Monday, July 27, 2015

BABA'S SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA

Carbonara.

He sends you flying.

It's controversial.

High up in the air.

The same way hummus is controversial.

You spread your wings, catch your breath, and squeal with delight.

Or guacamole.

It's innate. The dream of flight.  And in an instant he has given you wings.  

To soar.  Beyond your dreams.

Or fesenjan.

He claps once.  Maybe twice.  Depending on how much air you catch.  

A recipe can only take you so far. 

Fathers love this game.  Mothers hold their breath and look away. 

Children are perpetually caught in the middle.  In mid-air. 

A recipe is only as good as the hands that prepare it.  The soil that feeds the herbs.  The stories, memories, love, frustrations, ambitions, disappointments, history, experience, traditions, culture, tears and laughter that pour out of your heart, surging through your shoulder blades, down your arm, through your finger tips, on to the cutting board, and sizzling into the pan.

You come tumbling back down.  Back down into his arms. 

And sometimes a recipe is just a recipe.  A means to an end.  And that's ok too.  

He's always there to catch you. Baba. 


Carbonara is a maddeningly delicious - lick your fingers, smack your lips and go back for more - comfort food. It boasts very few ingredients while stirring up very strong opinions and allegiances.  At its most traditional preparation it is simply fresh raw eggs (yolk only or the whole egg is debatable), Parmigiano Regianno and Pecorino Romano (the use of one or the other or a combination of the two, also debatable), and guanciale - Italian cured pork cheek or jowl (the use of pancetta and bacon, again, debatable), black pepper and the pasta cooking water (the use of which is non-debatable, salt that water and use it!).  

Purists and traditionalists will demand you stick to these few simple ingredients and beware their wrath, disapproval and eye rolls lest you venture off course.  Passions run high.  Very high.  

And so it is with a healthy dose of respect and a nod to tradition that I stir up the carbonara pot and debate even more.

No matter where you fall in the carbonara wars, one thing can be agreed upon by all sides: the freshness of all your ingredients.  Especially that of the eggs.  I use the whole egg here, the yolk and the whites.  And since the eggs are raw, it is imperative that they be as fresh as possible.  Baba's Carbonara starts off with a saute of onion and prosciutto.  You could use pancetta, bacon or guanciale, but the sweet prosciutto works wonderfully here.  Baba also likes to stray from tradition and add fresh parsley and basil to his carbonara.  The fresh herbs really brighten and lighten up the dish.  And I love incorporating fresh herbs anywhere I can.  The fresh herbs are mixed in a bowl with the eggs, parmesan/pecorino, pepper and crushed garlic.  This mixture is set aside until ready to be incorporated to the pasta.  It is also imperative that the pasta be drained (reserve about 1 cup of that pasta water) al dente because it will continue to cook as it is tossed with the onion and prosciutto.  The trickiest part of preparing carbonara - what is seemingly an easy dish to prepare - is incorporating the egg mixture with the pasta without srambling the eggs. The success of every carbonara is judged upon this.  The idea is that the raw eggs will cook with the residual heat of the noodles, creating a smooth and creamy consistency.  No scrambled eggs!  Once you add the egg mixture to the noodles you need to quickly and efficiently toss the pasta.  And add the reserved pasta water as needed (judiciously, not too much and not too little) to thin out the sauce and to keep the noddles from drying out.



Baba's Carbonara is the one dish that has my girls (and husband) drop whatever they're doing and come crashing to the dining table. It is the dish that every other carbonara is compared to.  It's Hawaii in December.  It's Vancouver in July.  It's Baba and Grandma Kumi working side by side, a finely honed duet.  Baba chopping the herbs, Grandma Kumi cracking the eggs.  It's the constant debate over how many eggs to use.  One more she suggests, one less he insists.  Passions run high.  Very high. It's everyone stepping back and giving Baba room to swiftly and expertly incorporate the raw eggs with the steaming pasta.  

It's the hands that prepare it. 


He is no longer able to send you flying. You are grown now and his back is far too weak. 

It's Baba singing and his granddaughters trailing him with squeals of delight as he sets the carbonara on the table.

But he is always there to catch you.  

