Wednesday, March 27, 2013

OUR HAFT SEEN TABLE


Nowruz celebrations last for thirteen days.  During this time families and friends visit each other and homes are always ready to greet well wishers with hot tea and sweets.  It all culminates on the thirteenth day - seezdah bedar -  with a big picnic outdoors.

We have had a wonderful Nowruz surrounded by good friends and family.  Our Haft Seen table will stay up for a few more days - although the sweets and mixed nuts dishes  are quite depleted.  Little fingers always find their way to the Haft Seen table...


































































































Tuesday, March 19, 2013

FRESH HERB KOO KOO - KOO KOO SABZI

























Mmmm...what's that smell, Mama?

It's koo koo again.  Do you think you'll want to have more, Luna?

With that smell all in the house, how can I ever say no!

This was our third batch of herb koo koo in three weeks.  After days of koo koo for lunch, dinner, after-school snack; and having exhausted every cuckoo - koo koo joke, I was certain there would be no interest in yet another bite.  But once that smell takes over the house...how could we ever say no...




Koo koo is a dish somewhat similar to a quiche or a frittata. There are many different preparations for koo koo.  Fresh herb koo koo is one that is traditionally enjoyed as part of our new year - Nowruz - meal.

Nowruz is a celebration of Nature and Life.  We welcome the arrival of spring, by celebrating and honoring all that we are surrounded with.  The air that fills us with life; the fire that gives us warmth and light; the water that quenches our thirst; the flora that intoxicates us with their perfume and beauty; the fauna that reminds us that life extends beyond the human form; the eggs that represent new life and fertility; the book of poetry that lifts our spirits and fills us with hope for the future; the baked goods that sweeten our tongues and our hearts; and the green herbs and vegetables that nourish us and give us strength.


This koo koo was inspired by the overflow of greens in our farm box.  Swiss chard is not typically used in a koo koo but I thought it would work well alongside the spinach and abundance of fresh green herbs.  I also like to simply saute the rainbow-hued stems in a little olive oil, garlic, salt and fresh lemon juice, and serve it alongside the koo koo for a little added color.

 





As for that smell - that would be the combination of the sabzi - the fresh green herbs.  Dill, cilantro, green onion, fenugreek, tarragon and parsley.  Curly parsley.  There I said it.  I, like you, have been programmed to to turn my nose up to the unsophisticated step-sister of the much cooler and popular Italian parsley.  For years my mom and I have been arguing the "chicness" of Italian parsley (me) vs  her preferred curly parsley.

It is juuuuicier.  It is more flavorful.  It is more fragrant.
  
I am here to admit (once again) that my mother was right.  When it comes to cooking Persian food, curly parsley - is just better.  But of course, if Italian parsley is what you have at hand then use that.  That will work too.

 
We enjoy fresh herb koo koo with a side of mast-o-khiar and a salad for lunch.  It is also fantastic as a sandwich with your favorite kind of bread - a typical school lunch for the girls these past three weeks.  It also makes for a simple and nourishing dinner served with rice.  Fresh herb koo koo would also be a great vegetarian addition for an Easter brunch.  

Within the first few minutes of putting the koo koo in the oven - the kitchen fills with that smell.  The smell of spring.  A new year.  New possibilities.  Family.  Health.  Love.  Life.

Wishing you all a Happy Nowruz.

 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

LOOKING FORWARD

























We are deep into preparations for Persian New Year 

Nowruz (sounds like know rooz). 

We celebrate the first day of spring.  New beginnings, new life, new blossoms, fresh green grass - rebirth.  Nature - Mother Earth wakening from her deep winter slumber.

Nowruz this year falls on Wednesday March 20  at 4:01:56 am (PST).  Vernal equinox.    Exactly the moment when the Earth's axis tilts neither towards nor away from the sun.   When day and night are exactly the same length.  Equal.  Balanced.

We are preparing our Nowruz dinner menu.  Contemplating which sweets to bake.  The girls will be coloring eggs.  Watering our sabzeh (sprouted lentils) for the traditional haft seen table.  Much to be done.  And much to look forward to.

