Thursday, October 9, 2014

LOST THINGS - JASHNEH MEHREGAN - A BROCCOLI KOO KOO


 ♪ Music we're cooking to ♪

Mama, can you squeeze the clouds to make it rain? - Soleil


Step outside.   

Plant your bare feet firmly in the grass.  

Let your toes wander. Let them search and settle amongst the rough and dying blades. 

What was once lush and green.  What was once childhood.  What was once a vibrant summer respectfully fading away and making room for a crisp and most welcome autumn breeze.

Lost. 

Mehregan 
Mehregan is an ancient Persian Autumn festival dating back thousands of years.  It was observed by Zoroastrians as a same day/name day feast.  The ancient Persian calendar was based on 30-day months.  Each day was given a name and 12 of those days were given the same name as the month.  Celebrations were held each month when the day name and month name corresponded.  The names of the months in the Persian calendar are dedications to a certain virtue or a particular divinity. The month of Mehr derives its name from and is a dedication to the Zoroastrian god Mithra - the divinity of the Sun, Light, Truth, Friendship and Justice.  The word mehr also means kindness, caring and compassion.  These virtues combined with the Autumn harvest are the basis for this much revered celebration - Jashneh MehreganMehregan is still celebrated by Persians around the globe.  Perhaps an ancient predecessor to Thanksgiving - we celebrate by gathering with friends and family, celebrating the harvest with a feast, and helping our planet and those in need with kindness, caring and compassion. 

Reach up with one hand to shield your eyes.

Look straight up.  Remember to squint.

Come face to face with your second born's namesake.

Look hard.  Squint even harder.  

Not to be found.  

Lost. 

Broccoli Koo Koo 
For some time now, broccoli has gone the way of quinoa around our house.  Both girls will happily eat it as a smooth velvety soup - but don't even consider serving it lightly steamed drizzled with olive oil/lemon and salt, roasted or otherwise.  I myself am not one to ever shun any particular type of food - especially one so packed with goodness; but I too will readily admit that I have fallen into a broccoli rut.  So when my mom told me about her Broccoli Koo Koo I happily jumped at the chance to try it out and add my own twist to it.  
Great and delicious things can come out of a good fridge clean-out, my mother having taught me.  This dish is a strong example of such.  It does not disappoint.  Just like my Fresh Herb Koo Koo - this egg-based dish (very similar to a frittata) is packed with nutrient-rich vegetables, nuts and spices.  I used an abundance of fresh herbs (cilantro), a whole head of broccoli, a carrot for texture and color, walnuts for crunch, barberries for a tangy pop, feta cheese, and fragrant spices.  The effort here is minimal, especially if you use a food processor to very finely chop up the broccoli and herbs.  The beauty of this Koo Koo is that it can be enjoyed as a satisfying breakfast/brunch, enveloped in some really nice crusty bread as a sandwich for lunch, an after school snack, or served alongside some rice with a side of mast-o-khiar for dinner. And no one will mind if you hit it with a dash of hot sauce, as Drew likes to.  It also makes for a beautiful side dish to serve for a Mehregan celebration or a Thanksgiving feast.

Tilt back your head.  

Slightly arch your back and drop your arms gracefully to your sides.    

Let your hair cascade down your back.  

Close your eyes.  

Part your lips. 

Wait for it. 

Wait for it.

Wait for the drip - drip - drip. 

The cheek - cheek - cheek.  As you would say in your mother tongue.

Wonder how it would be pronounced in China.  In Iceland.  In Bolivia.

Wait for it.

Lost.

Your Anita Ekberg moment lost without the Trevi.  Without any fountains.  Without any water.

All the fountains have dried up.  And shut down.  

A drought, they say.  One of the worst around these parts, they say.


She left us quite some time ago. 

The rain.

She gave up on us, they say.   

She packed her bags, turned her back and walked out the door.  She hasn't been seen since around these parts.

She lost her way back, they say.

If you happen upon her, or if she happens upon you, tell her we're waiting for her with open arms.

Waiting for her drip-drip-drip.  

Her cheek-cheek-cheek.

Tell her we'll be waiting with a Broccoli Koo Koo.

Tell her we'll be waiting with Mehr.

*******************************************
I am very happy to have been invited to join a group of very talented Persian food bloggers from around the world in a cyber celebration of Mehregan.  Please make sure you check out all of their amazing and delicious work! 

