♪ Music we're cooking to ♪
Mama, today at school - at lunch time - I dipped my carrots in the hummus. When my carrots finished I dipped the apples. When the apples finished - it was...(dramatic pause) FINGERS TIME! - Soleil
Have you heard? The motorcycle jacket is back. A fashion magazine told me so. So it must be true. It was a couple of months ago though - so it's probably old news by now. But still - it begs the age-old fashion question: if you wore it the first time around (or more like in its second or third incarnation) can you still pull it off?
9:00 pm - the kids are tucked in bed. Drew and I - operating on automatic - clock out and shuffle into the decompression chamber - aka the office. No words are exchanged. We retreat to our respective posts. Me - in front of the computer. He - at his bass guitar - providing my nightly soundtrack. He's rehearsing for the upcoming school event. A band made up of slightly aged, musically inclined parents along with fresh-faced school faculty. His agile fingers work through the familiar chords. Elvis Costello, early years REM, Pete Townshend (like I said slightly aged parents). And just like that - my eyes glaze over - once again hypnotized and transported to another time and place by those few simple chords. I stand, slowly, but with purpose. Hypnosis has fully set in. I walk over to the closet. My arms stretch in to reach the very deep dark back. I know it's there. My hands fumble over other garments now packed away; just in case: what if I'm invited to a formal ball (vintage cape - mine), what if I hike Mt. Everest (Taiga - his), what if we get hit by a major snow storm in L.A. (parkas - ours). I know it's there - what's so funny - I'm on my toes - about peace - reaching deeper - love - I know it's there - and - reach - understanding - there it is. Sturdy, smooth, zippers in all the right places, with that oh-so-familiar and comforting smell of worn-in leather. My motorcycle jacket.
Hello, old friend.
For an entire year I worked after schools and all summer long to save up for this jacket. And the events of the day when I bought it were just as momentous as the purchase itself. My Aunt Dixie had taken me to a leather goods bazaar somewhere in downtown Manhattan. I was visiting New York City for the very first time. The trip that sealed my everlasting love affair with that city. It was the late 80's and I was in my early teens. Life was exciting and full of promise, the music that accompanied the need for the jacket pounded with anarchy and rebellion. And fashion was...a black motorcycle jacket to go along with the other big ticket item that drained a teenager's life savings - Fluevogs.
Ceremoniously I take the jacket off the hanger, and with a sense of ease and familiarity, slip it on. Just like I had done every fall and winter (and sometimes even in the warmer months) all those years before it got finally stored away in the solitary confinement of the closet. The heavy weight of the jacket rests comfortably on my not-so-broad shoulders; the warm embrace of a long-lost companion. The safety pin I had attached to the broken front zipper dangles back and forth, setting me deeper into my hypnotic state.
Rainy and grey Vancouver skies, musty and crowded bus rides, high school, first love, first heartbreak, countless concerts, night clubs, university, warm breezy nights playing billiards and making haughty and broad proclamations about Joyce, Beckett and Shepard as only twenty-year-olds can, artistic endeavors, achievements and disappointments, travel across borders, a new life, palm trees and sunny skies, shiny blue Buicks and meeting the love that currently serenades me nightly. This jacket has borne witness to my story and could probably tell it better than I can. Up until roughly 1997 that is.
Caramelized onion, mint and garlic - naana dagh/piaz dadgh/seer dagh - is a garnish used quite frequently in many Persian dishes. You can always prepare a large batch of caramelized onion, mint and garlic ahead of time and store it in the freezer for future use. You can use it on soups, other dips like hummus or even on burgers. Patience is the secret ingredient in well caramelized (not burnt) onions and garlic. It takes about 30 mins but it is well worth it to draw out the natural sweetness from both the onions and the garlic. You can caramelize the onion and garlic separately or together. Dried mint is also added to the caramelized onion and garlic but only at the very end so that it doesn't burn.
The last thing that is mixed in to the eggplant dip is a creamy slightly tart ingredient. This can be in the form of strained (Greek) yogurt, sour cream, or even creme fraiche. (I haven't tried it with creme fraiche yet but I think it would be great. If you do please let me know! And personally I'm not a fan of sour cream.) But traditionally it is an ingredient called kashk. Hence the name of the dish - kashki bademjan - which literally means kashk and eggplant. Kashk is often referred to as whey - but it is not whey. It is fermented yogurt. And it can either be found in a liquid or dried form. If you use the dried form you have to add water to it to reconstitute it. I practically jumped off my chair when I came across this article about kashk. It is so exciting to see all these spices and ingredients that were such a part of my everyday meals as a child become so popular now. Sumaq, turmeric, saffron, cardamom, rose water and now kashk. You know kashk has made it if Mr. Ottolenghi is talking about it! Kashk is typically used to add a depth of flavor and creamy consistency to soups (like a variety of aash - thick soups), dips such as kashki bademjan or even to everyday scrambled eggs. For non-Persians kashk could be considered an acquired taste. When making this dip my mom will often substitute strained yogurt for kashk if she is serving non-Persians. But I urge you all to try this "umami flavor" (Mr. Ottolenghi's words). Just start with small amounts. And for the record I'm still trying to figure out exactly what umami is. I'm going to go with - deliciousness. Kashk can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores. I recommend using the liquid variety as it is less work than the dried kind. I recently tried my hand at homemade kashk (pictured at the top of this post). More to come on that later.
