Thursday, December 18, 2014

A WINTER'S TALE AND A POMEGRANATE SOUP - SHAB-E YALDA - AASH-E ANAR


Yeky bood, yeky nabood...

'Twas the longest night of the year.

'Twas the darkest night of the year.

'Twas the most magical night of the year.

Soak the rice as the split peas simmer away.  Immerse your hands in the cold water and gently break up the rice into bits and pieces. Feel the familiar beat of nostalgia course through your body.  Memory knocking at your door.  It always begins with a gentle knock. Patiently waiting for permission to enter.  Sometimes you grant it - sometimes you don't. It's a slippery slope - the unpaved road to nostalgia and memory. You often tread those loose cobblestones cautiously. But tonight you are in a generous mood. It's a night of celebration.  A night of light, poetry, food, music, laughter, dancing, stories, family, jokes, togetherness, and a warm and tangy crimson-hued Aash-e Anar - Pomegranate Soup. You gently shake the rice off your fingers, dry your hands and place a firm grip on memory's door. Wildly swinging it open. Welcoming with it a howling gust of wind echoing with tales of  

Shab-e Yalda/Shab-e Chelleh.

Winter Solstice - December 21, 2014.


'Tis the one night of the year children are allowed to stay up all night. 

(Only to inevitably fall asleep at the foot of the korsi.  In the warmth of their grandmother's lap.) 

Giddy with anticipation of outlasting the long and dark night and welcoming a new crimson dawn.

Turn the music up.  Let its joyful rhythm, fervor and urgency draw your girls down the stairs. Add the rice to the aash along with a sprig of mint. Stir, stir and stir some more. The split peas have a tendency to stick.

What's he singing about, Mama? -Luna


I'm not sure. It's in Kurdish. I think it's a love song.

Who are Kurdishes, Mama? -Soleil

Friends and neighbors.

Interlace your fingers with your moon and sun and start spinning.  Orbiting around one another.  Shake your hair out, shimmy your hips, spin, spin and spin some more. Let yourself get lost in the moment.  Catch the sun's light reflect off the moon and bounce around the room.  A magical night, after all.  Spin, spin, and spin some more.  Jump and sing along until your heart can't take it anymore.  Collapse on the floor.  Only to get back up and repeat it all. 



 

'Tis the night of Yalda - birth.  

The birth of the sun.  

As light, love, truth and wisdom prevail over darkness.

Start on the meatballs.  Put the girls to work.  Add the parsley, cilantro, dill and advieh to the mixture.  Now listen - don't get too crazy measuring out the chopped herbs.  Grab a handful and chop away.  What you don't use in the meatballs you can use as garnish on the aash.  Place a small bowl of water next to the girls and show them how to wet their hands a little before forming the mini-meatballs.  Show them how small you want them. Bite your tongue and move away (go stir the aash) as they start forming odd shapes and sizes.  Let them get lost in the moment. 

'Tis a well-told and oft-repeated tale.

Told by ancient Persians six thousand years ago.

Told by George Lucas. In six parts.  Soon to be seven.

Set the Yalda table.  A study in various shades of red. All to symbolize a crimson dawn - the light of life. Watermelon for protection against excess heat in the summer months. Pomegranates and red pears to ward off insect bites.

Just like those patches we put on to keep away the mosquitos when we went camping.  Remember, Mama?

I remember, Soleil.
 
Dried fruits and nuts for an abundant and prosperous harvest. Candles to light the house and keep darkness at bay. Garlic for joint pain.

Mama, do your joints hurt?

Not right now, Luna.  But just in case... 

Divan-e Hafez to stir your soul and look into your future. And a crimson-hued wine to stir your thoughts and reminisce of days long gone.  A magical night, after all.

'Twas a well fought battle.

With no end in sight.

As the night raged on and on.
 
Gently drop the meatballs in the pot. Grate the beet and let its juices drip through your fingers and into the aash.  Chalk it up to more good luck. Hold the bottle of pomegranate molasses high above your caldron as you release its contents. Stir, stir and stir some more, then cover.

But where there is dusk - there is dawn.

And the sun always rises. 

She always rises.

Serve the warm and tangy crimson-hued Aash-e Anar as the girls crack open the walnuts.  Duck as walnut shells ricochet off the walls.

Mama, can we please stay up all night?  Please?

Yeky bood, yeky nabood... 

Wishing you all a very joyful and happy Yalda and Holidays. Please make sure you also check out the wonderful Yalda posts below. Plenty to tempt you with for this Yalda night.






Thursday, November 20, 2014

THE CHEF, THE QUINCE, HIS THOUGHTS AND HER PIE - A QUINCE AND LABNEH PIE

♪ MUSIC WE'RE COOKING TO ♪

You give the wobbly wheel a swift kick right where it counts and knock it back into place.  You may or may not utter a few unsavory words.  You and your traveling companion -  an old laundry basket on wheels - hurdle your way down the blocked off street.  Giving a quick hello to the lovely farmer who sells your precious sweet lemons to your left, and a nod of the head to the organic dates guy, who is perpetually singing "get your nature's candy" to your right. 

The Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer's Market.


You try to keep your cool with the clog of human traffic.  Casually milling about, admiring the finger limes and slowly savoring the chocolate persimmon.  You contemplate the cute  wicker baskets (pinterest & instagram-worthy) fashionably swung on the arms of the equally cute and hip young shoppers.  

You come to a sudden standstill. 

You utter a few more unsavory words.

You give the rickety old wheel another kick.

You re-contemplate the cute wicker baskets.

And just as quickly you and your ever-so-moody lower back dismiss the idea.  Cute wicker baskets just don't cut it when you're hauling four pounds of sweet lemons, four pounds of fava beans, an armful of sour green plums, and bags upon bags of fresh herbs.

You dodge the huge restaurant crates coming at you, overflowing with edible flowers, beets and squash of every color and dimension.  You start to panic. You're too late.  You utter a few more unsavory words at the clog of machinery that had you stuck on the Escherian stairwell, also known as the Santa Monica Freeway. 

And then with no fan fare, with no trumpets blowing or declarations you spot her.  You spot a whole table full of them.  Quince.  Beh

You don't approach.  You admire them from afar.  You wave hello to the farmer enlisted with the delicate task of protecting these blushing beauties.  You walk right past them, thinking you'll come right back to them.  Right after you make your way to the end of the market to pick up the pomegranate.  You make your way down to the pomegranate stand in a daze. Your head swimming with thoughts of rose water, creamy labneh, and fragrant behA pie.  The whole thing pretty much comes together right there before your eyes as you gently place the pomegranate in the well-traveled and well-lived laundry cart, and make your way back to the blushing beauties.


What do you mean you sold out of them?  There was a whole table full of them just five minutes ago!

Your hands are gesticulating madly (as they quite often are wont to do).  A farcical pantomime of recreating the picturesque (pinterest & instagram worthy) table overflowing with the quince.  You know if you give a convincing performance the quince will magically reappear.  If you believe it, they will come.

You didn't do so well in mime class.

Physical theatre was never your forte.

The quince do not reappear.   

There sure was - but then came along the chef and he carted them all way.  Who knows what he's going to do with them all.  Who knows what he's thinking.

The farmer is matter of fact and kind.  He once invited you to a Halloween party.  You politely declined.  

Your eyes dart back and forth between the tomatoes, the sun chokes, the bell peppers, and the pumpkin.  All that pumpkin.  So much beauty, so much color.  But none of it registers.  None of it matters. The one and only thing that brought you here is gone.  

Absconded by the chef.  

And his thoughts.

What was he thinking? 

Was he thinking of taking out the rose water and gently sprinkling it, flicking it lightly with his fingers over the softening quince?  Did he look away as they blushed?  Was he thinking of stirring the cardamom into the labneh, and then stirring in some more because his eight-year-old thought it needed more?  Did he make his own labneh?  Was he thinking of layering it all in a flaky, buttery pie crust to be garnished with flecks of pistachios and ruby red jewels - pomegranate arils?  Did he offer a piece to his five-year-old only to be curtly and unequivocally rejected?  Was he thinking of saving and drying the quince seeds to use later as a hot tea to cure a nasty winter's cough - just as his mother had instructed him to?  Did he watch with delight as his eight-year-old stepped right into the photo and scooped out the creamy labneh with a piece of quince?  Did he savor a piece all to himself with a cup of bergamot-infused black tea - only to have the moment interrupted by the everyday bickering of sisters? 

What was he thinking? 

 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

THE SPICE CUPBOARD - A STORY OF LOVE - A YELLOW SPLIT PEA AND PERSIAN LIME STEW - KHORESH GHEYMEH
























 ♪ MUSIC WE'RE COOKING TO ♪

Casually he lifts up his shirt.  Revealing cuts and bruises.  A skateboarding injury.  Meant to impress I think.  He keeps the shirt up for a beat longer than necessary.  Awkwardly lingering in the moment.  Electrifying and innocent all at the same time. As a young man in his early twenties - really, still a boy - is apt to do.  

Casually I ask him if he needs an icepack. As I lean a shoulder into the very white wall of my new apartment.  

Leaning into my new life.  

Leaning into a new city they call Angels.

Leaning into the blue of his eyes.

Leaning into a new friend. 

Pretending not to notice that he has held up his shirt just a little longer than necessary.  

Pretending not to notice the social gathering of butterflies in my stomach. Pretending that it's just hunger pangs.  As a young woman in her early twenties - really, still a girl - is apt to do.