In mid-air or with your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Carbonara.  It's controversial.  It's family.  And it's maddeningly delicious. 




 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

THE RECITAL - CHERYL'S MILK CHOCOLATE YOGURT POTS



She wrote this song about John Mayer. You whisper conspiratorially into his ear.  

There was a time when this easy lean into his shoulder, followed by hushed murmurs, carried with it information of a different nature. 

But today it's all about Taylor Swift.

Such is the evolution of a marriage.

He - your husband - looks back at you slightly intrigued but mostly bewildered.

You - his wife - raise your eyebrows as you often do to emphasize your foolproof knowledge of a fact, and nod simultaneously to really drive home the point.

Exactly when and how you came upon this very important piece of information is unclear. 

Exactly when and how Taylor Swift entered your realm of existence is also unclear.  But it was bound to happen.  You had heard of this sort of thing happening to other families.  Families with slightly older children than yours.  

The young girl,15 maybe 16 years old, croons sweetly as she strums her guitar.  Her father respectfully stands a few steps behind her. Making sure she has the full spotlight.  Making sure she shines.  As he and his electric guitar provide backing - guidance - unconditional support.

Family Recital Night. 

I first met Cheryl Sternman Rule at The Saveur 2014 Food Blog Awards in Las Vegas. Cheryl's 5 second rule was one of the first food blogs I discovered early on, well before our meeting, and return to time and time again.  Not only for the tempting recipes but also for her beautiful and distinctive writing style.  Her wit and humor casually guiding your way to a muffin tin and a few wholesome and tasty ingredients.  Her laser sharp precision and unsentimental economy with words lodging a lump deep in your throat before you are even aware it's happening.  

And so it only made sense to meet for the first time and discuss our mutual love and respect for all things yogurt at the art gallery in The Bellagio Hotel as the sommelier gave us all a private tour of the collections while pairing individual wines to each painting.  A wine and art pairing. Yes. Such jobs do exist.

A few months ago Cheryl reached out to me to see if I would be interested in contributing to her new site Team Yogurt.  Friends, if there was ever a team I was destined to be a part of it would be Team Yogurt.  A delicious and informative site devoted entirely to all things yogurt.  And as if that was not enticing enough a couple of weeks ago Cheryl's beautiful new book Yogurt Culture (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) landed on my doorstep and was instantly whisked off to the kitchen.         


Next up is a family of four. Older daughter on piano, father on guitar, mother and younger daughter harmonizing a Pete Seeger classic.  

Mother with her eyes closed. 

The parents must have picked this song, you think to yourself.

Young daughter with her eyes wide open.

When will they ever learn?  You sing to yourself.

When will we ever learn?  You think to yourself. 




Yogurt Culture is everything that I look for in a cookbook.  Besides the fact that it is pretty much about the one food item that I can not live without.  Cheryl's well-researched book takes a global look at yogurt and the many ways it is incorporated into the cuisines of so many varying cultures.  Stories, history, facts and accessible recipes weave cohesively with Cheryl's knowledgeable and friendly voice guiding your way. The photography is beautiful and simple, allowing the food to shine.  But what is most important is that Yogurt Culture makes you want to get in the kitchen and get cooking.  And what better way to start than with these elegant and decadent milk chocolate yogurt pots.

She takes her place at the piano and pushes her side-swept bangs behind her ear.  As she always does. 

He takes his place a few steps behind her.  He straps on his bass guitar and turns on the amp. 

She gives him a quick glance and he nods his head four times. They set off on a 45 second duet of Classical Dance.  Left hand and right hand play together. As he picks at his electric bass as gently as possible.  He is there to back her up, to provide support, to let her shine. Unconditional.

She - your daughter - takes her bow with pride and beams as she introduces her father, her accompanist - your husband - also beaming with pride.  

She floats off the stage and into your arms.  She declares she's ravenous.  Post-show hunger pangs.  You remember the sensation well.  

You remind her of the milk chocolate yogurt pots waiting for her at home. The ones setting in the fridge.  You remind her of the chocolate you gently melted. She reminds you of the thick, creamy yogurt you slowly stirred into the luscious warm chocolate.  