Ahu Eats: Badoom Sookhte Torsh | Sour Caramelized Almonds 
All Kinds of Yum: Jeweled Carrot Salad  
Cafe Leilee: Northern Iranian Pomegranate Garlic and Chicken Stew 
Coco in the Kitchen: Zeytoon Parvardeh |Marinated Olives with Pomegranate & Walnuts 
Della Cucina Povera: Ghormeh Sabzi | Persian Lamb & Herb Stew 
Fae's Twist & Tango: Rice Meatballs | Kufteh Berenji 
Family Spice: Khoreshteh Kadoo | Butternut Squash Stew 
Fig & Quince: Festive Persian Noodle Rice & Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Yummies for Mehregan
Honest and Tasty: Loobia Polo | Beef and Green Bean Rice 
Lab Noon: Adas Polo Risotto | Persian Lentils Risotto  
Lucid Food: Sambuseh 
Marjan Kamali: Persian Ice Cream with Rosewater and Saffron 
My Caldron: Anaar-Daneh Mosamma | Pomegranate Stew 
My Persian Kitchen: Keshmesh Polow | Persian Raisin Rice 
Noghlemey: Parsi Daal Rice Pie
Parisa's Kitchen: Morasa Polow | Jeweled Rice 
Persian Spice: Rice Meatballs
Sabzi:  Ash-e Mast | Yogurt Soup With Meatballs
The Saffron Tales: Khorosht-e Gheimeh | Yellow Lentils Stew 
Simi's Kitchen: Lita Turshisi | Torshi-e Liteh | Tangy aubergine pickle 
Spice Spoon: Khoresht-e-bademjaan | Saffron-Scented Aubergine Stew 
Turmeric & Saffron: Ash-a Haft Daneh | Seven Bean Soup 
The Unmanly Chef: Baghali Polow ba Mahicheh | Rice with Fave Beans and Lamb Shank
ZoZoBaking: Masghati | Persian Scented Starch Fudge 


Disclaimer: The blue spatula pictured in this post was kindly sent to me by Gir. We've really been digging their whole line of colorful silicone made spatulas and thought I'd pass it on.  All opinions are completely mine. 


Monday, September 22, 2014

THE POLITICS OF HUMMUS IN A MOODY KITCHEN - HUMMUS



 ♪ Music we're cooking to ♪

It's deliciously liberating to not have any attachments.

Soak dried chickpeas in plenty of water over night.

To not feel the glare, pressure and judgment of those wiser than you, those that have come before you, searing your back.  Those mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, that make a habit of pulling up a stool and comfortably perching themselves on your shoulders, watching your every move. Wagging their fingers at every sprinkle of sweet Spanish paprika.  Tisking and tasking as they watch the lemon juice trickle through you fingers - announcing its presence on what were forgotten cuts and scrapes. And perhaps - just perhaps - if these elders are in a giving mood they might grant you one and only one nod of approval as they watch you release the chick peas from the embrace of their skins.

Stir the chick peas with baking soda in a pot over high heat, add more water and watch as the skins rise to the top.  Magic. 

You breathe a sigh of relief that you are not the carrier of this particular torch.  Your shoulders feel weightless - free.  This is your kitchen and your mood dictates your kitchen.  For better or for worse. 

Give the lemon juice, garlic and spices a whirl in the food processor to combine.  I use sweet Spanish paprika because I also cook with the moods and taste buds of a five-year-old and eight-year-old in mind.  Use smoky paprika if you prefer - or even a sprinkle of cayenne if your taste buds have fully developed.  If you're in the mood for a little more tang and general deliciousness (as I usually am), add the preserved lemons too.  If not - don't.  Moody kitchen rules apply here.


  
Thousands of years of culture, debate and national pride cooly and casually bounce off of you and float off back into the ether.  Back towards their homeland. 

This "region" that so graciously gave birth to civilization, yet has struggled so to gently cradle it in its arms. 

This vast swath of land - where passions run high - extremely high.  

Where laughter can echo across its borders without need of passports, papers, religion. 

Where tears have flooded its rivers, lakes and seas for far too long - far too long.  

Where food - a simple meal prepared over a fire and shared with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers alike - is revered, debated, united, and is more integral to existence than any arbitrary lines etched out on a map.  

Where every tribe, every neighborhood, every home will tell you that their preparation for Hummus bi Tahini - chickpeas with tahini is the BEST way, THE authentic way, the ONLY way. 

Add the tahini (on this particular day my mood dictates to go easy on the tahini - so I do) with the saved chickpea broth (the water you cooked the chickpeas in - because my taste buds inform me this adds more flavor to the finished product).  Give it another whirl. 

But most of all, you are grateful that for once, your birth place - the very same land that for the first eight years of your life was the only home you knew - is not at the center of this particular regional discourse, debate, crisis. The politics of hummus might brush against the great peak of Mount Damavand, but it does not settle there.  It continues on its journey. Becoming one again with the dust, the sea, and mountain ranges of Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Israel, Jordan. 