I should make him a soup or maybe a khoresh - a stew - I think. The kind of stew that you long for when the weather starts to turn.  When a long forgotten chill taps on your window panes, and settles in for a good long stay.  Taking your breath away every time. The kind of stew that takes you by the waist and embraces you with warmth and doesn't let go. The kind that heals cuts and bruises. The kind that calms the whisper of  butterflies. 

Khoresh Gheymeh is the ultimate late-fall/winter stew.  I recently had the opportunity to meet Yotam Ottolenghi at an event for his recent book Plenty More.  The conversation turned to Persian food and Mr. Ottolenghi remarked on how Persian food is really homemade cooking at its very best. I couldn't agree more.  And this stew is a perfect example of such.  I like to make a big batch on a Sunday and hypnotize my family with its tantalizing aromas of faraway lands.  Khoresh Gheymeh is a hearty stew so I like to serve it with brown rice, a side of mast-o-khiar, and fresh herbs to balance out the whole meal.  What we don't devour right away gets portioned out for school, work lunches and the freezer - when in a few weeks you can once again indulge yourself and your family to a fantastic and comforting mid-week meal.  

Typically this stew is made with beef or lamb, yellow split peas, advieh - Persian spice mix, limoo omani - Persian dried limes, and garnished with matchstick fried potatoes. I don't cook with red meat often so when I do I try to use the best quality meat I can.  For this stew I like to use grass-fed eye of round stewing meat.  Like most stewing meats, this cut of beef requires the luxury of time to sit and braise. 

I prefer to cook the yellow split peas separately because the cooking time of the peas can vary. What you are ultimately looking for are peas that are completely cooked through, maintaining their shape without turning mushy. I find the best way to ensure this is to par-cook the peas separately and finish cooking them off in the stew in the final twenty minutes or so.

Advieh is a very fragrant and flavorful spice mix.  There are two types of advieh most commonly used.  One for rice dishes and one for stews and meats.  The spices used varies from region to region and home to home.  Common spices used in any combination can include turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, rose petals, golpar, corriander, black pepper, cumin and ginger.  You can prepare a combination of these spices and store in a jar.  Keep in mind that a small amount of advieh goes a long way.    

He places the paper bags on the 2-person glass patio table. Now serving as my indoor dining table.  He has come over to cook for me - some kind of pasta dish.  I've made us a couple of pies - as I was apt to do in those days. He starts pulling out all sorts of brand new Trader Joes spice jars - basil, oregano, thyme.  As he pulls out his salt shaker I can no longer contain it and break out into a giggle.  What he doesn't know - yet-  is that what I may be lacking in furnishings, in wall decor, in plates, glasses and mugs - I more than make up for in my spice cupboard.  

Saffron, turmeric, cinnamon, rose petals, cardamom, golpar, my advieh jar,  salt - my dear, dear, companions.

Well traveled mismatched glass jars. Tiny little Bonne Maman jam jars filled with my precious ground up saffron.  My own Maman's handwriting forever etched on some of the jars - in Persian, English, some in Italian.  These spices and the jars that so humbly house them tell the story of our lives.

Limoo Omani is the secret ingredient that gives Khoresh Gheymeh its unmistakable unique tart flavor - a key flavor in Persian cooking.  Limoo Omani is a dried Persian lime and is quite often used whole or ground up in stews.  The flavor of Limoo Omani as it cooks down and softens up, releasing its juices is absolutely incredible.  This is where I could tell you to substitute fresh lime or lemon juice for the Limoo Omani.  But I won't, because to really enjoy and appreciate Khoresh Gheymeh you need to use these flavorful and aromatic dried limes.  Limoo Omani can be found at Middle Eastern grocery stores or online.  You first need to very carefully puncture them (so as not to stab yourself!) in a couple of places with a sharp knife and then place them in the stew.  As they cook down you gently press down on them with the back of a wooden spoon to release their juices. I like to eat the Limoo Omani along with my stew.  But I will readily admit eating them whole is an acquired taste. 

Khoresh Gheymeh is also famous for the delicious matchstick fries that garnish itWhen I prepare this dish at home I usually don't make the fries - with apologies to all the traditionalists out there!  I find the stew in combination with the rice it is served with makes for a very hearty meal as is.  And doesn't require the addition of another starchy food such as potatoes - and fried ones at that.  But...if you have me over and make me Khoresh Gheymeh with matchstick fries I will happily and enthusiastically accept!   


The boy from all those years ago became a best friend, a lover, a confidante, a husband, a father.

He still makes me pasta dishes.

I still look forward to making him soups and stews. 

His skateboard comes out every once in a while.  If only to trail the moon and the sun.  As they try to find balance in it all.  On their bikes.  In their lives.  He's never far behind.  Tending to his daughters' cuts and bruises.

My spice cupboard is now our spice cupboard. 

Full of mismatched glass jars.

And he still mixes up the turmeric with the saffron. 


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