The chocolate and the yogurt melding into each other, shining as one. The sweetness of the milk chocolate backing up the tang of the yogurt.  

A well-orchestrated duet.  Deliciously played, Cheryl.  

  


 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

THE NEIGHBORHOOD THIEF - AN ORANGE BLOSSOM, YOGURT, SAFFRON, SHIO KOJI ROAST CHICKEN


Grab your gardening shears.  Grab a basket, a bag, a sack, anything with handles.  Feel the weight and the cool metal of the shears rest against the warm embrace of your palm.  Make the most of this auspicious occasion. You don't garden.  You'd like to.  But you don't.  

Call out to your shadows.  Announce you are off to forage.  You don't forage either.  But you hear it's the thing to do, the word du jour to throw around.  So you try it out.  It makes you feel current, in the know, in the now.

You steal.  

From your neighbors.  

With your children in tow. 

You have been given permission to do so.  So your conscience sleeps easy.  

Most nights.

Make the marinade.  Combine the yogurt, shio koji or salt, and honey. Yogurt tenderizes, shio koji for umami, and a drizzle of honey to balance out the acids but more importantly to sweeten your taste buds and your life.  Marvel at the instant color transformation as the saffron water drip-drops into the yogurt mix. It just never gets old. The beauty of saffron.  Refrain from dipping your finger in for a taste.  There's more goodness to come.  

Take your children by the hand and walk them across the street.  Show them how to look left - right and then left - right again before crossing. Such a simple gesture holding such weight.  Will they ever get it?  Have you repeated yourself enough?  Will your heart ever grant you permission to let them go?  

Across the street.  

Across town. 

Across the ocean.  

What if they look left but then get distracted by the rolly polly bug they have entrapped in the fold of their skirt and forget to look right?   

Let go. 

Watch them run towards the overflowing, bountiful rosemary bush standing guard at your neighbor's front yard.

Put the neglected shears to work and snip away as the girls run their hands along the spindly branches and stick their noses in as far as they can and take a long, deep inhale. Mmmm's and ahhhs  abound. Mostly for their own pleasure but also to please you.  To let you know that they're old enough, sophisticated enough to appreciate the sharp, woodsy aroma that permeates the air as they brush against each and every branch.  The scent that carries with it a promise.  A promise of something good and tasty to come. They want you to know that they get it. They're in the know, in the now.  

Cut a lemon in half and squeeze with one hand as the other hand catches the seeds before they hit the yogurt mixture.  Inevitably a couple always sneak through. Fish them out with a spoon, a fork, your fingers.  Balance the microplane over the bowl and zest an orange, rhythmically tapping on the side of the bowl as you release all the brilliant flecks.  Magical fairy dust your girls would proclaim.  Flip the microplane over and run your finger along the back of the cool grates. Inevitably some of the magic gets stuck back there.  Refrain from dipping your finger in for a taste.  There's more goodness to come. 


Move on to your next heist.  The next house.  The next yard.  The lemon tree.  The very same one that serves as the official ambassador for the girls' lemonade stands. The very same one that brightens up every stew, sauce, dip, and dressing with a burst of flavor. If it needs fixing squeeze a little lemon on it (a little more salt wouldn't hurt either).  

Fill the basket, the bag, the sack with as much citrus as you and your shadows can carry back.  Haul your loot back home. 

Take the top off the orange blossom water.  Bahar narenj - spring orange.  Bring it close and take a long deep inhale.  You do this every time.  Even though by now you are fully versed with its mesmerizing scent.  The scent of spring, of love, of poetry.  Mmmm and ahhhh to no one in particular.  Mostly for your own pleasure but also to please your sense of memory.  Memory of a land, a time, a childhood that you can now only recall in fragments, in splinters and in the alchemy of bahar narenj.  Carefully, very carefully add a few drops to the yogurt mixture.  You don't want to go overboard with orange blossom water. 


 
Spread your loot out on the backyard table.

Lay down a few rosemary sprigs on a small roasting pan.  Set the chicken on top.  Gently run your fingers under the skin of the breast, creating some space without tearing the skin.  Work your way around the bird as much as you can.  Lifting the skin off the meat.  Gently.  Gently.

