3 Persian-inspired pistachio recipes by Sabrina Ghayour, from sticky chicken to lemon cake

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Subtly beautiful and uniquely addictive, pistachios have long been an integral part of Middle Eastern cooking. Below, acclaimed chef and cookbook author Sabrina Ghayour shares three of her favourite sweet and savoury pistachio recipes.

Unless you have a nut allergy, you’ve almost certainly ordered a slice of pistachio tart for dessert in a restaurant, or delighted in a takeaway tub of green pistachio ice cream on a hot summer holiday. But when it comes to home cooking, many of us fail to put pistachios to good use (and no, snacking on a packet while watching Netflix doesn’t count).

Which is a shame, because these sweet, earthy little nuts are can elevate everything from savoury dishes to homemade desserts. This won’t be news to anyone with Middle Eastern heritage, as they’re a regular recipe component in cuisines ranging from Turkey to Lebanon to Syria. And in her new cookbook Simply, Sabrina Ghayour does a stellar job of showing off the pistachio’s versatility. 

The fifth book from the bestselling author of Persiana features a selection of Ghayour’s favourite authentic Persian recipes, with a focus on accessible ingredients and straightforward techniques. As you’d expect, plenty of the recipes in Simply feature pistachios in a starring role – and we have three to share below.

There are a lot of sticky chicken dishes out there, but Ghayour’s harissa, sesame and pistachio chicken with its crunchy topping is a great way to up your game. And her goat’s cheese and pistachio salad, jazzed up with handfuls of sweet strawberries and basil leaves, proves that salads don’t have to be boring.

Finally, Ghayour’s fragrant lemon and rosemary cake – finished with slivers of bright green pistachio – is what our dessert dreams are made of. Delicious, simple and beautiful dishes? We’re sold. 

  • Sticky harissa, sesame & pistachio chicken

    Sabrina says: “This recipe embodies all the qualities I like in a chicken dish – sticky, savoury, spicy, crunchy and utterly delicious. It reminds me of Cantonese sticky chicken dishes, but with a little more oomph and, more importantly, it can be easily recreated at home.”

    Serves 3–4

    Ingredients

    • 500g boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • vegetable oil, for frying
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon garlic granules
    • 3 tablespoons clear honey
    • 2 tablespoons rose harissa
    • 25g sesame seeds, toasted
    • 50g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
    • Maldon sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

    Method

    Lay the chicken breasts flat on a chopping board and roughly chop into fillets.

    Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and drizzle in a little vegetable oil. Once hot, add the chicken strips and quickly toss in the oil. Sear the chicken on the outside until opaque all over but not cooked through.

    Add the cinnamon and garlic granules and quickly toss the chicken in them, then add the honey and harissa and stir until the chicken is well coated. Season with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Leave the chicken to cook for about 1 minute until cooked through, then stir to coat in the sauce.

    Once the sauce is bubbling and reduced to an almost caramel-like consistency, remove the pan from the heat, stir and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and the pistachios before serving.

    Tip: You can also use mini chicken fillets for this recipe.

  • Strawberry, goat's cheese and pistachio salad

    Sabrina says: “In the early 1990s I once made a salad using strawberries to impress my friends. I must admit it went down like a lead balloon, being perhaps too avant garde at the time. This recipe, however, is one I created with confidence and have served several times when strawberries are in season and bursting with sweetness – they dress the salad with their natural juices. The soft, mild goats’ cheese works so well with the strawberries, and pistachios add not only a vibrant colour, but also a wonderful crunch. A perfect summer salad to go with any meal.”

    Serves 4 – 6

    Ingredients

    • 400g strawberries
    • 5 basil leaves
    • 5 large mint leaves
    • 150g soft, mild rindless goats’ cheese, torn into small chunks
    • 50g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
    •  ½ teaspoon sumac
    • ½ teaspoon pul biber chilli flakes
    •  freshly ground black pepper

    For the dressing:

    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • juice of ½ lemon
    • 1 generous tablespoon clear honey

    Method

    Hull the strawberries and then cut them into quarters. Stack the basil leaves one on top of the other, roll them up together and then finely slice the roll widthways to cut the basil into thin ribbons. Repeat with the mint leaves.

    Arrange the strawberries on a platter and scatter over the goats’ cheese and herbs. Add the pistachios and sprinkle with the sumac and pul biber.

    Mix the dressing ingredients together in a jug or small bowl. Season the salad with plenty of pepper, then drizzle the dressing over and serve.

  • Pistachio, lemon and rosemary cake

    Sabrina says: “The pistachio is the king of Persian nuts, and using naturally bright green Persian pistachio slivers helps create the electric green colour of this cake. Fragrant with lemon zest and aromatic rosemary, it’s also gluten free.”

    Serves 8–10

    Ingredients

    • 150g unsalted butter
    • 4 x 10cm sprigs of rosemary, leaves very finely chopped
    • 3 eggs
    • 100g golden caster sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 teaspoon lemon extract (alcohol-free) 
    • 2 heaped tablespoons Greek yogurt 
    • finely grated zest of 3 large unwaxed lemons
    • 100g ground almonds
    • 300g pistachio slivers (or whole nuts), very finely blitzed in a food processor, plus extra to decorate

    For the icing:

    • 150g icing sugar very finely blitzed in a food processor, plus extra to decorate
    • 25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan), Gas Mark 4. Take a large square of baking paper, scrunch it up, then smooth it out and use to line a 22–24cm round cake tin or ovenproof dish.

    Warm the butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat until just melted, then remove from the heat, stir in the rosemary and leave to infuse.

    Put the eggs, caster sugar and vanilla and lemon extracts into a mixing bowl and beat together until well combined. Mix in the yogurt, followed by most of the lemon zest (reserving a little for decorating the cake), the ground almonds and pistachios. Pour in the infused melted butter and mix again until evenly combined.

    Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin or ovenproof dish and shake to level the surface, then bake for about 45 minutes until golden brown on top and springy to touch. Remove from the oven and leave the cake to cool completely in the tin or dish.

    Mix the icing ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth.

    Carefully remove the cake from the tin or dish and set it on a serving plate. Pour the icing on top and leave to set, then scatter with the pistachios and reserved lemon zest before serving.

    From Simply: Easy Everyday Dishes by Sabrina Ghayour (£26, Mitchell Beazley), out now

Photography: Kris Kirkham

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.