Drop in the chickpeas and blend until smooth and creamy.  Excersize patience.  This might take a few minutes. If needed add a little more broth to thin out.  Taste.  Listen - and I mean really listen - to your taste buds.  Add more of anything you think is lacking.  Let the hummus rest in the fridge for at least thirty minutes before serving - it's been through a long journey, after all.   Bring to room temperature before serving (we can all use the time to acclimate) and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Serve as is or sprinkle top with anything your mood dictates. 

You glance up and catch a legion of mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers watching you from afar.  You respectfully nod and acknowledge their presence.  You are tempted to invite them to tea - but you don't.  They have a long journey ahead of them and many more homes to visit.  They nod back and acknowledge that that they will not be staying today.  You watch them turn their backs and leave.  

You freely sprinkle in the sweet Spanish paprika.  






Friday, August 29, 2014

YELLOW FLAME PUDDING - A SAFFRON AND ROSE CHIA SEED PUDDING - SHOLEH ZARDEH TOKHMEH SHARBATI - THAT WOMAN

























I am that woman.

You know the one.  

You've seen her around town.  

On the 405 - the 101 - and the 10 sometimes going East - on market days going West.  

You've waited patiently and sometimes not so patiently for her to pull out of "your" Whole Foods parking spot.  

You've caught a glimpse of her in your rear view mirror at school drop offs and pick ups.   

You've pulled up beside her at the stop light.

You know the one.

The one banging her hands determinedly, passionately against the steering wheel, tossing her hair with wild abandon from side to side. And if the windows are rolled down just enough you've heard her euphoric cries. 

Yes, yes!  You're killing it, Jason Bentley.

I am that woman.


This chia seed pudding is inspired by one of my favorite childhood desserts: Sholeh Zard.  A very rich - vibrant yellow - saffron-infused rice pudding, scented with rosewater and spiced with cardamom and cinnamon.  The same scents and spices are used in this pudding. I've just traded in the rice for the more nutritious chia seeds and really cut back on the sugar content.  

Chia seed puddings are one of our favorite go-to breakfasts.  It takes about five minutes to prepare and then you just let it set in the fridge overnight. The next morning you have a tasty, filling and nutritious breakfast, ready to go.  This pudding also makes an elegant dessert or after-school snack. The girls love their chocolate chia pudding made with raw cacao.  And now this saffron and rose-infused pudding has also become a staple and a favorite.  They call it Yellow Flame Pudding.

Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, and make a great protein source.  They come in white or dark brown/black color and are both equally nutritious.  I like to use the white chia seeds for this pudding for a prettier presentation and to maintain the yellow flame of the saffron.  I find the black seeds tend to turn the color of the pudding to more of a light green.  But the taste is not altered, so feel free to use the black seeds if that's what you have on hand - and if you don't mind a slight color change.  

I know saffron is quite expensive and not a spice that many have on hand.  But every once in a while it is worth the splurge.  I find it is also a spice very much like that prized dress or the special china that gets stashed away for that very special occasion that never comes.  And before you know it a whole year has gone by since you last used two strands of saffron for that recipe you came across. While the rest of your precious saffron is still waiting in vain in the back of the cupboard, or sharing long lost love stories with that hunk of parmesan rind you forgot you had stashed away in the freezer.  Don't wait for that special occasion.  Tomorrow's breakfast IS that special day.  This pudding IS that special dessert.  If you have a few strands stashed away somewhere, use them up.  And if not, go get some.  Your saffron and your taste buds will thank you.


Sholeh Zard  is also known for its beautiful presentation.  The rice pudding is traditionally designed and garnished with cinnamon, ground up pistachios and slivered almonds.  Paisleys, flowers, sayings and patterns are intricately placed on top of the pudding using stencils.  I prefer to keep things simple (I am in no way a craftsy person nor do I aspire to be - much to my children's disappointment) but feel free to get as creative as you like with the decorative garnishes.



I am that woman.  

You know the one.

The one who will text her husband:

Are you listening?  Jason Bentley is on fire.

But more importantly my husband is that man who can confidently support and share in his wife's sheer excitement over an amazing set of music played on the radio.  


I am that woman.

You know the one.