Take a moment and look up.  Look up and beyond. That's where true beauty reveals itself. Up and beyond your shared fence. Up and beyond where your next door neighbor's orange tree weeps down over your fence. It's not oranges that you spot but orange blossoms. Uncapped. Un-bottled. Fragments and splinters of memory permeate the air and swirl all around you at a dizzying speed.  

Spoon half the the marinade under skin of the chicken.  Get in there with your hands.  Rub it all around.  Gently.  Gently.  Try not to tear that skin.  Pour the rest of the marinade on top of the chicken, and inside the chicken.  Front and back.  

Grab a stool.

Stuff the cavity with lemon, orange, a shallot, a sprig of rosemary.

Grab your shears. 

Place the chicken in the oven.

Climb on top of the stool.  Reach your arm out and grab a branch.

While the chicken roasts prepare the barberries and caramelized onion. 

Ignore the concerned calls from your shadows.  

Scatter the barberries over the orange blossom chicken and serve.

It's a quick clean cut.  A single click of the shears and there you stand with an orange blossom branch in your hands.

Set aside a plate.  Place a few chicken pieces on the plate and spoon the fragrant juices all over.  

Walk over to your next door neighbor's house.  With your shadows in tow and a plate of chicken in hand.  

Make sure you have some crusty bread to dip into the pan juices. 

Ease your conscience and tell the neighbors about the shears, the orange blossom, the thieving.  Hand over the chicken plate.

Mea culpa.





Monday, March 16, 2015

SCATTERED SHOWERS - A GREEN HERB RICE - SABZI POLO



I wish we could all be together this Nowruz.

I wish we weren't all scattered across the country.

Scattered across the continent.

Scattered across the globe.

She sits in her dedicated spot at our kitchen table.  Her words echo through the kitchen, twisting and turning, bouncing off you, looking and yearning for a spot to land, eventually finding their way out - seduced by the wide open door and a gentle late winter breeze.

Scattering across our parched lawn.

Across our parched city.

Across the country, the continent, the globe.

Slowly and meticulously she sorts through the bunches upon bunches of green herbs scattered before her.   

Parsley, cilantro, dill, chives, tarragon, fenugreek, spinach, green onion, mint.

Fragrant and willing representatives of new life, new beginnings, and Spring.  Nowruz.  Persian New Year.

Back in those days - when I was a little girl - in Iran - everyone started their khooneh takooni - the shaking out of the house weeks before the new year.

She moves on to the cilantro.  Notoriously difficult to sort through.  Methodically her aged but still elegant hands pick the leaves off the stems.  Setting the stems aside for a broth to be used for aash-e reshteh.

Windows would be washed, closets and attics would be sorted through, rugs would be swept and hung out to freshen up.

You turn your head, look over your shoulder, and sneak a quick glance at your carpet.  Faded - but ever present markings of a certain time, a certain age staring right back at you.  The spinach smoothie that got knocked over, the blueberry sauce that didn't quite make it to its destination, the chocolate shavings forever embedded into its mosaic theme.  

Then, on the night of Chaharshanbeh Suri (the last Tuesday night before Nowruz) my Aunt - Ammeh joon and Uncle - Amoo joon would take me to the Chaharshanbeh Suri bazaar.  This was one of the joys of our childhood.

You glance up at the clock, hurriedly grab the sorted bunches of parsley, dill and chives and escort them to the sink.  Scattering the herbs across the cool water.

All the streets would be lit up with lights, candles, colorful balloons, all sorts of decorations.  The scent of the sonbol (hyacinth) drunkenly guiding us through the streets and alleyways.

She slowly but purposefully makes her way to the sink, nudging you away.  You've rinsed the herbs twice.  She thinks they need another rinse.  Her hands reach into the cool water and gently, respectfully lift the greens in and out of the water.

Scattered showers.

Joyful music filled the streets.  Everyone would be out selling their goods. Ajeeleh Chaharshanbeh Suri Tabrizi, the mixed nuts from Tabriz was the best.  And all the kids would get to pick out their favorite candy.  Everyone loved khooroos ghandi - the rooster-shaped, sweet, hard candy.

