Leila Saffarian

Salty flavours from a curious foodie

Leila Saffarian has no professional culinary training – but she doesn’t need it. Her innate sense of magical flavour pairings and a penchant for predicting food trends means she’s fast becoming the go-to food stylist and recipe developer for South African foodie publications and brands.

It’s fair to say Saffarian had her fair share of exposure to bold flavours from a young age – she grew up in an apartment above her father’s family-run Mediterranean restaurant. Her father is Iranian and her mother South African, so her childhood was full of punchy food combinations. “From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been encouraged to try new things. Food is the centre of everything in Iranian culture and my dad tried to instil that in me,” recalls Saffarian. “These early food memories were the springboard for my own culinary experimentation – and my love for delicious food.”

After working as a food journalist for many years, Saffarian decided to work as a freelance recipe developer, food writer and stylist, to focus on her blog, Pass the Salt. She’s passionate about turning trend-setting recipes into achievable, accessible dishes. Saffarian’s approach to food is much like her food styling – simple, rustic and colourful. “My favourite meals are simple pastas made with loads of peppery olive oil, fresh herbs and lots of sea salt. I’m not into fancy or fiddly anymore – although it has its place – and I think that’s generally the way food trends are headed.”

Food trends for 2016, according to Saffarian, will be as interesting as they are varied. But there’s one cornerstone of modern food trends, and that’s the unconventional use of salt, paired with both sweet and savoury dishes. “Chefs and foodies are experimenting using salt in new and unexpected ways – including in desserts,” says Saffarian. “Black pepper and salt work so well with strawberries and grilled nectarines, it just makes sense.”

Instead of looking forward at the trends to come, Saffarian drew inspiration from the past for her Seasoned: 70 Years of Cerebos dish. In particular, she looked to the dinner party favourites of the 1940s – a time when salt was treasured as a valuable ingredient. “The war era forced everyone to use cheaper sources of protein,” explains Saffarian. “But out of this frugality came the most amazing dishes, like chicken liver paté, which is what I settled on. People are inventive when they have to be – paté became a celebrated dish for special occasions in the 1940s.” Saffarian notes how food trends are cyclical, particularly when it comes to ‘trendy’ cuts of meat. “Although liver was eaten in the 1940s out of necessity, there’s a huge movement towards the use and consumption of offal today, to avoid waste,” she comments. “Prepared with the right ingredients and lots of fresh herbs and salt, it can be delicious and it’s cheap as chips.” According to Saffarian, if liver is prepared properly by someone who knows what they’re doing, it’s incredible, and is made even better with the use of good-quality salt. “I love using sea salt flakes in my cooking because they have so much flavour – they’re not just salty, they have a unique quality – they almost taste like the sea,” says Saffarian. “I’ve added a herb salt to this dish – flavoured with nutmeg and thyme – as a stand-alone ingredient, because it takes the whole dish to the next level.” There are a few tricks to getting her chicken liver paté just right, like the use of real butter and whiskey, instead of sherry, to match the earthy flavours of the liver and thyme. And of course, eating it at home with friends and family. “This dish is the kind that you can plonk onto the table with some fresh bread and a bottle of wine,” says Saffarian. “It’s all my favourite things – simple, bold, salty and shareable – to me, it’s perfection.”

Cerebos Chicken Liver Paté

For the paté

  • 300g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tsp (10ml) olive oil
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 500g chicken livers, trimmed
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp (5ml) fresh thyme leaves and 2 sprigs extra
  • 4 tbsp (60ml) whiskey
  • 2 tbsp (30ml) fresh cream
  • Cerebos Sea Salt
  • Freshly ground Cerebos Black Pepper

For the herb salt

  • 4 tbsp (60ml) Cerebos Sea Salt
  • 1 tsp (5ml) fresh thyme leaves
  • A sprinkling of fresh nutmeg
  • Freshly ground Cerebos Black Pepper

Optional

  • Melba toast, to serve
  • Micro herbs, to serve

Method

  1. Heat 1 tsp (5ml) olive oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and fry for 10 minutes over medium heat until soft and lightly golden. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. Heat the remaining olive oil over high heat in the same pan. Add the chicken livers, garlic and fresh thyme leaves. Cook the livers for a couple of minutes on each side, until lightly coloured but still a little pink in the middle (careful not to overcook, as the livers will become grainy).
  3. Add the whisky and cream and simmer for a minute. Remove the livers from the heat and place in a food processor.
  4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add half of it to the livers.
  5. Season the livers well with Cerebos Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper. Blitz to form a smooth purée.
  6. Transfer the paté to ramekins, smoothing with a palette knife. Pour over the remaining melted butter and scatter with remaining fresh thyme.
  7. Chill overnight. To make the herb salt, combine the Cerebos Sea Salt, thyme leaves, nutmeg and freshly ground black pepper, and mix well. Serve the paté with plenty of crusty bread or Melba toast and micro herbs.
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