The one standing at the kitchen counter on a hot late summers morning.  One hip leaning into the cool quartz surface ever so slightly.  Gently scooping up the last bits of the Yellow Flame Pudding.  Rose water, cardamom and cinnamon working their magic.  A brilliant yellow stain and scattered bits of ancient Aztec seeds reflecting back at me.  All senses on overload.  The beats of Gorgon City (a new find) pound through the speakers.  Then my old confidante Leonrad Cohen shares with me (and only me) that it was almost like the blues.  To be suddenly jolted by Town Called Malice.  And that's when I completely lose it.  Jason Bentley - he has pushed me over the edge.  No longer able to contain it.  I peel myself away from the cool quartz, bounce around a few times (most likely off the rhythm, my husband would tell me) sing along (most definitely the wrong lyrics) and then instinctively reach for the chia seed bag, the spices, the bottle of rose water and frantically start whipping up another batch of Yellow Flame Pudding.  

I am that woman.  


The three smaller bowls pictured here are hand-made by my dear and super-talented friend Kim.  Check out her fantastic and always entertaining musings on life and more on her blog: Hold Your Horse.



Sunday, July 20, 2014

LOUISA'S TEMPEH KABABS WITH MINTY CILANTRO LIME SAUCE - PERSIAN HOSPITALITY


 ♪ Music we're cooking to ♪

Much has been written, said, rumored, about Iran - about Persians.  By Persians and non-Persians alike.  Some true - some pure fiction - some thoughtful - some ignorant - some just plain uninformed.  But the one Persian quality that can be wholeheartedly agreed upon by everyone across time and borders is the generosity and excellence of Persian Hospitality.  It's legendary.  (Check out Anthony Bourdain's FB posts about his recent trip to Iran)  If you've ever been invited to a Persian home you know what I'm talking about.

It can't be helped; it's in our blood.  For better or for worse.

Act One
You are eight years old.  As directed you climb up on a stool to reach deep into the very back, dark crevices of the kitchen cabinet to fetch extra tea cups.  Clear ones of course, so the deep sunset hue of the tea can be collectively admired by all.  Perched on top of the kitchen counter - delicately handling the jingle-jangle of the cups - you watch your mother conduct a symphonic feast.  She frets about not having enough food prepared.  Your eyes dart back and forth from the Aash, to the 3 different kinds of Koresh, the Rice, the overflowing tray of Sabzi Khordan, and the Baghali Ghatogh.  Your brother marches through with all the confidence and pride of his assigned role - Spear Carrier #1.  He diligently gets to work placing tender, fragrant meat on very sharp and very long metal skewers.  Out of the corner of your eye you spy your father on the balcony fanning the burning coals with a piece of cardboard, with the command and authority of a general.  It is all a well-rehearsed and well-orchestrated operetta.  A typical Saturday night. 

Act Two
You are now an adult with your own home and kitchen.  You get busy writing your own Saturday night libretto.  Commander General is what your husband lovingly calls you at times like this.  You wear the label with pride.  You begin your pas de deux with your rather brutish love interest - the stove - simply referred to as Viking in the program.  You fret about whether the rice is burning, the Tahdig crisping up properly, the 2 stews humming in pitch-perfect notes.  You should have made more food you say to no one in particular.  Your girls look at you incredulously as they reprise their roles as table-setters numbers 1 and 2.  Your husband walks through with the very sharp and very long metal skewers - he has fully embraced the role of Spear Carrier.  In one swift move you pass him the tray of kababs.  As the symphonic cacophony of sounds and aromas builds to a crescendo, you can't wait to sink your teeth into your newest obsession - Louisa's Tempeh Kababs.

I first met Louisa Shafia over a year ago.  She was hosting a dinner event at Cortez in Echo Park (sadly since closed) featuring dishes from her beautiful cook book The New Persian Kitchen.  Prior to the dinner Louisa and I had exchanged a couple of emails,  primarily me gushing about her book and she graciously taking the time to respond.  The first thing that that struck me when meeting Louisa was her genuine warmth and infectious smile: the very same qualities that radiate through The New Persian Kitchen.  In her book, Louisa graciously invites you on a journey and discovery of Persian food. Persian food for the modern kitchen - for the everyday kitchen - for my kitchen.  What I love about The New Persian Kitchen is how Louisa incorporates what she calls "new world" ingredients into the many tried-and-true dishes - a combination that speaks to the way I cook in my own kitchen.  