You quickly lay out fresh towels.  And she patiently scatters the herbs across it to dry.  A field of greens on your kitchen table.  A most familiar sight. 

Ammeh joon would do all her own Nowruz baking.  All the families did their own baking then.  Noon berenji (rice flour cookies) as thin as a piece of paper, noon nokhodchi (chickpea cookies) that would melt in your mouth.  All baked on the manghal (a charcoal grill).

You grab the 10 lb sack of rice and watch as each grain clink-clanks into the bowl.  A most familiar sound.  You rinse the rice a few times - just like she taught you.  Swirling it around and around with your finger.  Rinse, drain, repeat until the water runs clear.  Add fresh water and salt and set aside to soak for at least one hour.  Just as she taught you.

Of course, Ammeh joon and all the ladies would pamper themselves days before Nowruz. Hair would be done, new clothes purchased, make-up beautifully applied.    Everything and everyone should be fresh and new.  Ammeh joon - she had the most beautiful, almond shaped, kohl-rimmed eyes.  Those eyes.  Those eyes.

Once again you transfer the herbs from the kitchen table back to the counter, to the food processor.  Working in batches you pulse away until they are finely chopped.  But not too finely chopped.  It's always a balancing act.  

We used to do all this chopping by hand.  A bunch of herbs, a board, and a knife.

Pulse.  Pulse.  Pulse.

It's much easier and faster now with these machines. 

Pulse.  Pulse.  Pulse.

But what you gain in time, you lose in flavor.  There's something about the blade of the knife that retains the fragrance and flavor of these delicate greens.  But who has the time and patience now to chop all this by hand. 

You bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  You add the rice.

And there you pause.  

Simultaneously.  Both of you.  Mother and daughter.  At the rice pot.  

Tradition, culture and the meaning of life contained in this one critical moment.  Exactly when to drain the rice. 

Each grain of rice should soften on the inside but still have a bite to it.  Not too soon, not too late.

A balancing act. 

You gently nudge her out of the way and grab the rice pot.  Moving the pot from the stove to the sink is not an easy task for her anymore.

You drain the rice as now she gently nudges you out of the way to scatter some fresh water over the rice.

And then came Nowruz. The Sofreh Haft Seen would be set and we'd all gather around it.  Ammeh joon always took such care to set out the most beautiful Sofreh Haft Seen.  The same Zari (ornamental cloth) that you use now for your sofreh - she used then.  And Amoo joon who was the elder of the family always had a bowl full of gold coins ready to be handed out.  For prosperity, for luck in the new year.  




You watch the butter melt, as she sprinkles the saffron.  She scatters the rice over the bottom of the pot.  The tahdig layer.  She sets aside a cup full of freshly chopped herbs and scatters the rest - parsley, cilantro, fresh dill, chives, fenugreek - over the rice.  And then some dried dill. 

Back to the rice.  The herbs.  The dill.  Repeat.  Top off with a couple of fresh spring garlic.  For its flavor, for its aroma.  For spring.  

I can still smell and taste our Nowruz meal.  The koo koo sazi, aash-e reshteh, the smoked fish, the white fish.  

You wrap a fresh towel over the lid and cover the pot.  Let it steam and work its magic for an hour. 

And of course it wouldn't be Nowruz without Sabzi Polo - Green Herb Rice.  Ammeh joon would always first set aside the best part of the tahdig for me.  Just like I used to do for you and your brother.  Just like you do now for the girls.    

She lifts the lid off the pot and instantly the steam, and fragrant aromas of the herbs and rice echo through the kitchen, twisting and turning, bouncing off you, looking and yearning for a spot to land, eventually finding their way out - seduced by the wide open door and a gentle late winter breeze.

You set the platter right next to her.  She makes room for you.  But you ask her to serve the sabzi polo.  Somehow, it always tastes better if she serves it.  You watch as she delicately scatters the rice across the platter, followed by a layer of the fresh herbs she had set aside.  Scatter the rice, scatter the fresh herbs, repeat, and top with golden saffron rice.  

 I wish we could all be together for Nowruz.  Everyone.  Even those that are long gone. 