And so it is with this new promise of life and new beginnings that I want to thank you all for all your enthusiasm, your kind words, your support. Thank you for joining me on this food journey. 

Thank you for sharing all your pomegranate juicing tales, your quest for sweet lemons, the saffron treasure hunt...It has made me so happy to receive all your pictures of mast-o-khiar and celery stew. 

With new beginnings also comes my foray into social media.  You can now find bottom of the pot on facebook and instagram where I have been chronicling our sabzeh-sprouting  and will be posting more about our Nowruz preparations.  So like, follow, become a fan, share with your friends. It's all new to me but I'm enjoying working through all the kinks.  Many of you have also asked about subscribing and being unable to.  If you would like to subscribe  but don't have a gmail account and don't want to open one, just send me a note and I will subscribe for you.

Thank you for joining us at our communal kitchen table.  And I look forward to a brand new year filled with enticing aromas.

  

  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A COMFORTING PARALLEL UNIVERSE CELERY STEW - KHORESH KARAFS



























The skies have turned grey.  The fog is rolling in.  There's talk of rain.  Yes, this does happen in Los Angeles.

I need everything to slow down.  A break from the daily routine.  I begin to yearn for my parallel universe.

That alternate life where I curl up on the couch with my boyfreind - now my husband.  Watch a movie at three in the afternoon. And then ponder whether we should watch another - and quickly agree that we shouldJust like we used to.  

No responsibilities.  No errands.  No school lunches.  No 6am wake ups.  Little three year old fingers prying open our eyelids - literally.

Simultaneously I move through my current universe. My girls burst through the front door.  I help them take off their coats, boots, sweet-sweaty-stinky-been-playing-working-hard at school socks.  Settle them into the afternoon routine.  Snacks, homework, play, bickering, hugs, melt-downs. 

I feel little three your old fingers tugging on my pants, demanding more sweet lemons, more pistachios and toot (mulberries), and can she please! please! have some chocolate today.  Please mama!

I am bombarded with fantastical tales, profound declarations, and silly knock - knock jokes from a wise-beyond-her-years six year old.  And if her sister is going to have chocolate then it's only fair that I have some too, mama!

It is on days like these that we crave something comforting.  Something familiar.  Something that says home, love, family.  Something that will wrap us in its embrace and re-energize us for the week that's to come.  And something that will partly bridge that gap between this reality and that parallel universe I sometimes yearn for.  That for us  is khoresh karafs - celery stew.


This dish used to be one of my favorites as a child and has now become a staple Sunday supper for us.  Whenever I pull out a luscious green head of celery from my weekly farm box, I know this meal is in our near future.  I use the entire celery head - green leaves included which add so much flavor along with fragrant parsley and mint.  And I am once again reminded (by my mom) of the method behind the creative and sometimes haphazard art of cooking.  There is actually more to the combination of celery, and aromatics like mint and parsley.  Celery can cause excessive gas.  Mint and parsley are known to help with flatulence and digestion - helping to offset the possible indigestion of celery.  An elegant dance choreographed by our ancestors hundreds of years ago.

This stew is also a classic example of the marriage of saffron and turmeric in most Persian dishes.  Combine these two spices together in one form or another and you'll have the makings of a Persian stew.   

Like most stews, the longer you let it simmer on a low flame the more flavorful it will be.  This is also a great make-ahead-of-time dish.  It tastes even better the next day (and makes an excellent school lunch - the girls' thermoses come back licked clean).  If you do make it ahead of time just make sure that when you reheat it you adjust the liquid. You will most likely need to add more water and adjust the seasoning.  This is not a dry stew, nor should it be runny like soup.  But you do want it to be juicy.  Traditionally it is served over rice. This is how we enjoy it, but you can also serve it with a side of quinoa or other grain of choice. 