Tempeh
One of the many recipes I was intrigued and inspired by in The New Persian Kitchen is this Tempeh Kabab which has become a grilling staple in our house.  It has its own place right next to the Jujeh Kabab, Kabab Koobideh and Kabab Barg.  Although I have tried tempeh in restaurants before, this was my first time cooking with it at home.  And with this recipe I am now officially a tempeh convert.  Tempeh is fermented soy.  Because it is fermented it makes it a highly digestible food boasting many nutritional benefits.  And unlike most other soy products that are highly processed, tempeh is considered a "whole food."  I buy my organic tempeh at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods and prefer the one marked original (I've tried the 3 grains one and haven't enjoyed it as much).  From my limited experience with tempeh I recommend marinating the kababs overnight for a full flavor impact (Louisa even recommends marinating for up to two days).  The simple marinade of turmeric, scallions, lime juice, garlic and pepper makes the otherwise bland tempeh burst with flavor.  These tempeh kababs shine all on their own for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.  Louisa suggests serving these kababs with a minty-cilantro sauce, which is delicious.  However, on occasion (because I was too lazy to make the sauce) I have served the tempeh kababs on their own with the scallion marinade on the side (since tempeh is plant based you can eat the marinade without cooking it).  And let me tell you - the slightly tart marinade is delicious and a hit every time we serve it.  It's a perfect accompaniment to the kababs, like a salsa or torshi (Persian pickles).  I have even used  leftover marinade the next morning in our scrambled eggs or frittata.  You can serve Louisa's Tempeh Kababs any which way you like - with some fragrant basmati rice, wrapped up in lavash or sangak bread, or with a side salad - for a perfect summer meal.  So get your grill going - time to serve up some Tempeh Kababs.           
























The New Persian Kitchen is one of those cook books that is timeless and sure to become a classic.  Drew and I had Louisa inscribe our copy to Luna and Soleil.  The perfect  heirloom to pass down from generation to generation.

Act Three
The curtain rises and you welcome your guests.  They remark on the delicious aromas coming from the kitchen.  You say you hope they like Persian food.  They compliment your rug - you are almost compelled to say that it means nothing to you and that it would make you happy if they took it.  Their eyes would widen with joy and bewilderment.  They would look back to the rug expectantly.  Are they really thinking of rolling it up??  Tarof, the Persian art of humbling oneself and putting your guests' needs and comfort above your own, would be lost in translation.  You thank them kindly, gently steer them away from the rug and towards the dining room and the Tempeh Kababs

CURTAIN



Wednesday, June 11, 2014

SPAGHETTI ALLE VONGOLE IN ROSSO - SPAGHETTI IN A RED CLAM SAUCE - FORZA ITALIA!




"Which of the cities visited did Your Highness enjoy the most?" - Reporter

"Each, in its own way, was unforgettable.  It would be difficult to...Rome!  By all means, Rome.  I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live." - Princess Ann - Roman Holiday

The television set is perched precariously on a make-shift table.   Blankets - well-traveled and lovingly clung to across two continents - adorn the living room floor.  Each fold and crease meticulously smoothed out, more than making up for any lack of furnishings.  The dull brown sliding balcony door perfectly frames the lush green maples swaying rhythmically from side to side, sleepily whispering in hushed tones the arrival of an early Vancouver Summer.  Green - everywhere you look, it's all green.  But none of this beauty registers.  We sit with our eyes affixed to the TV set.  Anticipation and expectations running high.  These are the years predating the domination of the World Wide Web.  But at the time this antiquated box of moving pictures and sound is our only link to the most important event of the summer - of the year.   

World Cup Soccer 1982 Finals. 

Italy vs. West Germany.

Growing up, a big pot of water was a permanent fixture on our stove. Always standing at attention  - ready to come up to a boil   On any given day this pot would either serve as the conduit for a fragrant platter of rice (with crunchy Tahdig of course) or a bowl of perfectly cooked al dente pasta.  And depending on which was being served  you could always find its lover - a companion pot lounging right next to it, slowly, dreamily simmering the day away.  A stew of some kind for the rice, or some type of sauce for the pasta.

Spaghetti alle Vongole - Spaghetti with Clams is a staple and a favorite in our house.  Just the mention of it will send the girls and Drew into a spirited Vongole dance.  I prefer my Spaghetti alle Vongole in Rosso - in a red sauce.  Just like my Baba - my dad - does.  The best Spaghetti alle Vongole I've ever had was some years ago in San Remo.  Baba, my step-mother Kumi and I had just stepped off the train at about 10pm - ravenous.  A local at the train station recommended a small family-owned restaurant, and suffice to say it was one of those forever life-altering meals.  I have been trying to recreate that Spaghetti alle Vongole in Rosso ever since.    