You take her hand and walk her to her spot at the kitchen table.  As unexpected drops of rain fall to the ground. Taking your breath away.

Scattered showers.

The promise of new life, new beginnings, togetherness, a brand new year, Spring. 

Nowruz.     


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This year we celebrate Nowruz on Friday, March 20th, 2015 at precisley 3:45pm PDT.  Please take a moment to also enjoy the many tempting Nowruz dishes below from talented Persian food bloggers around the globe.  Happy Nowruz!  



Monday, March 9, 2015

SHIO KOJI - A ROUND KITCHEN


Dear friends, I am truly humbled to be included as a finalist in the 2015 IACP Digital Media Awards for Best Narrative Culinary Blog.  What a great privilege and honor to be recognized amongst such amazing, talented individuals.  Thank you all from the bottom of my heart (and pot!) for all your kind words, support and encouragement.  It means the world to me.  Go Tahdig!

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♪ MUSIC WE'RE COOKING TO ♪

We have a globe. Of the light-up variety. Of the round variety.  

Because the world is round, Mama.  It's the truth, Mama. 

It's the kind the girls love to spin and spin, and then randomly bring to a sudden stop.  Mother Earth graciously, patiently, holding still as their little fingers gently but methodically trace a path through her every field and valley, across mountain ranges and tundra, seas, lakes and oceans. All in a matter of seconds. 

As fast as the speed, Mama.

It's called the speed of light, Luna.

Is that faster than the speed of infinity, Mama?

Explorers on an expedition. Little fingers claiming birth places, lived-in places, want-to-visit places, random, exotic, mysterious places.  When you are five and eight years old, the globe holds an immeasurable, magical sense of mystery and respect.  

As it should. 

For us all. 

Whether your globe lights up or not. 

Shio koji literally translates to sea salt and koji. Koji is rice or soybeans that has been inoculated with a culture called Aspergillus oryzae.  The same culture/mold can be found in soy sauce, miso and sake.  The popularity of shio koji exploded in Japan about five years ago. But it is deeply rooted in the Japanese traditions of food and fermentation that are thousands of years old. And it has happily found its way into my kitchen.

I have my Japanese step-mother Kumi to thank for introducing me not only to this flavorful ingredient, but to the many beauties and majesties of Japanese culture.





Shio koji.

Little fingers search and search but are unable to trace its history back through the rice fields of Gilan.  

No verses of poetry to compare it to zaferan, talayeh sorkheh Khorasan - the prized flaming, golden saffron from Khorasan.  

No documented mentions of world-wise and travel-weary merchants along the silk road expounding on its powers of umami as they whetted their palates on the cha'i from Laheejan. As they bit into the chewy, fragrant, and sweet gaz from Esfahan, nesfeh jahan. Half the world, in Esfahan. 


To prepare shio koji, rice koji, sea salt, and water are combined and left to ferment for about seven days. After fermentation the shio koji is stored in the fridge and used as a salt replacement in various sauces, vinaigrettes, dressing for vegetables, and particularly delicious when used in marinades.  Kumi uses her shio koji in just about everything - like adding a small amount to her morning oatmeal. 

Shio koji delivers an incredible umami punch in the same way that anchovies, tomato paste and kashk do.  And since it is a fermented food you can benefit from its naturally occurring pro-biotics.  Shio koji can be purchased already prepared in a paste form from Japanese supermarkets (I have not seen it yet at any other markets - please leave a comment below if you have) or online.  But it is very simple and much less costly to prepare at home.  And preparing it at home satisfies my appreciation for the simplicity, and magical mystery of fermentation.  

I follow Kumi's instructions when making shio koji.  You need rice koji, fine grain sea salt (I've been emphatically told it has to be sea salt - no table salt please!), a jar, and time to ferment.  Rice koji can be found online, and here, and at Japanese grocery stores.  

Kumi has given me the measurements by metric weight as it is most accurate, so I highly recommend using a scale when measuring out the ingredients.  The measurements below are for a 1 liter glass jar.  You can also easily halve this recipe.  Any left over rice koji can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Place 400 grams rice koji in a bowl.



Break up any clumped up pieces of rice.