My husband - my then boyfriend - walks through the door.  I hear the shrieks of Dada! Dada! greet him before he has even had the chance to step inside.  The girls launch into telling him all about the ins and outs of their day.  

As I make my way to the kitchen table I catch a glimpse of the fog rolling by, the last of the winter light settling behind the trees, making way for spring - new beginnings.

We all come together around the table.  Tucking into a warm dish of khoresh karafs over rice with a side of mast o khiar.

This is my universe.  I wouldn't want it any other way.

Well, maybe I could occasionally time travel back to the three in the afternoon movie watching days with my boyfriend...  


Sunday, March 3, 2013

YOGURT - A LOVE STORY - MAST O KHIAR



If we were playing that silly "what if you were stranded on a deserted island, what is the one food item you would take with you" game - my answer without hesitation would be  yogurt.  

Plain, un-adulterated - nothing added - yogurt. 

If I were a poet I would compose volumes of love sonnets declaring my eternal love and devotion to yogurt.   I would weave my words together with golden thread - describing it's creamy, silky, smooth and nutritious goodness

Yogurt is a staple in Persian homes - and in our home growing up the container of yogurt was always present at the table.  As it still is - a constant companion to pretty much any meal - rice, stews, soups, salads...

As a child, if I showed little interest in a particular dish, some yogurt would be added to side of my plate.  And miraculously, by adding a little yogurt to each bite the food was somehow transformed and made more enjoyable.  And since I had no taste for milk,  yogurt provided most of my calcium.  Cereal was not part of our breakfast routine, but for a time there was the Corn Flakes craze.  My five year old self could not think of anything less appetizing.  Cold milk poured over dry flakes - which then turned to mush - first thing in the morning.  But it had to be good; after all, that's what everyone ate in America.  Was there something I was missing?  My solution: skip the milk and cover every single rooster-crowing flake with yogurt.  Still not great, but at least palatable. 

I suppose it was only inevitable that I would start making my own yogurt.  I am just surprised it took me so long to do soStrained (what's referred to as Greek yogurt) or not - a lot of yogurt is consumed in our house on a daily basis.  The girls have also inherited my love for yogurt.  It's one of those foods referred to only in Farsi - mast (sounds like cost). A typical after school snack: mast and honey.  And if it's not the container of plain yogurt making itself right at home at the dinner table, then it's mast o khiar.



Mast o khiar literally means yogurt and cucumber.  Typically it is considered a dip or a side dish.  In our house it is consumed by the bowlful.  Drew routinely commits the cardinal sin of smothering his rice and stew dishes with it (but since over the years he has so lovingly and enthusiastically embraced so many of our idiosyncrasies, he gets a pass for this), Soleil and Luna like it on the side of their dish.  A little bit of rice, a little bit of stew and a little bit of mast o khiar - creating the perfect bite. Or it can be found right next to the hummus, and other similar dips, perfect for crudites, a cracker, warm bread or my favorite (and weakness) - a chip.  You will never find any left over either.  Just like it used to be in my childhood home - my brother Ramin and I keeping a close eye on the mast o khiar bowl, waiting to pounce, to see who would be the lucky person to get to eat the last remaining spoonfuls right out of the serving bowl.  And when no one was looking lick clean the inside of the bowl.  Nothing more comforting. 

Mast o khiar comes in many different variations.  But its simplest preparation - and what you will find on most nights at our table: good quality organic plain yogurt, cucumber, and a pinch of salt.  From there, I build on this canvas depending on what's in my fridge, spice cupboard, or just delivered in my farm box (like fresh dill or fresh mint!).  You can chop up your cucumber, or grate it.  If you grate your cucumber don't get rid of the excess cucumber juice.  All the flavor is in that juice.  I am rather reluctant to give actual measurements of ingredients here.  This really is one of those dishes you can make to suit your taste.  Work with what you have.  Even if you don't have a cucumber - the real hero here is the mast.

Yogurt - my late night confidant, my consigliere, always there to share in my triumphs and heartbreaks, in the mundane and the extraordinary, over three continents, consistent and unconditional.