Vongole - Clams
The clam sauce here is very basic with few ingredients.  So it goes without saying that the best quality ingredients will make all the difference.  Fresh clams being the most important.  I like to use small clams - manila clams or cockles.  I buy my clams at the market the day I am going to be preparing them and I make sure to ask for the ones that are closed tight (if they are open they are not alive and cannot be consumed).  Sometimes when you get home some may open up slightly - if so gently tap one clam against another.  If they close up they are ok to use, but if any stay open then discard them.  As soon as you get home gently put the clams in a large bowl and fill with fresh water and add salt to it.  You want to add enough salt to make it like seawater.  This process allows the clams to release the sand trapped in them.  Put the bowl of clams in the fridge (uncovered) for at least 30 mins or until you are ready to use.  When ready, gently lift the clams out of the water so you don't disturb the sand that has settled at the bottom and give them a quick rinse.  Clams cook fairly quickly and over-cooking them turns them tough and rubbery, so make sure you scoop them out once they have opened up.  Discard any that don't.

Tomato Sauce
Typically this calm sauce is made with fresh, in-season tomatoes.  But I make mine with good quality jarred tomatoes like these, since in-season tomatoes are limited.  But more importantly since the girls like a smooth tomato sauce, no chunks of cooked tomato Mama!, I puree the tomatoes first.  But you can cook them whole and gently break them down as they simmer if you like.  And taking a cue from a beloved fish stew called Ciuppin I like to add plenty of garlic and anchovies to the sauce with a sprinkle of fennel seeds to liven it all up.  Please, please, please don't skip the anchovies here.  The anchovies delicately break down and melt into the olive oil and become one with the garlic - creating a paste of sorts that adds a fantastic depth of flavor to the whole sauce.

Pasta
Over the years we have been much more mindful of how much white pasta we eat.  Most of the time trading it in for healthier alternatives.  There are so many options now beyond whole wheat - a variety of grains (spelt, einkorn, etc). One that we enjoy most is a quinoa based pasta which is gluten-free and which I feel comes the closest in replicating the texture and taste of a regular white pasta.  But as is the case with our white rice consumption there is a time and place for the "real" stuff.  And this dish is one of those times when we break out the tried and true to our hearts -  white semolina pasta.  You can use regular spaghetti. I usually like to use a thinner noodle like linguini or spaghettini - thin spaghetti.  Cheese (parmesan/pecorino) is not under any circumstances served with a seafood based pasta.  And now please avert your eyes momentarily if you are a traditionalist when it comes to this hard fast rule because - I like a sprinkling of parmesan on my Spaghetti alle Vongole.  There.  I said it.  Now let's move on.  



Dino Zoff - the team captain and goalie - runs the course of the stadium - the trophy held proudly high above his head.  Paolo Rossi and the rest of the team clad in their blue jerseys - Gli Azzurri - run right along with him.  The stadium sounds as if it's about to burst - as do our hearts, an ocean away.  We storm our tiny balcony - wooden spoons, pots and pans in hand, loudly banging one against the other, confounding our very nice Canadian neighbors' impression of us even more.  Adding to the general mystery of exactly where we have beamed down from - what with the enticing and exotic aromas always wafting down the hall.  Our cheers, hoots and hollers startle and shake up the maple trees.  World Cup fever has yet to catch in this corner of the world.  But on our little corner of the balcony - our makeshift Roman fountain - our hearts are alive and on fire.  And for the first time in two months since our plane took off from Fiumicino airport - that big lump that seemed eternally lodged deep in our throats is set free.  And the tears flow freely.  



Do you have World Cup fever?  Who will you be cheering for?  And more importantly, what will you be cooking to celebrate?  Forza Italia!


 
   
  

Friday, May 9, 2014

MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS - STRAWBERRIES MACERATED IN POMEGRANATE MOLASSES WITH ROSE WATER CREAM




Once upon a time, a long, long, long time ago, there was a bang which wasn't really a bang but more of a singular moment in time when all the matter in the universe came into laser-sharp focus and all that energy in there shook around and bounced off of each other and  contracted and contracted until there was no more room so it expanded and BANG! exploded into tiny particles forming protons, neutrons and electrons - forming The Universe.  Thousands of years passed and this universe kept expanding and expanding eventually forming stars and galaxies - forming The Moon and The Sun.  My Universe.

Every morning you wake up and vow that today you will be a better mother.  

You will be more patient, more adventurous, worry less, play more, not yell, improve your Barbie voice,  run faster and harder when playing the monster game, get down on your hands and knees and inspect the dead slug.  You vow to try and stay out of their way when they have disagreements - let them figure it out on their own - because you read somewhere that's what you're supposed to do.  You promise not to let the "baby" and "puppy" voices grate on your nerves like nails down a chalkboard.  You swear to squeeze them harder, linger in their embrace longer, and commit to memory every inhale and exhale as you watch them fall asleep.  You vow that today will finally be the day that you don your Perfumier apron, and distill the warmth of their bodies, their sweet scent, in fine Venetian glass bottles.  Because you understand - you know - that these days are fleeting.  