Add anywhere between 140-160 grams of fine grain sea salt to the rice.




Combine the sea salt and the rice koji by kneading the two ingredients by hand for about 5 minutes. During this process the rice koji and sea salt will start to come together. As you knead, you should be able to form a clump in your hands like loose pie dough coming together. During this process you should also be able to smell a slight malty aroma, similar to soy sauce.

Using a spoon, transfer the rice koji/sea salt to a sterilized 1 liter glass jar and add 500ml water.  Make sure there is enough water to fully cover the surface of the koji.



Place the cap on the jar and store at room temperature to ferment for 7-10 days.  The length of fermentation depends on room temperature.  It is important to stir the shio koji once a day by lifting the rice up and over from the bottom of the jar. This method of stirring allows for oxygen to circulate.  By days 7-10 the rice granules should be softened and there should be a distinct fermented and malty aroma.  This is how you know the shio koji is ready and has reached full flavor.  You can taste the shio koji.  The rice granules should have softened.  It might taste rather salty but don't panic; this will temper over time.  At this point you can place the shio koji in a food processor and process to a smooth paste.  Kumi doesn't process her shio koji, but I sometimes prefer it smooth.  Store the shio koji in the fridge and use as needed. It will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months.  

Generally, when using shio koji as a salt substitute you can use 2 teaspoons of shio koji for 1 teaspoon of salt. When using as a marinade the general rule of thumb is the ratio 10:1. For every 100 grams of food use 10 grams of shio koji.  Also, take note that shio koji can burn at very high temperatures.  So stick to moderate heat.




 “Nana korobi ya oki”  “Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight.”  Japanese proverb.

Little fingers traced and searched but couldn't find the bridge connecting the shio koji to their mother's birth place.  

Alas, all well mapped out and thought through expeditions must eventually come to an end.  

Make their way back home.  

For rest.  For provisions.  For a hug.  

And just like that little fingers lift off the globe, bid Mother Earth adieu with a dizzying final spin, and fly towards the kitchen. Crashing into the arms, warmth and comforts of their Mama. Recounting harrowing tales of their journeys.

Simultaneously.

At the speed of infinity.

All the while keeping a close eye on their Mama as she reaches in the fridge for Grandma Kumi's shio koji with one hand while stretching her other arm towards the spice cupboard for the zaferan, talayeh sorkheh Khorasan.

A bridge.  A path.  A connection. 

What's for dinner, Mama?

A most umami packed, golden roast chicken.

* All Japanese tea ceremony photos are courtesy of Ramin Deravian copyright 2015


Friday, February 6, 2015

TASTE - A COLLARD GREENS BORANI - COLLARD GREENS WITH YOGURT AND CARAMELIZED RED ONION SUMAC

 ♪ MUSIC WE'RE COOKING TO ♪

Raw honey.  

Like the jar from Trader Joe's.  

Dripping in gold, warmth, and sweetness.

My daughter's eyes, Soleil's eyes, the sun's eyes, shimmer like raw honey.

Dripping in gold. 

Showering us with warmth, sweetness, and unyielding love.

And occasionally stubbornness, and intense, deeply felt, unyielding five-year-old emotions.

Pure and raw.

These are the very same - stop you in your tracks, take hold of your heart and soul - eyes that stare back at me.  

Piercing right through me with passion, vehemence, and absolute indignation at 4pm on New Year's Eve. 

We are both splayed out on the kitchen floor with me holding a spoon of blueberry sauce inches from her face.

The concoction slowly but purposefully working its way down the wooden spoon, onto my hand, circling my wrist, trailing my well-pronounced bluish purple veins, down my arm and delicately drip, drip, dripping on to the wood floor.

The blueberry sauce has brought us to our knees. 
 
Literally.  

Well, actually, even lower than our knees.  

Onto our bellies. 

I have quite a fondness for all things bitter.  The bitter-sour in combination agree with my taste buds the most.  Especially bitter greens.  Arugula, frisee, escarole, radicchio, rapini, endive, dandelion greens, mustard greens...Maybe my exposure to Italian food as a child (bitter greens) and Persian food (all things sour) has had a hand in shaping and nurturing my taste buds.  