I slip my hands in the front pockets of my motorcycle jacket. Before my fingers are fully immersed I anticipate and instinctually reach for the soft cottonball-like sensation of the torn-up lining - the holes in both pockets so wide and deep they reach halfway around the bottom of the jacket. There is a comfort in these rips and tears. These pockets that for so many years kept my hands warm. As I dig deeper I pull out various artifacts of a time long past - paper clips, torn up pieces of paper, old bus transfers. I look at the date and times on the bus transfers and try to imagine where I was, where I was going, whom I was meeting. I put everything back in the pockets. I don't have the heart to throw them out. These scraps have now become one with the jacket. This is where they belong. Before taking the jacket off I pop open the smallest pocket that is fastened with a button. Keep in mind motorcycle jackets have many pockets. I don't expect to find anything there. Without much thought my fingers reach in and I pull out - ahem - an unmentionable. My mouth drops open and I stand there aghast. Drew looks up from his bass and stares stunned at me. Our eyes meet and we break into uncontrollable laughter. The hypnosis is broken. I take off my jacket - quite un-ceremoniously. It gets hung back up. The motorcycle jacket might be back in vogue - but this motorcycle jacket's days have come and gone. That is until my girls decide to break it out, dust it off and breathe new life and stories into it.
And for the record I own an identical white motorcycle jacket too.
EGGPLANT DIP WITH KASHK - KASHKI BADEMJAN
Serves 8-10 as an appetizer or as a side dish
5 medium Japanese eggpant
1/3 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron (optional)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
water, roughly 1/2 cup
kashk OR strained yogurt OR creme fraiche, to taste
caramelized onion and garlic (recipe below)
walnuts, roughly chopped (optional)
saffron water (optional)
Preheat the oven at 400 degrees F.
1- Wash the eggplant well and cut off the tops. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Carefully score the eggplant on the flesh side in a cross-hatched pattern. Be careful not pierce through the skin. Place the eggplant halves flesh side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover each eggplant half with the olive oil. You can use a brush or your fingers. You will probably need to use all of the 1/3 cup of oil. Eggplant absorbs a lot of oil. Liberally sprinkle each half with salt. Roast the eggplant in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Until the eggplant has softened and browned. Once you place the eggplant in the oven you can simultaneously start caramelizing the onion and garlic (recipe below).
2- Heat 2 table spoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the sliced onion, sprinkle with a little salt and saute until the onion softens and is translucent stirring to make sure the onion doesn't burn or stick. About 10 minutes.
3- Add the garlic and and saute for another 10-15 minutes. Until the garlic softens. Turn down the heat if necessary.
4- Add the roasted eggplant to the the onion and garlic mixture. Add about 1/2 cup water, to barely cover the whole mixture. Make sure it's not too watery. Start with less water and add more if necessary. Add the turmeric and salt and pepper to taste ( I added about 1/4 teaspoon salt) and sprinkle in the ground saffron if using. Bring the whole thing up to a gentle boil and turn the heat down to medium and allow to simmer for 10 minutes uncovered until the water has been absorbed and all the flavors have melded. Stirring occasionally.
5- Turn off the heat. Mash the eggplant mixture with a fork or place in a food processor and pulse a few times. Place mixture back in the pan.
6- One tablespoon at a time stir in the kashk, strained yogurt or creme fraiche. Taste and add more to taste. I used about 3 tablespoons kashk, OR 2 tablespoons strained yogurt. Adjust seasoning to taste and garnish with about 1 tablespoon of the caramelized onion, mint and garlic. Add chopped walnuts on top if using. You can also drizzle on a little saffron water for added color.
Serve warm or at room temperature with some bread.
Will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
CARAMELIZED ONION, MINT AND GARLIC - NAANA DAGH, PIAZ DAGH, SEER DAGH
makes about 1/2 cup
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
5 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil or oil of choice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons dried mint
1- Heat the oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for about 6-8 minutes. Stirring continuously so the onion doesn't burn.
2- Turn down the heat to medium-low and add the salt and garlic. Saute for about 25 minutes. Stirring often until the onion and garlic are nicely caramelized (not burnt!). Turn down the heat if needed. In the last few minutes add the turmeric and stir.
3- Turn the heat off and add the mint. Stir to incorporate.
Serve warm as a garnish over kashki bademjan or other dips such as hummus or on top of soups and aashes.
Use as much as desired and save the rest in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.