Every night you go to bed and vow that tomorrow you will be a better daughter.

You will be more patient, more agreeable, better natured - not so reactionary.  You will slow down and walk beside her - at the speed that frail and ravaged knees now dictate. You'll listen patiently, enthusiastically to the stories you have heard many times before. You won't pretend to know it all - because you don't.  You'll remind yourself to let her mother you - because that's what mothers like to do.  You'll remind yourself that these days  are fleeting - you are fully aware of the preciousness of time.  Time is insolent, it knows no do-overs, it is a dictator that can never be overthrown.  No revolution, no hunger strike can change its course.  It is expanding - continually expanding.  And so you long to curl up in her lap again - just like you did when you were a child. To have her smooth, always elegant hands run through your hair - just so - to have her gently sing you your favorite lullaby.  You'll remind yourself that once upon a time you were her Universe - you still are her Universe.

You stain your hands blood red from the fresh strawberries.   Many times you've had strawberries macerated in balsamic, but since you usually don't have any balsamic around and you're not willing to make a trip to the store, you reach for the bottle of pomegranate molasses you always have on hand.  You watch the syrup languidly ooze out of the bottle and bathe the strawberries.  You set the bowl aside and allow the flavors to meld and dance in perfect harmony.  You ask your girls - your taste testers - your shadows - your Moon and Sun - what else the macerated strawberries need.  They savor their bite, licking their lips with big smacking sounds, and confidently declare it needs salt.  It doesn't need salt.  They always say it needs salt because that's what you always say.  Your words, your opinions, still carry weight.  You are still their Universe.  You remind yourself it won't be this way forever.  Time is fickle, time is irreverent.

You watch the cream slowly churn as you add the rose water and for a moment you are transported to your grandfather's garden in Tabriz.  You were six years old chasing butterflies through the rose bushes.  You put the cap back on the bottle and just like that the memory fades.  Memories trapped in bottles. You turn to tend to the dinner simmering away on the stove.  You reach for the salt bowl.  You feel your mother's observant gaze follow your every move.  Gently, she reminds you not to add too much salt.  You snap back saying you haven't.  Instantly you regret it.  You taste the stew, it's too salty.  She was right - she is always right.  Slowly, cautiously she makes her way over, puts a gentle hand on your shoulder and tells you not to worry.  She'll fix it with a little more lemon juice.  She'll fix it.  Because that's what mothers do.

You serve the strawberries - tangy, sweet juices and all - and add a dollop of the rose cream to each bowl.  You instinctively extend your arm out to your mother.  She balances herself and gives her weight over to you.  Your other hand reaches for the Moon as the Sun clings to your apron.  The four of you make the slow, short walk from stove to kitchen table.  Mothers and daughters.  Protons, neutrons, electrons bouncing off of each other.  As you dig into your bowl of pomegranate molasses strawberries you look around you and marvel at it all.  The Universe - with all its mysteries and certainties is a beautiful thing to be a part of.  Your heart contracts and contracts and just when you think there is no more room BANG! it explodes and expands.  

Mothers - daughters.  It's beautiful - it's complicated - it's love.

Happy Mothers Day. 




Wednesday, April 30, 2014

AN ARTICHOKE, MUSHROOM, AND SOUR GREEN PLUM STEW - KHORESH KANGAR-E-FARANGI BA GOJEH SABZ - AN OFFICIAL DINNER INVITATION



 ♪ MUSIC WE'RE COOKING TO ♪

Mama!  The radio just said Air Force One landed at LAX.  Can the President come over for dinner?  Please?!

What's Air Force One, Luna?

Air Force One is the President's airplane, Soleil.  And he's here!  If Mama says it's ok then he can come over for dinner.  Can he Mama?  Please?!  You could make Polo with Tahdig.  I bet he would love it.  Let's call him.  Mama please!!.

How do you know so much things, Luna?

Well, I'm a first-grader, Soleil.  First-graders know a lot.  And I'm going to be the president when I grow up.  And a pop-star.  First I'll be a pop-star, then I'll go to space and then I'll be president.  If you want - when I'm president I can make you mayor or one of those people in a cabinet. 

I don't want to be mayor or a cabinet.  I'm going to be a mommy and a teacher when I grow up. 

Isn't it strange, Soleil - there haven't been any girl presidents.  Like - at - all. How come, Mama?