But for the longest time there has been one bitter green that I just couldn't come to embrace.  Collard greens.  Not that I would ever turn away collards, unless they've been boiled down to mush.  That goes for any vegetable boiled to oblivion.  But collards wouldn't be my first choice of greens.  Again, perhaps my lack of exposure to these beloved greens of American Southern cuisine has something to do with it.  

It also just so happens that this time of year our farm box and the farmer's markets explode with such greens.  And so inevitably I can expect a bunch of collards in our farm box every week.  Normally, I treat collards as I do other greens.  Simply.  Saute in olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, hit it with some sort of acid, add a little water (if needed), put a lid on it and give the rather tough leaves time to soften and tenderize.  But, recently I decided to treat my collards and my taste buds to a special treat. 

To a most trusted and loyal friend. 

"...my late night confidante, my consigliere..."

Yogurt.

A borani

 

Her blood courses through mine.

As does mine through hers.

Her passion matches mine.

As does her flair for drama.

And much can be said about the paralyzing stubbornness that occasionally takes hold of our bodies and selfishly refuses to let go.

She stands her ground. (Well, more like the wood floor she is splayed across)

Unwavering and proud.

As do I.

Unwavering.

And proud.

But, Mama I don't like blueberry sauce!

Soleil, I added maple syrup to it this time.  Just taste it.  It's sweet!

Mama, you always tell me to listen to my body.  And my body is telling me I DON'T LIKE BLUEBERRY SAUCE!!!

Well, your body doesn't know what it's talking about right now.  I put MAPLE SYRUP in it!!! 

Borani is a side dish or dip made with thick, creamy yogurt and an array of vegetables or herbs.  It really speaks to the Persian (and my) love affair with yogurt.  My favorite borani as a child and perhaps the most well-known one is borani-e esfenaj.  In our house we simply call it mast o esfenaj - yogurt and spinach.  Also, a great way to get the little ones to eat their spinach.  Keeping with my theory that everything just tastes better with yogurt added to it, I decided to put this to the test with my troublesome greens - collard greens.  And the results are fantastic.  I first saute the greens with onion, garlic and turmeric.  Then add a splash of water to the pan and put the lid on it and give the greens time to slowly soften.  I cook the greens just long enough to tenderize but still maintain their rich color.  I have also added plump raisins to this dish for extra texture and a little something sweet to chew on. Once the collards cool slightly I mix in the yogurt and a splash of vinegar (you could also use lemon juice).  You can't have bitter without sour. The vinegar also helps to balance out the sweetness of the raisins.  The borani can be served as it is at this point, you could even sprinkle the top with some walnuts.  But what makes this dish really sing is the caramelized red onion with sumac.  You need these onions in your life.  Be it topping this borani, or gracing a salad, burgers, meats.  Make a big batch and have on hand in the fridge - to use at all times. 

This collard greens borani is great served as a dip with some warm flat bread to scoop up all the creamy goodness.  It also makes a great side dish alongside a roasted chicken or grilled fish.  Or, my occasional favorite 10 pm cuddle on the couch with the borani bowl nestled snugly in my lap and a bag of crunchy chips at my side (Trader Joe's organic yellow corn tortilla chip rounds, if you care to know).  A meditative and quiet time (save for the crunching of the chips).  A time for self-reflection.  Where I get to acknowledge that sometimes my body doesn't know what it's talking about either when it comes to collard greens.  All I needed to do is give them another try with a dollop of yogurt.  And then just taste and marvel at the goodness of it all.      


They stand above us - my husband and my first-born.  

Luna.  My moon girl.

Representatives of peace, truth, justice and all things fair.

Embodying all that we wish the UN could really be.

They look down at us and the blueberry spoon with kindness and curiosity.

Ok you two - time to separate you.  

Says my husband as he scoops up our second born off the floor and gently cradles her in his arms and carries her off for a game of Pretty, Pretty, Princess.

Luna bends her body just so, to get a better look at me and my situation.

I lift my head slightly and come face to face with those heart melting almond shaped, chestnut brown eyes.  

Warm, deep and all encompassing.

Mama?  Can I lick that spoon?