomes a gritty photographer), the one you always thought was just your best friend—well, it turns out it was him…. it was always him!

In this case, your refrigerator is Harvey Dent/Two-face and your freezer is Mark Ruffalo in 13 Going on 30. While it seems like the reliable choice, the refrigerator will often betray you—putting bready baked goods in the refrigerator will make them stale even faster than leaving them out at room temperature. And while the freezer is so often the place where we ignore our leftovers until we feel ready to let them go, it actually happens to be an ideal environment for storing these bready baked goods. See? Harvey Dent and Mark Ruffalo. Boom!

a quick guide to storing baked goods

I’ve put together this guide to what goes where (and when). I’m sure there are exceptions for each of these items, but generally speaking, these are sort of best practices for storing baked goods. Some things will need to be stored in the refrigerator (generally things with a lot of dairy, or pastry that doesn’t stale easily), but most things will prefer the freezer, or room temperature for shorter periods of time. When storing baked goods in the freezer, make sure you seal them tightly in a plastic bag, removing as much air as possible, and always let them cool completely before freezing. Once they’re cool, get them in the freezer quickly to preserve as much of their freshness as possible. They’ll usually last about 3 months before starting to noticeably degrade in quality. Most things can be thawed at room temperature, but if something tastes a little stale after thawing, you can always throw it back in a 350°F oven for just a few minutes (long enough to warm almost completely through, but not enough to dry it out).

 

store it In the refrigerator

storing baked goods

cheesecakes
frosting
cookie dough that’s resting overnight
most pies
swiss rolls

 

store it In the freezer (or at room temperature under 12 hours), but never ever in the refrigerator

storing baked goods

bread (either store-bought or homemade)
unfrosted cake layers, or cupcakes
muffins
brownies
scones
biscuits (in the US sense of the word)
pound cake
quick breads
most Middle Eastern pastries (like kadeh and kleicha, except baklawa can be stored pretty much anywhere)
cookies (which can be stored at room temperature much longer)

 

store it In the freezer (but obviously never at room temperature)

storing baked goods

balls of cookie dough (frozen on a sheet pan, then stored in a bag)
other unbaked doughs (like scones, biscuits, proofed pizza dough—although yeast-risen bread dough can usually be stored in the fridge for a couple days)
leftover slices of frosted/decorated cake, individually wrapped and then placed in a bag

baking a cake ahead of time

While I’m not going to stop you from baking cake at the last minute, I’m definitely going to encourage you to bake them ahead of time. If you store everything correctly, you lose very little quality, if any at all. It’s just important to know when to use the refrigerator, when to use the freezer, and how to bring everything to room temperature.

 

The cake layers

storing baked goods

Unless you’re baking a cake that’s going to be eaten within 12 hours, you should really consider freezing the layers. Once they cool, wrap them tightly with plastic wrap, then seal them in a bag, and freeze them for about 1-2 months. The sooner you freeze them, the fresher they will be when you thaw them. To thaw them, leave them at room temperature for a few hours. You can even sometimes decorate your cake with the frozen layers, which makes them easier to handle, and easier to apply a crumb coat. If you decorate layers while they’re still frozen, simply allow the cake to thaw before serving.

 

the frosting

storing baked goods

When it comes to actually making and using it, frosting loves to be at room temperature. But most frosting (the creamy or eggy kind) needs to be stored in the fridge to make sure it doesn’t spoil. So work with room temperature ingredients, store it in the fridge right away, and then let it come to room temperature before decorating. You can do this by letting it sit out for a while, or you can zap it in the microwave with very short bursts of heat (like, just 5 seconds at a time), giving it a stir between each zap. Just be very careful it doesn’t melt!

 

assembling

storing baked goods

While you can decorate your cake earlier, I like to decorate as close to the last minute as possible. Once you have all your components, it comes together in such a snap. Just make sure the frosting is at room temperature, the cakes are thawed, and everything is ready to go. I don’t love elaborate cake decoration, because it has to be done in advance of events, which means it has to be stored in the fridge… and the fridge is an unkind place for a cake. In my experience, simpler cakes are always tastier than elaborate ones for this reason.

 

leftover frosted cake

storing baked goods

But what to do if you have leftover frosted cake? No worries, just slice up the remainder into individual pieces, wrap them in plastic, store them in a bag, and freeze them. Whenever you want a piece of cake, just take one out, zap it in the microwave for like 20 seconds just to thaw it, and enjoy! It doesn’t even matter if you accidentally melt the frosting a little bit at this point—trust me, it’s good. But whatever you do, don’t refrigerate leftover cake, because it’ll dry out very quickly.

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