Food serendipity.  Or more like a food puzzle.  Sometimes that's how a meal comes to life around here.  On this particular day it started with a bunch of fragrant mint we got from the overflowing garden at Soleil's preschool.  The next piece easily fell into place with our farm box delivery: parsley, spinach, spring garlic.  Followed with a visit to the Farmers Market:  baskets upon baskets of baby artichokes.  A quick stop at the Persian grocery store and the fate of this evolving puzzle was sealed: sour green plums - gojeh sabz.  A Spring Stew.

Sour Green Plums - Gojeh Sabz 
A sour green plum - also referred to as a green cherry plum - is essentially a plum that's not yet ripe.  Biting into one of these is a delightful explosion of crunchy sourness, making this a highly coveted and sought-after fruit.  Typically it's consumed raw as a snack - just as it is - with a pinch of salt. Take a bite - sprinkle some salt on it - take another glorious bite of spring - repeat process.  Try not to over-consume.  As a child, there was nothing better than to be greeted with a bowlful of Gojeh Sabz after school. Gojeh Sabz is also used in stews or also preserved to make a pickle.  Persians have an affinity for anything sour.  Which is why you will often find something sour or acidic added to a dish, not only to brighten up all the flavors but also to balance out the salt and sweet.  To bring all the flavors to life.  As the Gojeh Sabz slowly simmer away in this stew they soften up and release their tart juice.  I also think they add a nice visual texture to the stew.  Just be mindful of the pit.  If you can't get your hands on sour plums you can always compensate by increasing the amount of lemon or lime juice used in the stew.  Sour green plums are only available for a very brief period in the spring time - before the plums ripen up. They can be found at Persian markets between April and MayMake sure you ask for them as sometimes they are kept behind the cash register - in view but not within reach - as they were at my market.  They are a hot commodity!  I also spoke with a farmer at the Santa Monica Farmers Market and he said he'll be bringing in sour plums in the next couple of weeks.  Worth asking around and keeping an eye out for them at farmers markets and Middle Eastern grocery stores.   



The Persian word for artichoke is Kangar-e-Farangi, which translates to foreign or European cardoon.  In our house we use either their Italian name - carciofi or their French name - artichaut.  Semantics.  Artichokes are very popular in our house.  Luna often claims two whole globe artichokes all to herself.  I was smitten by the baby artichokes at the market and knew they would make a perfect companion to the tart sour plums, the chopped up greens, and the meaty mushrooms in this stew.  But here's the thing - prepping artichokes (much like shelling 4lbs of fava beans) - paring them down to the heart for a stew like this - takes some time and loving dedication.  And certainly not a job for a weekday.  But if you have the time or if you have little helpers that can assist in peeling away the outer leaves then it is well worth it - otherwise feel free to use frozen artichoke hearts.  They work great as well.   As in so many Persian stews, the greens are a necessity here.  Not only for flavor but also because the parsley and mint aid in offsetting the indigestion (read flatulence) that can occur with the use of the sour green plums and artichokes.  Just keep in mind that mint can burn very quickly and too much of it can turn the dish bitter.  This Artichoke and Sour Green Plum Stew is fantastic served over rice of course.  But I also like to serve it spooned over some crusty bread with a dollop of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt.  I've also reheated leftovers with a couple of eggs cracked over it for a quick and delicious lunch.  


Dear Mr. President,
This is a long shot, I know.  But as the official Social Secretary to a certain seven-year-old I feel obliged to carry through her request (it has actually grown into a fever pitch command) to invite you and your family over to dinner next time you land at LAX.  Stopping by our house might actually be of assistance to you.  For reasons out of your control I'm sure - what with layovers, flight availability, weather delays, flight cancellations - you seem to have a penchant for braving the streets of our fair city at 6pm.  I understand - it cannot be helped.  But you see Sir, everyone and I mean EVERYONE is in their car and on the streets in Los Angeles at 6pm.  So it might not be such a bad idea to avoid this sea of humanity and machinery and join us for some Polo and Tahdig.  I'll bet anything Polo and Tahdig will not be served at the dinner party you are scheduled to attend.  It is also my understanding that you do not enjoy beets.  Neither does my four-year-old.  Beets shall not be served.  With the weather warming up we can also grill some kababs to go along with the rice and enjoy it all with a side of Artichoke and Sour Green Plum Stew.  Not sure what your position is  where artichokes or sour green plums are concerned.  On this side - the seven-year-old loves it - the four-year-old not so much.  Much to discern, much to discuss.
Thank you for considering this invitation.  
Yours Truly, A Mom

OK Luna I emailed The President inviting him over to dinner.

Mama - you should have called him.